|Prehistory and early settlements
Evidence of human settlement in Taiwan dates back thirty thousand years, although the first inhabitants of Taiwan may have been genetically distinct from any groups currently on the island. About four thousand years ago, ancestors of current Taiwanese aborigines settled in Taiwan. These aborigines are genetically related to Malay and Polynesians, and linguists classify their languages as Austronesian. Polynesians are suspected to have ancestry traceable back to Taiwan.
Han Chinese began settling in Penghu in the 1200s, but Taiwan’s hostile tribes and its lack of the trade resources valued in that era rendered it unattractive to all but “occasional adventurers or fishermen engaging in barter” until the sixteenth century.
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, 230 A.D.), having assigned offshore islands in the vicinity names like Greater Liuqiu and Lesser Liuqiu (etymologically, but perhaps not semantically, identical to Ryūkyū in Japanese), though none of these names has been definitively matched to the main island of Taiwan. It has been claimed but not verified that the Ming Dynasty admiral Cheng Ho (Zheng He) visited Taiwan between 1403 and 1424.
In 1544, 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 Tayoan City (present day Anping, Tainan). Both Tayoan and the island name Taiwan derive from a word in Sirayan, one of the Formosan languages.
The Dutch military presence was concentrated at a stronghold called Castle Zeelandia. The Dutch colonists also started to hunt the native Formosan Sika deer (Cervus nippon taioanus) that inhabited Taiwan, contributing to the eventual extinction of the subspecies on the island.
Koxinga and Imperial Chinese rule
Naval and troop forces of Southern Fujian defeated the Dutch in 1662, subsequently expelling the Dutch government and military from the island. They were led by Koxinga. Following the fall of the Ming Dynasty, Koxinga retreated to Taiwan as a self-styled Ming loyalist and established the Kingdom of Tungning (1662–83). Koxinga established his capital at Tainan and he and his heirs, Zheng Jing, who ruled from 1662–82, and Zheng Keshuang, who served less than a year, continued to launch raids on the south-east coast of mainland China well into the Qing Dynasty, attempting to recover the mainland.
In 1683, following the defeat of Koxinga’s grandson by an armada led by Admiral Shi Lang of Southern Fujian, the Qing Dynasty formally annexed Taiwan, placing it under the jurisdiction of Fujian province. The Qing Dynasty government tried to reduce piracy and vagrancy in the area, issuing a series of edicts to manage immigration and respect aboriginal land rights. Immigrants mostly from Southern Fujian continued to enter Taiwan. The border between taxpaying lands and “savage” lands shifted eastward, with some aborigines ‘Sinicizing’ while others retreated into the mountains. During this time, there were a number of conflicts between Chinese from different regions of Southern Fujian, and between Southern Fujian Chinese and aborigines.
Northern Taiwan and the Penghu Islands were the scene of an important subsidiary campaign in the Sino-French War (August 1884 to April 1885). The French occupied Keelung from 1 October 1884 to 22 June 1885 and the Penghu Islands from 31 March to 22 July 1885. A French attempt to capture Tamsui was defeated at the Battle of Tamsui (8 October 1884). Several battles were fought around Keelung between October 1884 and March 1885 between Liu Ming-ch’uan’s Army of Northern Taiwan and Colonel Jacques Duchesne’s Formosa Expeditionary Corps. The Keelung Campaign, despite some notable French tactical victories, ended in a stalemate. The Pescadores Campaign was a French victory, but had no long-term consequences. The French evacuated both Keelung and the Penghu archipelago at the end of the war.
In 1887, the Qing government upgraded Taiwan’s status from prefecture of Fujian to full province, the twentieth in the country, with its capital at Taipei. This was accompanied by a modernization drive that included building Taiwan’s first railroad and starting a postal service.
Imperial Japan had sought to control Taiwan since 1592, when Toyotomi Hideyoshi began extending Japanese influence overseas. In 1609, the Tokugawa Shogunate sent Arima Harunobu on an exploratory mission. In 1616, Murayama Toan led an unsuccessful invasion of the island.
In 1871, an Okinawan vessel shipwrecked on the southern tip of Taiwan and the crew of fifty-four were beheaded by the Paiwan aborigines. When Japan sought compensation from Qing China, the court rejected the demand on the grounds that the “wild”/”unsubjugated” aboriginals (traditional Chinese: 台灣生番; simplified Chinese: 台湾生番; pinyin: Táiwān shēngfān) were outside its jurisdiction. This open renunciation of sovereignty led to a Japanese invasion of Taiwan. In 1874, an expeditionary force of three thousand troops was sent to the island. There were about thirty Taiwanese and 543 Japanese casualties (twelve in battle and 531 by endemic diseases).
