From headhunters to computers…
The little-known history of Taiwan is complex and mired in controversy. It would be a daunting undertaking to make sense of it all. Let’s make it easy for you to get the big picture. We’ll skip the boring stuff. Here are the highlights…
Note: I personally do not take side on the issue of Taiwan’s sovereignty. Both Taiwan and China have their own versions of historical facts and events, and my knowledge is limited to what I have read in guidebooks, and heard from friends in both Taiwan and China.
History of Taiwan – The Colonists…
- Han-Chinese (since 11th century – now),
- the Dutch (1624-1662),
- the Spanish (1626-1638),
- the Japanese (1895-1945),
- the French (1884).
NOTE: The Portuguese never did colonize Taiwan, but they are the ones who named it Ilha Formosa – Beautiful Island -in 1544.
Early History of Taiwan
- As far back as 50,000 to 30,000 years ago, humans begin to migrate to Taiwan from mainland Asia.
- Austronesian peoples (from Oceania and Southeast Asia) are believed to be the ancestors of Taiwan’s aboriginals.
- China is indifferent to Taiwan. It sees it as a wild land inhabited by barbaric headhunters.
- In the 11th century, the first Chinese immigrants – the Hakka – begin to settle on Taiwan. They come to escape political instability on the mainland.
The Dutch Are Here for Business
- The Dutch want to control trade from Indonesia to Japan. They settle at Anping (near Tainan) in 1624.
- They write Taiwan’s first historical accounts and organize Taiwan in a “civilized” way for the first time.
- Relations are very hostile and violent with both the indigenous tribes and immigrants from mainland China.
The Spanish Want a Piece of Taiwan’s History
- In 1626, the Spanish take control of Keelung harbor in the north to expand trade with Japan.
- In 1628, they establish another base at Danshui.
- Poor trade, typhoons, malaria and local aborigines eventually kick them out of the island in 1638.
China gets involved
- In China, the Ming dynasty is in collapse. The Manchus take control of Beijing and establish the Qing Dynasty.
- Koxinga, an influential general and a Ming loyalist, retreats to Taiwan. The Dutch surrender to him in 1662.
- In 1683, the Qing navy attacks the Koxinga regime. Taiwan officially becomes part of China. The Qing rule the island for 212 years.
History of Taiwan – The Qing (1683 to 1894)
- The Qing regime segregates aboriginals and Chinese.
- More and more Han immigrants arrive from China.
- Han settlers fight among themselves and with the natives.
50 Years of Japanese Occupation
- China and Japan are at war. China is defeated and cedes Taiwan to the Japanese on 1895.
- The Japanese develop the economy, build bridges, highways, railways, schools and hospitals. The history of Taiwan has never seen so much progress so fast.
- When the Japanese leave, the island is far more modernized than China and is a model economy.
China is Back – Taiwan’s History Repeats Itself
- In China, revolutionaries led by Sun Yat-sen overthrow the Qing Dynasty (the last Chinese Dynasty).
- The Republic of China is created in 1911. Chiang Kai-shekheads the Chinese Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT).
- In 1945, the island returns to China after World War II.
- Taiwanese resent the corrupt KMT. Tens of thousands of civilians die following riots against the new, cruel regime. In 1947, Taiwan is forced into martial law.
Taiwan Under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek
- In 1949, the communists defeat the nationalists. Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang retreat to Taiwan. 2 million mainlanders follow him.
- For forty years, opposition parties and Taiwanese language are banned. Mainlanders have absolute control.
- Supported and protected by the US, the KMT makes preparations to retake China.
- In the 70s, Taiwan starts becoming isolated. It loses its seat at the UN, China takes its place.
- In 1978, the US severs ties with Taiwan, recognizes China. In 1979, the Taiwan Relation Act is signed. It ensures the US will still provide weapons to Taiwan.
Reforms, End of Martial Law and Democracy
- The KMT knows it can’t retake China, starts focusing on economic reforms. Taiwan becomes export-oriented.
- In 1986, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is born.
- Martial law is lifted in 1987.
- In 1996, Lee Teng-hui wins Taiwan’s first free presidential election. China fumes, fires missiles close to the island.
- Taiwan becomes the first Chinese democracy in the world.
Since 2000: The Taiwanese Identity Problem
- In 2000, the KMT loses power in a peaceful election. Chen Shui-bian (DPP) becomes president of Taiwan.
- Taiwan develops its own recognizable cultural identitythrough music, art, fashion and food.
- The island has no real political identity. Only 20 or so tiny states like Gambia and Tuvalu recognize it.
- China isolates, threatens and divides Taiwanese society. It says it will crush Taiwan if it ever declares independence.
- Ma Ying-jeou (KMT) is elected in 2008.
- Tsai Ying-wen (DPP) is elected in 2016.