Prior to 1600, diverse groups of indigenous tribes were the sole inhabitants of Taiwan, which the natives called Pakan. These peoples probably migrated from islands in southern Asia. The languages spoken by the indigenous peoples are of the Austronesian family; records indicate there were as many as twenty-six different linguistic groups among the various tribes.
A majority of the tribes lived on Taiwan's plains in villages that were generally surrounded by bamboo walls. These walls were built to protect inhabitants from rival tribes. Headhunting was a byproduct of tribal warfare among some tribes, and also played a symbolic and spiritual role for many of the island's inhabitants. To support themselves, the aboriginal tribes engaged in small-scale farming and hunting.
While the indigenous people called the island "Pakan," it was known to Europeans as "Formosa." When a Portugese ship sailed past the island in 1517, the navigator reportedly commented, "Isla formosa!" which means "beautiful island" in Portugese. For the next several hundred years, the island was identified as "Formosa" on most Western navigational maps. The name "Taiwan" is believed to originate from the native Sarayan language. "Tayan" means "outsider" in the aboriginal language; Chinese who came to the island mistook this word for the island's name - with "tayan" becoming "Taiwan" when converted into Chinese characters.
Aside from influencing the island's name changes, contact with outsiders had a tremendous impact on the indigenous peoples. In 1624, the Dutch laid claim to Taiwan, establishing a trading post near the present-day city of Tainan. In 1633, the Dutch started building a second fortress in order to establish a permanent colony on the island. Several tribes opposed this effort, but attempted revolts in 1635-36 were violently suppressed by Dutch soldiers; thousands of aborigines were killed in an effort to force the tribes into submission. While several tribes attempted to adapt to the expectations of their colonial masters, some retreated into the island's formidable mountains, out of the grasp of Dutch control.
|The Dutch settlement in southwestern region of Taiwan in 1623||1895: Japanese troops
|Wood carving of the brutal suppression of Feb. 28th||Forming of the DPP on Sept. 28th, 1986.|
(Click on the thumbnails to see larger images)
To make Formosa a profitable colony, the Dutch converted large areas of the fertile southern plain into managed agricultural development. Sugarcane became a major cash crop, and the Dutch introduced other new plant varieties. In addition, they imported migrant laborers from China to provide labor for colonial development. While the island had previously been an outpost for bandits and pirates from the mainland, some of the Han workers brought in by the Dutch married indigenous women and remained. The already diverse cultures of Taiwan would grow increasingly mixed over the next several centuries.
The period of Dutch colonization coincided with the decline of the Ming dynasty in China. Manchu invaders established the Qing dynasty in 1644, but pockets of resistance remained for several decades. Cheng Ch'eng-kung (known as Koxinga by Westerners) was the son of a Ming loyalist father and a Japanese mother. Upon hearing that his father had been imprisoned by the Qing government and his mother had committed suicide after being raped by Qing soldiers, he vowed to avenge his parents. Cheng gathered a sizable pro-Ming army and fought for many years on the mainland in his attempt to defeat the Qing. In 1661, after suffering several defeats, Cheng and his army of 25,000 men were forced to flee to the islands of Amoi, Kimoi and Penghu, off the coast of Taiwan. Having established these bases, Cheng set his sights on the main island. After suffering attacks on several settlements, the Dutch agreed to surrender Taiwan in 1662; thirty-eight years of Dutch rule came to an end.
Island natives welcomed the Dutch defeat. Tired of paying the high taxes that the Dutch demanded, they welcomed Cheng as a liberator. Cheng's forces, numbering 30,000, added greatly to the island's population. In order to provide food and land for the new arrivals, lands formerly set aside for the Dutch East Indies Company were privatized. In addition, a family registration system was created to allow for greater administrative efficiency.
With the Cheng regime entrenched on Taiwan, the Qing government forced Chinese to withdraw from coastal areas of the mainland. As a result, the local economies in Fujian and Guangdong Provinces suffered greatly. This economic decline led to increased emigration from these coastal provinces, thus increasing Taiwan's population. As more and more immigrants arrived, the total amount of cultivated land increased greatly. Taiwan's agricultural economy boomed during the Cheng period.
Despite the growth of the agricultural sector, Cheng Ch'eng-kung's son shared his father's goal of overthrowing the Qing dynasty. To support the Cheng regime's costly military campaigns, the population of the island was heavily taxed. As the years progressed, Taiwanese resistance to Cheng rule increased. In 1683, the Qing government launched a campaign to end Cheng resistance to Qing rule once and for all. In July of 1683, a force of 20,000 Qing troops occupied Penghu Island, and in September they mounted an assault on Taiwan itself. In order to avoid more bloodshed, the Cheng government agreed to an unconditional surrender. A new era of rule under the Qing dynasty had begun.
