(Revised in 02/2005)
There is an island lying on the contact between the Pacific Ocean and Eurasia Continent where the Tropical of Cancer traverses. Unlike the immense deserts appear at the same latitude worldwide (Arabia, Sahara, Namibia, Central Australia ), this island has abundant rainfall, beautiful forests and mountains. Its diverse natural and cultural features are destined by the geographic position.
Inhabited by indigenous people of Eurasia and Austronesian linguistic group for millennia, Taiwan emerged on the world scene in the early 17 th century. Portuguese sailors discovered the island as early as 1542 and called it "Ilha Formosa" (meaning beautiful island), but it was the Dutch formally colonized this island first in 1624. Taiwan became a pivotal transshipment center of its East Asian trade networks. Flows of raw silk, porcelain, gold from China; silver from Japan; spices from Batavia (Jakarta); and rice, sugar, deerskins from Taiwan made enormous profit for the Dutch.
Starvation, poverty, and wars with Manchurian in China triggered the first large-scale immigration of Han people to Taiwan , and brought the Dutch control to an end. Cheng, Ch'eng-Kung (also known as Koxinga, who was the a son of a Chinese father and Japanese mother, born and raised in Japan until 7), a powerful admiral loyal to the faded Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), led his 25,000 troops expelling the Dutch by force in 1662. He and his successors started to administrate and cultivate the island systematically, dreaming of reviving the Ming Dynasty from this remote base.
Their ambition fell in 1683, when the Manchu force conquered Taiwan. In the following two centuries, the Manchu authority (Ch'ing Dynasty, 1644-1911) was indifferent to developing this island for fear of the growth of an anti-Manchu stronghold. The government continued banning the cross-strait sailing and immigration, (which was first imposed in Ming Dynasty), until 1875. Nonetheless, waves of illegal immigrants from impoverished Chinese southeastern provinces continued to land Taiwan. Agriculture replaced overseas trade as the economic foundation, marking the transition of culture from maritime to continental characteristics. Instigated by the poor administration in Taiwan, endless (more than 100 times) armed insurrections erupted during the 212-years Manchu rule. The Manchu authority had to mobilize three reinforcements from China to put down the largest uprising (1786-1788) led by Lin, Shuan-Wen, when Chinese under Manchurian ruling enjoyed the most prosperity in entire Chinese history. The invasions from Japan (1874) and France (1883-1885) alerted the Manchu authority to the strategic importance of Taiwan. It became a province in 1885, and the capable governor Liu, Ming-Chuan introduced western reformations, including the first railway and telegram of China, in an attempt to fortifying the island and sheltering the Chinese southeastern coast. The overdue efforts, however, could not reverse the fate of Taiwan. The Manchu government ceded Taiwan to Japan according to the Shimonoseki Treaty ending the first Sino-Japanese War in 1895.
The remaining Chinese officers and elites proclaimed "the Republic of Taiwan" in May 1895, though those Chinese officials and troops quickly fled without even a fight. The native Taiwanese bravely resisted the Japanese expedition forces in the central and southern Taiwan. It took half a year and one-third of Japanese Imperial Army to subdue the resistance, which claimed 0.5% (14,000) Taiwanese lives.
Japan regarded this new colony as the barn of empire, and the gateway to the Southeast Asia. In addition to harshly suppressing the continuous revolts, they made much effort in education, land survey, population investigation, bank establishment, and infrastructure deployment, which were initially promoted by the chief civil administrator of Taiwan Governor's Office, Shinpei Goto (1898-1906). The most significant milestones include: 400km-long railway connecting Keelung and Kaohsiung (1908), Taihoku (Taipei) Imperial Univrsity (1928), it was renamed National Taiwan University by the KMT in 1945, giant irrigation system in Chia-Nan plain (1930), the hydro-power plants, modernization of Kaohsiung Harbor (1937), and developing the sugar industry, etc. Though Taiwanese had a little political freedom under Japanese ruling, they enjoyed fair judiciary and much higher living standard compared with their Chinese counterpart.
Due to its defeat in World War II, Japan renounced its claim to Taiwan in 1945. General MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Power, assigned the Republic of China (Nationalist/KMT Government of China) to take over Taiwan. However, the corrupted administration ruled the Taiwanese with military power, instead of civilized laws. Chinese carpetbaggers occupied most official and judicial positions, while the educated and skillful Taiwanese were dismissed because they were "Japanalized" or could not speak Chinese. Mismanagement and wild spread stealing by the KMT crippled the economy, causing the inflation and joblessness soaring. The discontent of the Taiwanese turned to an island-wide insurrection (the 228 Incident) after a Chinese officer killing a bystander during an incident in Taipei on February 27, 1947. After reinforced by the Chinese troops, the authority brutally purged a large number (10,000-30,000) of people, including most social elites. This nightmare and the following "white terror" constantly jeopardized the ethnic harmony within the island, created fear, and drove many native Taiwanese elites abroad who were disappointed and harassed by KMT.
The KMT government together with more than one million Chinese refuges fled to Taiwan in 1949 after it lost the Civil War against the Communists. Chiang, Kai-Shek, who resigned in China earlier, proclaimed to be the President of the ROC again in 1949 and held the office until his death in 1975. Chiang used "recovering the mainland China" as an excuse to impose martial law and military colonizing system in Taiwan, The KMT repressed Taiwanese identity, language, and history in favor of "Sinicization." Mandarin, a language foreign to the inhabitants of Taiwan at the time of WWII, was declared the national language, and the education system taught 5000 years of Chinese history rather than 400 years of Taiwan history. Children were forbidden to speak in their native language of Taiwanese at school, and many dissidents were jailed or executed up until the end of martial law in 1987 and the lift of Article 100 of Criminal Law in 1991.
It is noted that Chiang also carried out the land-reform in 1950's. A series of public constructions were carried out by President Chiang, Ching-Kuo, son of Chiang, Kai-Shek, in 1970's. Most of all, people in Taiwan have been working hard in private enterprises and transformed the island into a new economic power based on international trade. The maritime culture and international trade dominate the Taiwanese society again.
Taiwanese finally successfully earned their democracy after a long struggling against both Japanese and the KMT rulings. President Chiang, Ching-Kuo (who was in charge of notorious secret police and intelligence force under his father's regime), once determinedly suppressed the democratic movement (the Kaohsiung Incident) in 1979, he came to realize the supremacy of minority Chinese had gone with those aged Chinese congressmen. A strong middle-class grew with the "economic miracle", and soon demanded political equality and freedom. He lifted the 40-years martial law in 1987, allowing limited freedom in media and political activities during his last years. The succeeding President Lee, Teng-Hui finally retired the members of the National Assembly and Legislative Yuan, lifted the Article 100 of Criminal Law, and established the general election for the Congress and the President after many demonstrations in 1980's and early 1990's. Lee won the first presidency, directly elected by all citizens in 1996. Four years later, the half-century political monopoly of KMT was ended by majority votes, rather than military power, when President Chen, Shui-Bian was elected in 2000 and re-elected in 2004.
For centuries, Taiwanese have been searching for their identity. The Chinese heritages are undoubtedly critical; aboriginal lineage (related to Southern Pacific islanders) is equally important. Japan and other countries continue to influence the island by close interrelations in culture, economy and technology. Therefore, Taiwan has formed her own unique history and culture. Because of the strategic position, Taiwanese enjoy the diversity; meanwhile, they are also constantly threatened by lack of a strong national identity and great powers form outside. We wish that the freedom and beauty of this island, our motherland, last forever.