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Taiwan is mostly mountainous in the east but gradually transitions to gently sloping plains in the west. Penghu Islands (the Pescadores) are to the west of Taiwan. (Satellite photo by NASA)
Taiwan is mostly mountainous in the east but gradually transitions to gently sloping plains in the west. Penghu Islands (the Pescadores) are to the west of Taiwan. (Satellite photo by NASA)

Taiwan (Traditional: 臺灣 or 台灣; Simplified: 台湾; pinyin: Táiwān; Wade-Giles: T'ai-wan; Taiwanese: Tâi-oân) is an island in East Asia located off the coast of mainland China, south of Japan and north of the Philippines. "Taiwan" is commonly used to refer to the territories currently governed by the Republic of China (ROC), which include the Taiwan island group (including Lanyu (Orchid Island) and Green Island), the Pescadores in the Taiwan Strait, Quemoy and Matsu off the coast of mainland Fujian, and Taiping and the Pratas in the South China Sea.

The main island of Taiwan, also known as Formosa (Portuguese sailors called it Ilha Formosa, which means "beautiful island"), is bounded to the east by the Pacific Ocean, to the south by the South China Sea, to the west by the Taiwan Strait and to the north by the East China Sea. The island is 394 kilometers (245 miles) long and 144 kilometers (89 miles) wide and consists of steep mountains covered by tropical and subtropical vegetation.


Political status

Main article: Political status of Taiwan

In 1895, Taiwan, including the Pescadores, become a Japanese colony, a concession by the Qing Empire after it lost the First Sino-Japanese War. After Japan's defeat at the end of World War II in 1945, Allied Command ordered Japanese troops in Taiwan to surrender to the Republic of China (ROC) and ROC became the de facto ruler of Taiwan ever since. In 1949, upon losing the Chinese Civil War to the Communist Party of China, the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) of the Republic of China retreated from mainland China and moved the ROC government to Taipei, Taiwan's largest city, while continuing to claim sovereignty over all of China and Mongolia. On the mainland, the Communists established the People's Republic of China (PRC), claiming to be the sole represetative of China including Taiwan and portraying the ROC government on Taiwan as an illegitimate entity.

Taiwan has been transformed into a major industrialized economy and is touted as one of the East Asian Tigers. Meanwhile, political reforms beginning in the late 1970s and continuing through the early 1990s liberalized the Republic of China from an authoritarian one-party state into a multiparty democracy. In 2000, the KMT's monopoly on power ended after the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the ROC presidency. Besides groups seeking the reunification of Taiwan with the mainland, there is a Taiwan independence movement that seeks to establish a Taiwanese republic. The competing claims over the future of Taiwan have made and continue to make Taiwan's political status a contentious issue. The numbers who answer favorably toward any particular resolution often changes depending on the particular wording of the question, illustrating the complexity of public opinion on the topic.

The political environment is complicated by the potential for military conflict to result should overt actions toward independence be taken. It is the policy of the PRC to reserve the right to "use force to ensure reunification" if peaceful reunification fails, and there are substantial military installations on the Fujian coast. In return, the US has provided military training and arms sales to the ROC. However, the United States has repeatedly stated that it does not condone the Taiwan independence movement, and furthermore that it does not support unilateral changes in the current status quo by either the ROC or PRC leadership.

The KMT supports the status quo for the indefinite future with the ultimate goal of reunificaiton because unification under the current political climate in PRC is unacceptable to its members and the public. The DPP, which supports an independent Taiwan, supports the status quo because the risk of declaring independence and provoking mainland China is unacceptable to its members. However, both parties support taking active steps to advocate ROC's participation in international organizations.

