The Republic of China was established on Taiwan in 1949 when Gen. Chiang Kai-shek and millions of his supporters fled advancing communist armies on the mainland. Both the communist and Nationalist Chinese governments consider Taiwan an integral part of China and Taiwan continues to claim sovereignty over all China.

LAND: 13,886 square miles, the size of Maryland and Delaware combined. The island is about 80 miles from the Chinese mainland at its closest point. A mountain range running north-south divides the island; the eastern slope is steep and craggy, the western half fertile and cultivated. The two major cities are Taipei, the capital, and Kaohsiung.

PEOPLE: The country's 19.4 million inhabitants include native Taiwanese, descendants of Chinese who migrated from the mainland primarily in the 18th and 19th centuries, and those who fled to the island in 1949. There is also a small population of aborigines living in the mountain regions. The official language is Mandarin and the predominant religion is Buddhism.

ECONOMY: Rapid expansion and industrialization have given Taiwan the third largest currency reserves in the world, after Japan and West Germany. Agriculture's role in the economy has declined significantly. Major industries include textiles, clothing, electronics, processed foods, chemicals and plastics.

GOVERNMENT: Chiang Kai-shek led the ruling Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) on the island from his arrival in 1949 until his death in 1975. His son Chiang Ching-kuo, was president from 1978 (the year the United States severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan),

until his death yesterday. The authoritarian Kuomintang has recently become more flexible, finally lifting the martial law imposed in 1949 and allowing the formation of a small opposition party.