Qing China was defeated in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95), and ceded Taiwan and Penghu to Japan in perpetuity in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Inhabitants wishing to remain Chinese subjects were given a two-year grace period to sell their property and remove to mainland China. Very few Taiwanese saw this as feasible.
On May 25, 1895, a group of pro-Qing high officials proclaimed the Republic of Formosa to resist impending Japanese rule. Japanese forces entered the capital at Tainan and quelled this resistance on October 21, 1895.
The Japanese were instrumental in the industrialization of the island; they extended the railroads and other transportation networks, built an extensive sanitation system and revised the public school system. During this period, both rice and sugarcane production greatly increased. At one point, Taiwan was the seventh greatest sugar producer in the world. Still, the ethnic Chinese and Taiwanese aborigines were classified as second- and third-class citizens. Large-scale violence continued in the first decade of rule. Japan launched over 160 battles to destroy Taiwan’s aboriginal tribes during its 51-year rule of the island …’ Around 1935, the Japanese began an island-wide assimilation project to bind the island more firmly to the Japanese Empire. The plan worked very well, to the point that tens of thousands of Taiwanese joined the Japanese army ranks, and fought loyally for them. For example, former ROC President Lee Teng-hui’s elder brother served in the Japanese navy and died while on duty in February 1945 in the Philippines.
Taiwan played a significant part in the system of Japanese prisoner of war camps that extended across South-East Asia between 1942 and 1945.’ Allied POW’s, as well as ‘women and children as young as seven or eight years old,’ were brutally enslaved at various locations like at the copper mine northwest of Keelung, sadistically supervised by Taiwanese and Japanese. ‘… it was found that, while the Japanese were invariably proud to give their name and rank, Taiwanese soldiers and ‘hanchos’ invariably concealed their names … some Taiwanese citizens … were willing participants in war crimes of various degrees of infamy … young males were to an extent highly nipponized; in fact a proportion in the 1930s are reported to have been actively hoping for a Japanese victory in China … One of the most tragic events of the whole Pacific war took place in Kaohsiung. This was the bombing of the prison ship Enoura Maru in Kaohsiung harbour on January 9, 1945.’
The Imperial Japanese Navy operated heavily out of Taiwan. The “South Strike Group” was based out of the Taihoku Imperial University in Taiwan. Many of the Japanese forces participating in the Aerial Battle of Taiwan-Okinawa were based in Taiwan. Important Japanese military bases and industrial centers throughout Taiwan, like Kaohsiung, were targets of heavy American bombing.
By 1945, just before Japan lost World War II, desperate plans were put 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 ended when it lost World War II and signed the Instrument of Surrender of Japan on August 15, 1945. But the Japanese occupation had long lasting effects on Taiwan and Taiwanese culture. Taiwanese tend to have a more positive view of Japan than other Asians. Significant parts of Taiwanese infrastructure were started under the Japanese rule. The current Presidential Building was also built during that time. In 1938 there were 309,000 Japanese settlers in Taiwan. After World War II, most of the Japanese repatriated to Japan.
Kuomintang martial law period
On October 25, 1945, ROC troops representing the Allied Command accepted the formal surrender of Japanese military forces in Taihoku. The ROC Government, led by Chiang Kai-shek, announced that date as “Taiwan Retrocession Day”. They were greeted as liberators by some Taiwanese, however, most other Taiwanese who fought against China and the allies for the Japanese war machine greeted them reluctantly, this new generation of Chinese arrivals. The ROC under Chen Yi was very unstable and corrupt; it seized the people’s property and set up government monopolies of many industries. Many problems like this, compounded with hyperinflation, unrest due to the Chinese Civil War, and distrust due to political, cultural and linguistic differences between the Taiwanese and the Mainland Chinese, quickly led to the loss of popular support for the new government. This culminated in a series of severe clashes between the ROC government and Taiwanese, in turn leading to the bloody 228 incident and the reign of White Terror.
In 1949, during the Chinese Civil War, the Kuomintang (KMT), led by Chiang Kai-shek, retreated from Mainland China and moved the ROC government from Nanjing (then romanised as “Nanking”) to Taipei, Taiwan’s largest city, while continuing to claim sovereignty over all of China, which the ROC defines to include mainland China, Taiwan, Outer Mongolia as well as other areas. In mainland China, the victorious Communists established the PRC, claiming to be the sole representative of China including Taiwan and portraying the ROC government on Taiwan as an illegitimate entity.
