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Taiwan unification: Peking hopes history will repeat itself

''And Jinmen (Quemoy) is that way,'' said the Mao-jacketed comrade atop Riguang, the highest pinnacle on romantic Gulangyu Island, just off the tip of Xiamen.

The Chinese tour group dutifully peered into the morning mists in the direction their guide had pointed.

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''No, comrades, you can't really see Jinmen from here,'' the guide went on. ''But remember, Xiao Jinmen (Little Quemoy), the nearest island held by the Taiwan authorities, is only 2,000 meters from Xiamen.''

None of the comrades jammed atop this needle rock, so cramped that 15 people would be a crowd, seemed unduly alarmed. The era of hostile confrontation between the mainland and Taiwan is over, at least in the minds of most people around here.

Xiamen (Amoy), blockaded for many years by Kuomintang forces on Quemoy, is a bustling harbor today.

And young people here, as a recent college graduate put it, ''have a lively curiosity about Taiwan, perhaps tinged with a bit of envy. We would love to be able to talk with young Taiwanese about how they live and what they think of the prospects for reunification.''

Gulangyu, only one square kilometer in size is a palm-fronded semitropical islet. It is only a five-minute ferry ride from much bigger Xiamen Island, where most of the city's 960,000 people live.

No vehicular traffic is permitted on the island's narrow roads, not even bicycles. Senior leader Deng Xiaoping had to walk when he came here after the lunar New Year early in February.

A former residence of a rich merchant sits just below Gulangyu's loftiest rock. The building has been turned into a museum honoring Zheng Chenggong - 17 th-century hero known in the West as Coxinga. Coxinga's father came from Fujian (Fukien) Province, about a hundred miles north along the coast from Xiamen.

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When the tottering Ming dynasty was attacked by Manchus in the mid-17th century, the Zhengs, father and son, fought the invaders. The son eventually made Fujian his home base. Hearing that his father had surrendered to the new Qing dynasty established by the Manchus, the son changed his name to Guo - meaning country or nation. Coxinga is a Europeanized version of the title by which he was known - Guoxingye, or ''Lord-whose-surname-is-the-nation.''

As the Manchus consolidated their hold over China, Coxinga was forced to abandon Fujian. He assembled a 20,000-man force on Quemoy Island and from there invaded Taiwan, which was then held by the Dutch. In one of the few victories achieved by an Asian over a European force in those days, Coxinga forced the Dutch to surrender.

Under the rule of Coxinga and, after him, his son, Taiwan remained independent of the mainland for more than 20 years. Only after Coxinga's son died was Taiwan peacefully reunited with the mainland as the result of skillful negotiations conducted by emissaries of the Manchu court. The Zheng family were given high positions at the Qing court, and the Qing emperor Kangxi built a splendid tomb for Coxinga.

All this is elaborately told in room after room of pictures, charts, and memorabilia.

Taiwan still considers the Manchus to be barbarian invaders of China. But Peking calls them a minority feudal tribe living within the boundaries of the motherland. For Peking, the struggle between the Ming and the Qing was therefore simply a fight within the bosom of the same family. Peking gives high marks to the Kangxi Emperor who achieved the peaceful reunification of Taiwan.

Some day, Peking hopes to repeat Kangxi's act of reconciliation. Like Kangxi, it pays honor to the Chiang Kai-shek family. It has already followed Kangxi's example by honoring the family tombs of the Chiang Kai-shek clan in Fenghwa on the mainland.

It remains to be seen whether history will repeat itself.

It almost always does, but never quite in the way that mortals expect.

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