While the Qing government was very much interested in quelling the last bits of resistance to their rule, their interest in Taiwan was tempered by its negative image as an outpost filled with trouble-makers. Having defeated the pro-Ming forces on Taiwan, the Qing government briefly considered abandoning the island altogether. While they ultimately decided to declare Taiwan a territory of Qing China, they forced 100,000 Han Chinese settlers to return to the mainland. In addition, they made sure that soldiers or administrative personnel assigned to the island were rotated regularly so they couldn't establish roots. By keeping the island's population small, they hoped to keep peacekeeping efforts to a minimum.
Despite efforts to limit the population of Taiwan, settlers continued to arrive on the island. The Qing government allowed male settlers to work on Taiwan provided they did not bring their families with them. However, Taiwan's fertile plains acted as a magnet for poor, pioneering families from the mainland; "illegal immigrants" from China's southeastern provinces arrived in increasing numbers as Qing enforcement of immigration regulations grew lax. In 1760, the Qing government finally lifted the restrictions on immigration from Fujian Province, leading to a dramatic increase in the number of Han Chinese inhabitants. While the Qing government's policy towards Taiwan can best be described as one of "benign neglect," agricultural production enjoyed steady growth throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Since there were few native industries on the island, settlers depended on trade with the mainland. Despite these economic ties with the mainland, the Taiwanese people developed a strong, independent identity; rebellions were commonplace throughout the period of Qing administration. A common saying in regards to Taiwan was, "a small rebellion every year, a big rebellion every five years."
In the mid-19th century contact with Europeans and other outsiders increased. The treaties China was forced to sign after the Second Opium War opened Taiwanese ports to European trade. With increased numbers of ships plying the seas off Taiwan's coast, interactions between shipwrecked navigators and hostile natives became a serious issue. In 1871 a boat with sixty-six natives of the Ryukyu Islands was wrecked off of Taiwan's shore; of the sixty-six passengers on this ship, fifty-four were killed by aborigines. In retaliation for this incident and several others, the Japanese briefly dispatched troops to southern Taiwan in 1874. In the ensuing peace negotiations, Li Hongzhang told the Japanese that China "was not responsible" for the natives. China paid Japan an indemnity to compensate for the loss of life. The Japanese considered this an abrogation of Chinese control over Taiwan. A Qing dispute with the French in 1884 further tested China's commitment to retain Taiwan. In an attempt to solidify his control, the Qing government dispatched Liu Ming-ch'uan, a "Western-style" reformist. Liu instituted tax reform measures, reorganized the different monopolies, encouraged foreign investment, and made limited attempts to improve the island's infrastructure, including the installation of Taiwan's first short stretch of railway line. However, these modest measures came too late to help Qing officials establish a firm claim over the island. When the Sino-Japanese War concluded in 1895, the Chinese were forced to sign the Treaty of Shimonoseki; among other provisions in the treaty, China handed over control of Taiwan to the Japanese. Two hundred years of Qing administration came to a sudden end.
Founded on May 25, 1895, the Taiwan Democratic Republic survived for only 148 days. Due to its short-lived nature, it would be easy to dismiss the Taiwan Democratic Republic as a mere historical footnote. However, the nature of the struggle by the Taiwanese against their new Japanese masters was significant.
When the residents of Taiwan received word that the Qing government had simply surrendered control of the island without any regard for the fate of native Taiwanese, outrage followed. Politically, it can be argued that the Republic of Taiwan was led by a collection of Qing officials seeking only to enrich themselves. The chosen president of the Republic, Tang Ching-sun, escaped from Taiwan two weeks after the Republic was declared; reports suggest that he left with 400,000 liangs of public funds. Similarly, in October the leading general of the Taiwanese forces, "Black Flag Liu," disguised himself as a woman and fled the island with what was left of the Taiwan Democratic Republic's treasury.
While the political lineage of the Taiwan Democratic Republic was suspect, the native population's willingness to resist Japanese occupation was unquestionable. The Japanese made rapid gains when their forces landed on the northern shores of Taiwan. In the jungles of the south, however, the Taiwanese put up fierce resistance, resorting to guerrilla tactics to frustrate Japanese efforts to claim the island. Estimates claim that more than 14,000 Taiwanese lost their lives in battles of resistance and the massacres that followed. It is also significant that the island's diverse groups joined together in their struggle against the Japanese. For centuries, Dutch and Chinese officials ruled Taiwan using "divide and conquer" techniques; it can be argued that the struggle against Japanese occupation marks the true emergence of a distinct "Taiwanese identity."