Currently there are 25 states -- mostly small, developing nations in Africa and South America -- that have diplomatic relations with the Republic of China, although many countries such as the United States and United Kingdom have de-facto embassies in the ROC – the United States, for example, maintains unofficial diplomatic relations through the American Institute in Taiwan. ROC's de facto embassies are referred to as "Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Offices" (TECRO), with branch offices, the equivalent of consulates, called "Taipei Economic and Cultural Offices" (TECO). Each year since 1992, the government of the Republic of China petitions the UN for entry but has so far been unsuccessful because most countries, including the United States, do not wish to engage in the issue of ROC's political status for fears of souring diplomatic ties with PRC, although both the US and Japan publicly support ROC's bid into the World Health Organization as an observer. Without official support from the international community, it is unclear how the pro-independence contingent's vision of Taiwanese independence can be achieved.

Facing tremendous pressure from PRC, the ROC uses the name Chinese Taipei in the Olympics and other international events, usually of which PRC is also a party.


Main article: History of Taiwan

The Puyuma's moon-shaped monolith, ca. 1896
The Puyuma's moon-shaped monolith, ca. 1896

Prehistory and early settlement

Evidence of human settlement in Taiwan dates back 30,000 years, although the first inhabitants of Taiwan may have been genetically distinct from any groups currently on the island. About 4,000 years ago, ancestors of current Taiwanese aborigines settled Taiwan. These aborigines are genetically related to Malay and Polynesians, and linguists classify their language as Austronesian. Records indicate that Han Chinese settled in Penghu since the 1100s, but it was not until later that people other than aborigines permanently settled in the main island of Taiwan.

Records from ancient China indicate that Han Chinese might have known of the existence of the main island of Taiwan since the Three Kingdoms period (third century), having assigned offshore islands in the vicinity names like Greater and Minor Liuqiu (Ryukyu), though none of these names have been definitively matched to the main island of Taiwan. It has been claimed but not verified that the Ming Dynasty admiral Zheng He visited Taiwan between 1403 and 1424.

In the 15th century, a Portuguese ship sighted the main island of Taiwan and dubbed it "Ilha Formosa", which means "Beautiful Island." The Portuguese made no attempt to colonize Taiwan. In 1624, the Dutch established a commercial base on Taiwan and began to import workers from Fujian and Penghu as laborers, many of whom settled. The Dutch made Taiwan a colony with its colonial capital at Tainan.

Koxinga and imperial Chinese rule

Ming naval and troop forces defeated the Dutch from the island in 1662, subsequently expelling the Dutch government and military. They were led by Lord Cheng Cheng-Kung (also known as Lord Koxinga), a pirate turned Ming navy commander. Following the fall of the Ming dynasty, Cheng retreated to Taiwan as a self-styled Ming loyalist, and established the Kingdom of Tungning (1662–1683). Cheng establishing his capital at Tainan and he and his heirs continued to launch raids on the east coast of mainland China well into the Qing dynasty, in an attempt to recover the mainland.

In 1683, the Qing dynasty defeated the Cheng holdout, and formally annexed Taiwan, placing it under the jurisdiction of Fujian province. Following the defeat of Cheng's grandson to an armada led by Admiral Shi Lang, Cheng's followers were expatriated to the farthest reaches of the Qing empire, leaving approximately 7,000 Han on Taiwan. The Qing government wrestled with its Taiwan policy to reduce piracy and vagrancy in the area, which led to a series of edicts to manage immigration and respect aboriginal land rights. Illegal immigrants from Fujian continued to enter Taiwan as renters of the large plots of aboriginal lands under contracts that usually involved marriage, while the border between taxpaying lands and "savage" lands migrated east, with some aborigines 'Sinicizing' while others retreated into the mountains. During this time, there were a number of conflicts involving Han Chinese from different regions of China, and between Han Chinese and aborigines. The bulk of Taiwan's population today, the "native" Taiwanese, claim descent from these migrants.

In 1887, the Qing government of China made Taiwan a province by itself, the 20th in the country, with capital at Taipei. The move was accompanied by a modernization drive that included the building of the first railroad and the beginning of a postal service in Taiwan.

