By Rishi Iyengar
November 4, 2015

China’s President Xi Jinping and his Taiwan counterpart Ma Ying-jeou will hold a historic meeting in Singapore on Saturday, the first summit since the two sides separated in 1949 following a protracted civil war.

The last meeting between leaders of the two parties — communist leader Mao Zedong and Taiwan’s Nationalist founder Chiang Kai-shek — was in September of 1945 before the civil war resumed following the defeat of Japanese forces. In the days approaching his meeting with Mao, the Generalissimo, as Chiang was commonly known, told TIME he was “very optimistic” that peace and unity within China could be achieved at last and the country could be set firmly on the path of progress.

“To me,” Chiang said at the time, “victory means the beginning of real reconstruction — economic and political — free from outside interference.”

After sending two telegrams to Mao asking for a meeting in the southwestern city of Chongqing (then Chungking), the communist leader — who had intended to send his deputy Zhou Enlai rather than meet with Chiang himself — finally agreed on the third invitation.

“Mr. Chiang Kai-shek … I appreciate your telegram,” Mao replied. “My humble self is most willing to come to Chungking.”

As Xi and Ma sit down later this week in order to, in the words of the latter’s spokesperson, “solidify Taiwan-mainland relations,” the world will be watching — just like it was 70 years ago.

Read the full cover story here in the TIME archives

Write to Rishi Iyengar at rishi.iyengar@timeasia.com.

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