By October of 1895, the Japanese claimed they had put down Taiwanese resistance. However, guerrilla attacks and regular rebellions persisted for more than a decade. The clan, ethnic and local divisions that characterized interactions during the period of Qing administration melted away in the face of a new colonial oppressor.
With the new Japanese administration in place at Taipei, the Taiwanese discovered that Japanese methods of rule were distinctly at odds with the way Qing officials had governed. While Qing officials had viewed Taiwan as little more than a nuisance to be dealt with as needed, the new Japanese overlords viewed the island as the new jewel of their colonial ambitions. Having seen much of Asia carved up between Western powers, Japan set out to make Taiwan a model of colonial efficiency.
In order to suppress local opposition, the Japanese created a security system that established collective responsibility for the "rebel actions" of a single individual. In addition, they instituted local youth corps and village associations to tighten their control over Taiwan. Although these measures were designed to increase Japanese control while atomizing pockets of resistance, they further blurred clan and ethnic rivalries that had allowed previous rulers to "divide and conquer." The same can be said of using Japanese as the primary language of instruction in schools; while language had been a divisive influence in previous eras, Japanese provided a linguistic "common currency" among children schooled in the generations of Japanese occupation.
The official Japanese policy toward the Taiwanese population was one of assimilation; in reality, however, the Taiwanese did not share the economic or political privileges of their Japanese colonizers. Despite this unequal treatment, the standard of living improved under Japanese rule. Improvements in public health led to a dramatic decrease in the number of communicable diseases, the average income of farmers and other workers doubled, and literacy rates quadrupled to 80%. In addition, the era of Japanese colonialism was marked by large-scale internal improvements; the construction of railroad lines, telegraph lines, commerce roads, harbors and other projects paved the way for rapid economic development.
With the escalation of the war in China after 1937, the process of "Japanization" in Taiwan was stepped-up. All Taiwanese residents were expected to read and speak Japanese, and they were expected to adopt Japanese names. The "cult of emperor worship" was also propagated. As the Pacific War intensified, Taiwanese subjects were recruited into the Japanese military and were also drafted to provide labor for the war effort. Over 200,000 Taiwanese served as soldiers or as civilian laborers during the war. While Japanese soldiers and their survivors received pensions from the Japanese government after the war, none of the Taiwanese who served and died as "Japanese subjects" were ever compensated.
On August 15, 1945, Japan officially surrendered, officially ending fifty years of Japanese colonialism of Taiwan. As agreed to in the Cairo Declaration of 1943, Taiwan was to be returned to the Nationalist China. While the Taiwanese were happy to see the end of Japanese rule, they looked with uncertainty towards their political return to the "Motherland."
Before World War II had ended, Chiang Kai-shek had an eye cast toward the postwar period. Chiang appointed General Chen Yi to be Governor of Taiwan, and on October 17, 1945, twelve thousand Kuomintang (KMT) troops landed at Keelung harbor and marched towards Taipei. Being accustomed to well-organized Japanese soldiers, the Taiwanese people were stunned when they encountered the KMT soldiers. Exhausted from years of war, the Chinese troops were largely uneducated and corrupt. Immediately after landing, KMT officials and soldiers began a massive looting campaign in which everything from personal items to heavy machinery was stolen and sold on the black market. In addition, inflation was rampant, unemployment high, and public services had broken down. While the Taiwanese had originally been open to the possibility of a "return to the Motherland," discontentment soon peaked.
On February, 28, 1947, an incident involving police treatment of a woman selling black market cigarettes triggered rioting in Taipei and, within days, the rioting had spread throughout the island. Troops fired on crowds and hundreds of Taiwanese were killed. While Governor Chen initially told protest groups that he was open to political reforms, he was merely buying time for more troops to arrive from the mainland. On March 8, 13,000 well-equipped KMT troops landed at Keelung and Kaohsiung and immediately began a killing spree that claimed the lives of thousands of protestors. At the same time, KMT police rounded up thousands of intellectuals and suspected dissidents. By the time the carnage ended, approximately 10,000 Taiwanese were dead and 30,000 were wounded. An entire generation of educated Taiwanese were either killed or intimidated into submission. "The February 28 Incident" marked the beginning of a period of political oppression that would last until the 1980's.