Japanese colonial rule

The building currently known as the ROC Presidential Office was originally built as the Office of the Governor-General by the Japanese colonial government.
The building currently known as the ROC Presidential Office was originally built as the Office of the Governor-General by the Japanese colonial government.

Following its defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), Qing China ceded Taiwan and Penghu (the Pescadores) to Japan in perpetuity, on terms dictated by the latter. Inhabitants wishing to remain Qing subjects were given a 2-year grace period to sell their property and move to the mainland.

On May 25, 1895, the Republic of Taiwan was formed with a dynastic name of "Forever Qing" and with capital at Tainan, to resist impending Japanese rule. Japanese forces entered the capital and quelled this resistance on October 21, 1895. As opposed to elsewhere in Asia, Japan attempted to use Taiwan as a model colony and was instrumental in the industrialization of the island; they extended the railroads that had just sprung up in late Qing rule, built a sanitation system and a public school system, among other things. Still, the Chinese-speaking residents and aborigines were classified as second and third class citizens. Large scale violence continued in the first decade of rule. Around 1935, the Japanese began an island-wide assimilation project to bind the island more firmly to the Japanese Empire. By 1945, just before Japan lost World War II, desperate plans were in place to incorporate popular representation of Taiwan into the Japanese Diet to make Taiwan an integral part of Japan proper.

Japan's rule of Taiwan came to an end with its defeat in World War II. Its signing of the Instrument of Surrender on August 15, 1945, signalled that Taiwan was to be returned to China, one of the Allied objectives from the wartime declarations. On October 25, 1945, ROC troops, representing the Allied Command, accepted the formal surrender of Japanese military forces in Taihoku (today: Taipei). However, due to the Chinese Civil War between the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Chinese Communists, the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty between Japan and the Allies failed to name the recipient of Taiwan's sovereignty.

Republic of China era

 Taiwanese National Assembly delegates with Chiang Kai-shek in 1946. There is little evidence that the people of Taiwan actually elected these delegates.
Taiwanese National Assembly delegates with Chiang Kai-shek in 1946. There is little evidence that the people of Taiwan actually elected these delegates.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei

The ROC administration announced October 25, 1945, as "Taiwan Retrocession Day." Reportedly, they were greeted as liberators by the island residents. However, the ROC military administration on Taiwan under Chen Yi, was extremely corrupt. This corruption, compounded with a period of hyperinflation, unrest due to the Chinese Civil War, and distrust due to political, cultural and lingual differences that had developed between the Taiwanese and the newcomers, quickly led to the loss of popular support for the new administration. This culminated in a series of severe clashes between the ROC administration and "native" Taiwanese, in turn leading to the bloody 228 incident and the reign of white terror.

At the same time, the Chinese Civil War was in progress. In 1949, the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party or KMT), which at the time controlled the government of the ROC, retreated to Taiwan after continued military defeats at the hands of the Communist Party of China drove it from most parts of the mainland. Some 1.3 million refugees from mainland China arrived in Taiwan around that time. Initially, the United States abandoned the KMT and expected that Taiwan would fall to the Communists. However, in 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, and in the context of the Cold War, US President Harry S. Truman intervened again and dispatched the 7th Fleet into the Taiwan Straits to "neutralize" the Straits.

In the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which came into force on April 28, 1952, and the Treaty of Taipei, concluded hours before that date, Japan formally renounced all right, claim and title to Formosa (Taiwan) and the Pescadores (Peng-hu), and renounced all treaties signed with China before 1942. Both treaties remained silent about who would take control of the island, in part to avoid taking sides in the ongoing Chinese Civil War. Advocates of Taiwan independence have used this omission to justify self-determination.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Taiwan began to develop into a prosperous and dynamic economy, becoming one of the East Asian Tigers while maintaining an authoritarian, one-party government. Because of the Cold War, most Western nations and the United Nations regarded the Republic of China government on Taiwan as the sole legitimate government of China until the 1970s, when most nations began switching recognition to the People's Republic of China.

