Often when I lived in Beijing, groups of Chinese friends would come to dinner. I liked to think they enjoyed my scintillating conversation - though I always wondered whether enthusiastic attendance had more to do with the wine I served and my housekeeper's outstanding cooking.
Sometimes our chats would drift on to travel. Reaching for a piece of Mrs Tong's superb Sichuan chicken, I might mention that I'd visited at least 40 Chinese cities, probably more than any of my guests had.
Perhaps not improving my reputation for conversation, I'd begin the long list of cities: "Beijing, Xiamen, Kunming, Xingtai, Shenyang, Chengdu ..." On and on I'd go, as they patiently listened. "Shanghai, Haikou, Fuzhou - oh, does Taipei count?"
"Or course it counts!" they'd say, all together and quite sternly. As the capital of Taiwan, itself firmly believed to be part of the motherland, Taipei of course counted.
But occasionally, as I smiled to show I'd been stirring them, someone would quietly say: "Not really."
That brings us to the view that the Chinese ambassador, Xiao Qian, expressed at the National Press Club on Wednesday. All 1.4 billion Chinese, not just 23 million people on Taiwan, must decide the future of that self-governing island, he said.
The logic is interestingly circular: Taiwan is part of China; Chinese people, including Taiwanese, must decide what happens to China; and they'll decide that Taiwan is part of China. What's left out is the idea that Taiwanese alone might decide what happens to Taiwan.
If the Chinese Communist Party asked the people to decide - and it never would - the great majority would indeed say that some day Taiwan must again be under China's rule, as it once was (though hardly at all in the past 127 years).
But, like most of the guests at my dinner table, they'd just be going through an automatic thought procedure programmed by CCP brainwashing.
Taiwan is officially part of China but for all practical purposes it's a separate country, and in China that's just what it feels like. That's why some people there, after a moment's thought, will say it's "not really" part of their country.
Still, the more nationalist the person, the more strongly held the view that the island must come back to the motherland.
Examples are the so-called angry youth - fenqing, mostly nationalist young men who share their aggression on line and always complain that the government is too soft in international affairs.
They want Taiwan back immediately. Now! And if that means war then all the better, they tell each other.
The visit to Taiwan last week by the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and the resulting display of military aggression by Beijing have strengthened Chinese feeling on the subject. There has been plenty of anger in social media.
One reason is a factor that's repeatedly forgotten outside of China. By attracting great attention in defying Beijing's policy, Pelosi caused President Xi Jinping, the CCP and (therefore) China to lose face. This may help explain the strength of the military reaction, by the way.
No matter how little a Chinese person cares about Taiwan, some references to the place will raise hackles.
In my office I sometimes got into work-interrupting conversations with the local technical support guy. He was quite a gas bag and wasn't busy, because the company's information systems worked well (yes, really); moreover, he was an enthusiast for military affairs, and I was a defence and aerospace reporter.
One day I mentioned what China might do if it invaded Taiwan.
"Ah, sorry," he said, most politely, smiling with embarrassment at my insulting mistake. "We would not say 'invade'; we would say 'recover'." He would have known that other Chinese colleagues sitting near us were really annoyed with me.
It's a measure of the manners of the ambassador that he reacted with great self-control when a reporter at the press club similarly referred to the possibility of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. I wouldn't have been surprised if Mr Xiao had raised his voice in anger and banged the lectern.
But he simply began his answer softly with: "In the first place, I'd rather not use the word 'invasion' when we talk about the mainland and Taiwan."
While Taiwan isn't usually a big issue for most Chinese, holidays there have been popular.
Chinese tourists on the island are amazed to turn on hotel-room televisions and hear genuine political debate in Mandarin, even seeing opposition politicians fiercely criticising the Taiwanese "president". (Chinese media use quote marks to make the point that Taiwan, being just a province of the motherland, can't really have a president.)
The general lack of interest across the Taiwan Strait is reciprocal. Friends in Taiwan rarely discuss China. Two or three times I encouraged some in Taipei to visit me in Beijing. They politely feigned interest in the suggestion, actually having no inclination to go there. Taiwanese frequently use the phrase "Taiwan and China", even though the island's official status demands "Taiwan and the mainland".
And mainlanders often make exactly the same mistake. Even mainland officials sometimes say "China and Taiwan" in casual conversation.
In 2004 a friend in Beijing didn't believe that my snazzy new smartphone, one of the earliest sold, had been made in China, this at a time when the country was busy exporting low-tech stuff such as T-shirts and furniture. To prove it, I turned over the phone and showed him what was stamped on the back: "Made in Taiwan."
"That doesn't count," he said.
- Bradley Perrett was based in Beijing as a journalist from 2004 to 2020.