Some 2 million refugees from Mainland China, consisting mainly of soldiers, KMT party members and most importantly the intellectual and business elites fled mainland China and arrived in Taiwan around that time. In addition, as part of its escape from Communists in mainland China, the ROC government relocated to Taiwan with many national treasures including gold reserves and foreign currency reserves. This was often used by the PRC government to explain its economic difficulties and Taiwan’s comparative prosperity. From this period through the 1980s, Taiwan was governed by a party-state dictatorship, with the KMT as the ruling party. Military rule continued and little to no distinction was made between the government and the party, with public property, government property, and party property being interchangeable. Government workers and party members were indistinguishable, with government workers, such as teachers, required to become KMT members, and party workers paid salaries and promised retirement benefits along the lines of government employees. In addition all other parties were outlawed, and political opponents were persecuted, incarcerated, and executed.
Taiwan remained under martial law and one-party rule, under the name of the “Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion”, from 1948 to 1987, when the ROC Presidents Chiang Ching-kuo and Lee Teng-hui gradually liberalized and democratized the system. With the advent of democratization, the issue of the political status of Taiwan has resurfaced as a controversial issue (previously, discussion of anything other than unification under the ROC was taboo).
As the Chinese Civil War continued without truce, the ROC built up military fortification works throughout Taiwan. Within this effort, former KMT soldiers built the now famous Central Cross-Island Highway through the Taroko Gorge in the 1950s. The two sides would remain in a heightened military state well into the 1960’s on the islands on the border with unknown number of night raids and clashes with details that are rarely made public. During the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis in September 1958, Taiwan’s landscape added Nike-Hercules missile batteries with the formation of the 1st Missile Battalion Chinese Army and would not be deactivated until 1997. Newer generations of missile batteries have since replaced the Nike Hercules systems throughout the island.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the ROC began to develop into a prosperous, industrialized developed country with a strong and dynamic economy, becoming one of the Four Asian Tigers while maintaining the authoritarian, single-party government. Because of the Cold War, most Western nations and the United Nations regarded the ROC as the sole legitimate government of China (while being merely the de-facto government on Taiwan) until the 1970s, when most nations began switching recognition to the PRC.
Modern democratic era
Chiang Kai-shek’s eventual successor, his son Chiang Ching-kuo, began to liberalize Taiwan’s political system. In 1984, the younger Chiang selected Lee Teng-hui, a Taiwan-born technocrat, to be his vice president. In 1986, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was formed and inaugurated as the first opposition party in Taiwan to counter the KMT. A year later Chiang Ching-kuo lifted martial law.
After the 1988 death of Chiang Ching-Kuo, his successor as President Lee Teng-hui continued to hand more government authority over to the Taiwan-born and democratize the government. Under Lee, Taiwan underwent a process of localization in which local culture and history was promoted over a pan-China viewpoint. Lee’s reforms included printing banknotes from the Central Bank rather than the Provincial Bank of Taiwan, and disbanding the Taiwan Provincial Government. Under Lee, the original members of the Legislative Yuan and National Assembly, elected in 1947 to represent mainland Chinese constituencies and having taken the seats without re-election for more than four decades, were forced to resign in 1991. Restrictions on the use of Taiwanese in the broadcast media and in schools were lifted as well. During later years of Lee’s administration, he was involved in corruption controversies relating to government release of land and weapons purchase, although no legal proceedings were commenced, as the investigations were interrupted.
In the 1990s, the ROC continued its democratic reforms, as President Lee Teng-hui was elected by the first popular vote held in Taiwan during the 1996 Presidential election. In 2000, Chen Shui-bian of the DPP, was elected as the first non-KMT President and was re-elected to serve his second and last term since 2004. Polarized politics has emerged in Taiwan with the formation of the Pan-Blue Coalition of parties led by the KMT, favoring eventual Chinese reunification, and the Pan-Green Coalition of parties led by the DPP, favoring an eventual and official declaration of Taiwan independence.
On September 30, 2007, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party approved a resolution asserting separate identity from China and called for the enactment of a new constitution for a “normal country”. It also called for general use of “Taiwan” as the island’s name, without abolishing its formal name, the Republic of China. The Chen administration also pushed for referendums on national defense and UN entry in the 2004 and 2008 elections, which failed due to voter turnout below the required legal threshold of 50% of all registered voters. The Chen administration was also dogged by public concern over reduced economic growth, legislative gridlock due to a pan-blue controlled Legislative Yuan, and alleged corruption controversies involving the First Family.
The KMT increased its majority in the Legislative Yuan in the January 2008 legislative elections, while its nominee Ma Ying-jeou went on to win the presidency in March of the same year, campaigning on a platform of increased economic growth, and better ties with Mainland China under a policy of “mutual nondenial”. Ma took office on May 20, 2008.