During the presidency of Chiang Ching-kuo, from 1975 to 1987, Taiwan's political system began a gradual liberalization. Martial law, which had been in effect since 1948, was lifted in 1987. Upon Chiang's death, Vice President Lee Teng-hui succeeded him as president of the ROC and chairman of the KMT, and effective one-party rule was ended in 1991. Lee became the first Taiwanese to become the president during KMT rule. In 2000, President Chen Shui-bian of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party was elected, creating the first peaceful democratic transition in power. After surviving a politically controversial assassination attempt which the opposition claimed as staged to win sympathy votes the night before the 2004 election, Chen was re-elected by a slim margin. Medical and police investigation have verified that the wounds sustained by President Chen and Vice President Annette Lu are real, and no evidence has been found suggesting that the assassination was staged.

See also

Political divisions

Main article: Political divisions of the Republic of China

Taiwan Island contains all but one county of Taiwan Province: 15 counties and all five province-administered cities. Penghu (the Pescadores) is the only county in Taiwan Province which is not on Taiwan. Taiwan's two largest cities, Taipei City and Kaohsiung City, although on the island of Taiwan, are not part of Taiwan Province but are centrally-administered municipalities, with the same level as provinces.

Since 1998, the provincial tier of government has been largely eliminated, leaving the county the main division under the central government. Currently, in addition to the main island of Taiwan, the Republic of China also controls the Pescadores, Kinmen (Quemoy), and Matsu islands situated in the Taiwan Strait off the coast of mainland Fujian (Fuchien), plus some Pacific Coast islands (notably the Green and Orchid islands). Furthermore, the ROC also claims some islands in the South China Sea. Some of these outer islands, notably the Spratly (Nansha) islands -- claimed by PRC, ROC and some southeastern Asian countries simultaneously --in the South China Sea and the Senkaku (Diaoyutai) islands -- occupied by Japan now but disputed by both PRC and ROC --in the Pacific Coast.


Taroko National Park
Taroko National Park

Main article: Geography of Taiwan

The island of Taiwan lies some 200 kilometers off the southeastern coast of China, across the Taiwan Strait, and has an area of 35,801 square kilometers (13,823 square miles), with the East China Sea to the north, the Philippine Sea to the east, the Luzon Strait directly to the south and the South China Sea to the southwest. The island is characterised by the contrast between the eastern two-thirds, consisting mostly of rugged mountains running in five ranges from the northern to the southern tip of the island, and the flat to gently rolling plains in the west that are also home to most of Taiwan's population. Taiwan's highest point is the Yu Shan at 3,952 meters.

Taiwan's climate is marine tropical. The rainy season lasts from June to August during the southwest monsoon, though cloudiness is persistent and extensive all year. Natural hazards include typhoons and earthquakes.

Taiwan is a center of bird endemism. See Endemic Birds of Taiwan for further information.

With its high population density and many factories, Taiwan suffers from heavy pollution. According to one report, Taiwan ranks 119 out of 143 countries examined by Energy Information Administration. Taipei City suffers from heavy air pollution as a result of the ring of mountains that surrounds it, effectively trapping soot and smog in the city.


Main article: Demographics of Taiwan

ROC's population was estimated in 2005 as being 22.9 million, most of which are on Taiwan. About 98 percent of the population is of Han Chinese ethnicity. Of these people, 84 percent are descendants of early Han immigrants known as native Taiwanese (c: 本省人; p: Bensheng ren; lit. "home-province person"). This group contains two subgroups. The first subgroup is the Southern Fujianese (70 percent of the total population), who migrated from the coastal Southern Fujian region in the southeast of mainland China. The second subgroup is the Hakka (15 percent of the total population), who originally migrated south to Guangdong, its surrounding areas and Taiwan, intermarrying extensively with Taiwanese aborigines. The remaining 14 percent of Han Chinese are known as Mainlanders (外省人; Waisheng ren; lit. "external-province person") and are composed of and descend from immigrants who arrived after the Second World War. This group fled mainland China in 1949 following the Nationalist defeat in the Chinese Civil War. Dalu ren (大陸人) refers to residents of Mainland China. This group excludes almost all Taiwanese, including the Mainlanders, except recent immigrants from mainland China, such as those made Republic of China citizens through marriage.