In October 1949, Chiang's Kuomintang forces were defeated by the Chinese Communists, thus forcing his government to flee to the island of Taiwan. The Chinese mainlanders who accompanied Chiang in his flight to Taiwan comprised only 15% of the island's population, but they were able to maintain themselves in a position of power over the native Taiwanese population through tight control of the political system, police, military, educational system and media. The Kuomintang Party was the only political party that was legally recognized in Taiwan. Once established on Taiwan, Chiang's government refused to acknowledge the Communist People's Republic of China, claiming that the Republic of China on Taiwan was the only legitimate Chinese government. This marked the beginning of the so-called "Two Chinas" period in which both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China on Taiwan claimed sole political legitimacy. Tensions between these two governments continue to this day.
In January 1950, American President Harry Truman announced that the U.S. would not interfere in the dispute between the "Two Chinas." However, on June 25, 1950, Communist North Korea attacked South Korea, signaling the outbreak of the Korean War. The start of the war led to a change in American policy towards Taiwan. The U.S. sent its Seventh Fleet to the Taiwan Strait to prevent further communist encroachment in Asia. For the next 25 years, Taiwan was considered an important ally in the Cold War.
Chiang Kai-shek took advantage of the new alliance with Western governments to declare martial law and a series of "emergency provisions" which made Taiwan a virtual dictatorship. In addition, the Kuomintang created a KGB-styled secret police agency, which was controlled by President Chiang's son, Chiang Ching-kuo. Under this series of repressive measures, Chiang's KMT government was unchallenged by political opposition; elected members of the Taiwan legislature and other important offices did not have to run for re-election until after martial law was lifted in the late 1987.
Despite these repressive measures, resistance to the Chiang regime broke out periodically. In the 1960's, the KMT attempted to silence calls for Taiwanese independence. Since both Taiwan and the Peoples' Republic of China claimed that there was only "one China," calls for independence amounted to capitulation. Until 1972, the Republic of China on Taiwan was recognized as the only "true" Chinese government by the United Nations and other world bodies. When the U.N. recognized the Peoples' Republic of China, Taiwan lost its seat in the world body. In 1979, the United States gave diplomatic recognition to the PRC, thus isolating Taiwan even further. The PRC and Taiwan's claim that there is only "one China" remains a sensitive issue to this day; politicians who call for Taiwan to declare independence risk a military response by the PRC. The PRC claims that Taiwan is a "rebellious province" of China and vows to reclaim it. As a result, the Taiwan Strait is one of the most tense strategic outposts in the world.
While Taiwan's political situation has often been difficult, the country's economic growth has been staggering. Despite the fact that the country does not enjoy official diplomatic recognition with most countries, Taiwan currently has the world's fourteenth largest economy. After establishing itself on Taiwan, the Kuomintang undertook a massive land redistribution program. The gains farmers enjoyed as a result of decreased tenancy rates were offset by the agricultural monopolies established by the government; the government often paid farmers less than market price for their crops. In the industrial sector, the government also played an important role in building the country's industrial base. The infrastructure that had been constructed during the Japanese period was a great benefit to the Kuomintang's industrialization efforts, as was U.S. economic aid. Given its small geographical area and limited resource base, Taiwan's economic performance has been astounding.
In 1988, Taiwanese President Chiang Ching-kuo died; Chiang had been Taiwan's leader since his father's death in 1975. Vice President Lee Tung-hui became Taiwan's new president and, in doing so, became the first native-Taiwanese leader of the country. Since taking over power in 1945, Mainlanders had monopolized most of the key positions in Taiwan. 1988 also marked the first official elections to fill vacant seats in Taiwan's Legislative Yuan. In 1992, all of the seats in the Legislative Yuan were contested - the first time such an election had taken place since 1947.
Despite financial and institutional advantages enjoyed by the KMT, the DPP gradually gained political support. In 1996, the first free and open presidential election was held in Taiwan. Although incumbent President Lee Tung-hui easily won re-election, DPP candidate Peng Ming-min became the first non-KMT candidate for president. During the election campaign, Peng's pro-independence stance created concern in the Peoples' Republic of China; the PRC sent warships into the Taiwan Strait to intimidate the Taiwanese electorate.
In the 2000 presidential election, Chen Shui-bian became the first DPP member elected to the presidency; he was subsequently re-elected in 2004. Chen has also raised concern in the PRC due to his support for Taiwan independence. The Peoples' Republic of China continues to assert that there is only "one China." Despite Taiwan's increased economic integration with the PRC, Taiwan's political independence remains one of the most pressing issues in East Asia.