The other 2 percent of Taiwan's population, numbering about 440,000, are the Taiwanese aborigines (原住民; yuánzhùmín; lit. "original inhabitants"), divided into 12 major groups: Ami, Atayal, Paiwan, Bunun, Puyuma, Rukai, Tsou, Saisiyat, Yami, Thao, Kavalan and Taroko.


Almost everyone on Taiwan born after the early 1950s can speak Mandarin, which has been the medium of instruction in the schools for more than four decades. A large fraction of people also speak Taiwanese, a variant of Min-nan. The Hakka have a distinct Hakka language/dialect. Between 1900 and 1945, Japanese was the medium of instruction, and many Taiwanese educated during that period can speak fluent Japanese. Taiwanese schools also commonly teach English, resulting in a trilingual population, many of whom speak even more languages. Chinese romanization on Taiwan uses both Tongyong pinyin, which the national government officially has adopted, and Hanyu pinyin, which some localities use. Wade-Giles, used traditionally, also is found. Mayor Ma Ying-jeou recently succeeded in changing all Taipei street names to the Hanyu form, although most romanizations in other cities still are in Tongyong. Most aboriginal groups in Taiwan have their own languages, and unlike Taiwanese or Hakka, do not belong to the Chinese language family, but rather belong to the Austronesian language family.


About half of the ROC population is religious, and most of these people identify themselves as Buddhists or Taoists. Belief in folk religion also is prevalent, and many people practice some combination of these three faiths. Confucianism is also an honored school of thought and ethical code. Christian churches have been active on Taiwan for many years; a majority of these churches are Protestant, with Presbyterians playing a particularly significant role.


Taipei City at night
Taipei City at night

Main article: Economy of Taiwan

Taiwan has a dynamic capitalist economy with gradually decreasing state involvement in investment and foreign trade. In keeping with this trend, the government is privatizing some large banks and industrial firms. Real growth in gross domestic product has averaged about 8 percent during the past three decades. Exports have provided the primary impetus for industrialization. The trade surplus is substantial, and foreign reserves are the world's third largest.

The ROC has its own currency: the New Taiwan Dollar.

Agriculture constitutes only 2 percent of GDP, down from 35 percent in 1952. Traditional labor-intensive industries are moving steadily offshore, with more capital- and technology-intensive industries replacing them. Taiwan has become a major investor in mainland China, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam; 50,000 Taiwanese businesses are established in mainland China. Taiwan is one of the largest foreign investors in mainland China.

Because of its conservative financial approach and its entrepreneurial strengths, Taiwan suffered little compared with many of its neighbors from the Asian financial crisis in 19981999. The global economic downturn, however, combined with poor policy coordination by the new administration and increasing bad debts in the banking system, pushed Taiwan into recession in 2001, the first whole year of negative growth since 1947. Due to the relocation of many manufacturing and labor-intensive industries to mainland China, unemployment also peaked at a level last seen during the 1970s oil crisis. This problem became one of the major issues in the presidential election of 2004. The unemployment rate eventually declined after the government adopted a few economy-stimulating measures.

The ROC has entered international governmental trade organizations such as the World Trade Organization and APEC under the name Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu (台灣、澎湖、金門及馬祖個別關稅領域) in WTO and under the name Chinese Taipei in APEC. Although the PRC objects to having other countries maintain diplomatic or official relations with the ROC, it made no objection to having the ROC maintain economic relations. However, under PRC pressure, the ROC joined governmental organizations under different names.

The opening of the Taipei Financial Center, also know as Taipei 101 due to its number of floors, on December 31, 2004, brought more world recognition to Taiwan and Taipei. Taipei 101, equipped with the world's fastest elevators, is the world's tallest building. The surrounding financial district is steadily becoming more recognized in the world market, and a trendy shopping district is rapidly growing around it as well.

With Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong it is known as one of the East Asian Tigers.



Main article: Culture of Taiwan

Dancer in traditional aboriginal dress
Dancer in traditional aboriginal dress

Taiwan's mainstream culture is primarily derived from traditional Chinese culture, with significant influences also from Japanese and American cultures, especially in the areas of politics and architecture. Taiwanese aborigines also have a distinct culture. Fine arts, folk traditions, and popular culture embody traditional and modern Asian and Western motifs.

Karaoke is incredibly popular in Taiwan, where it is known as KTV and is an example of something the Taiwanese have drawn from contemporary Japanese culture. Pachinko is another example.

Taiwanese culture also has influenced the West: Bubble tea and milk tea are popular drinks readily available around city centers in Europe, Canada and the United States. Ang Lee is the famous Taiwanese movie director of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Eat Drink Man Woman, among other films.

About 80 percent of the people in Taiwan belong to the Holo ethnic group and speak both Mandarin and Taiwanese. Mandarin is the primary language of instruction in schools; however, most spoken media is split between Mandarin and Taiwanese. Speaking Taiwanese under the localization movement has become an emblem of expressing Taiwanese identity, and the language has undergone a resurgence since the early 1990s. The Hakka, about 10 percent of the population, have a distinct Hakka language. Aboriginal minority groups still speak their native languages, although most also speak Mandarin and Taiwanese.

Longshan Temple, Taipei, an example of architecture with southern Chinese influences commonly seen in older buildings in Taiwan.
Longshan Temple, Taipei, an example of architecture with southern Chinese influences commonly seen in older buildings in Taiwan.
Japanese mecha anime themed store in Taipei. Japanese culture has had a strong influence in Taiwan, including various mannerisms among the elderly who remember Japanese rule and TV dramas and anime among the younger generations.
Japanese mecha anime themed store in Taipei. Japanese culture has had a strong influence in Taiwan, including various mannerisms among the elderly who remember Japanese rule and TV dramas and anime among the younger generations.

The Taiwanese localization movement continues to be a major driver of Taiwanese culture, as a reaction against both the previous repression by the previously Kuomintang-controlled government and the hostility of the PRC. Thus, identity politics, along with the over 100 years of political separation from mainland China, 50 of which were under Japanese colonial rule, has led to distinct traditions in many areas, including cuisine, motion pictures, photography, opera and music.

One of Taiwan's greatest attractions is the National Palace Museum, which houses more than 650,000 pieces of Chinese bronze, jade, calligraphy, painting and porcelain. Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist Party (KMT) moved this collection from the Forbidden City in Beijing in 1949 when it fled to Taiwan. The collection, estimated to be one-tenth of China's cultural treasures, is so extensive that only 1 percent is on display at any time.

Convenience store culture

Boasting 8,058 convenience stores in an area of 35,980 km² and a population of 22.9 million, Taiwan has the Asia Pacific’s and perhaps the world’s highest density of convenience stores per person: one store per 2,800 people or .000357 stores per person (2005 ACNielsen ShopperTrends). With 3680 7-Eleven stores, Taiwan also has the world’s highest density of 7-Elevens per person: one store per 6200 people or .000161 stores per person (International Licensing page of 7-Eleven website). In Taipei, it is not unusual to see two 7-Elevens across the street or several of them within a few hundreds of meters of each other.

Because they are found everywhere, convenience stores in Taiwan provide services on behalf of financial institutions or government agencies such as collection of the city parking fee, utility bills, traffic violation fines, and credit card payments. Eighty percent of urban household shoppers in Taiwan visit a convenience store each week (2005 ACNielsen ShopperTrends). The idea of being able to purchase food items, drink, fast food, magazines, videos, computer games, and so on 24 hours a day and at any corner of a street makes life easier for Taiwan’s extremely busy and rushed population.

See also

External links



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