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History of Taiwan

History of TaywanPrehistorical times

There is evidence of human settlement in Taiwan dating about 30000 years ago. About 4000-5000 years ago Austronesian people (various populations in Asia, Oceania and Africa that speak languages of the Austronesian family) came to Taiwan and they were ancestors of many of the tribal people who still inhabit Taiwan.

For a long time China seemed fairly indifferent to Taiwan. Early Chinese texts contain references to the island, but for the most part it was seen as a savage island, best left alone. Contact between China and Taiwan was erratic until the early 1400s, when boatloads of immigrants from China’s Fujian province, disappointed with the political instability in their homeland, began arriving on Taiwan’s coasts. When the new immigrants arrived, they encountered two groups of aboriginals: one who made their homes on the fertile plains of central and southwestern Taiwan and the other, seminomadic, lived along the Central Mountain Range.

Over the next century, immigration from Fujian increased, these settlers being joined by the Hakka, another ethnic group leaving the mainland in great numbers. By the early 1500s there were three categories of people on the island: Hakka, Fujianese and the aboriginal tribes. Today, Taiwan’s population is mainly descended from these early Chinese immigrants, though centuries of intermarriage makes it likely a fair number of Taiwanese have some aboriginal blood as well.

Europe and the Ming dynasty in Taiwan

In 1544 a Portuguese marine discovered the Taiwan island. They enjoyed the island so much that they named it Ilha Formosa, which means “beautiful island”. Very soon other Europeans started to look at the island andDutch set up a trading base on the Penghu Islands in the Taiwan Strait.

At the same time China’s Ming court suddenly took notice of Taiwan. The Ming government sent its navy to Penghu, and very soon had thrown the Dutch off the island. However, the Dutch soon returned and established a colony in Penghu in 1622.

The first thing the Dutch did on their return was to establish a trading route between Batavia (now Jakarta), Makung, China and Japan. Very soon Dutch trade grown very much in Taiwan. Ming dynasty didn’t like that and issued a decree in 1623 forbidden all entry of ships into the Taiwan Strait from southeast Asia. But they realize very soon than decree is ineffective, Ming troops were sent to attack the Dutch, who gave in and agreed to remove themselves from Penghu. Strangely enough, the Ming allowed the Dutch to establish trading ports in Taiwan.

Spain, who has seen Dutch progress in Taiwan and their growing wealth, decided they wanted attack them. In 1626 the Spanish invaded to the place, named now Keelung and established their territory at the west coast to Danshui and eventually all over northern Taiwan. Unfortunately, Taiwan’s climate and environment were very inclement for Spanish. Typhoons and malaria ruined the Spanish and attacks by local aboriginals caused them to relinquish their territory. In 1638 the Spanish withdrew from Danshui and the Dutch took control of Keelung in 1642.

Taiwan under Cheng and Qing

Though continued western invasion into Taiwan surely displeased the Ming court, over in Beijing the emperor had bigger problems; the dynasty itself was in collapse. One faithful Ming loyalist in admiral Cheng Cheng-kung, also known as Koxinga, sought refuge with his troops on the small island of Kinmen in China’s Fujian province. On Kinmen, Cheng met a dissatisfied former interpreter for the Dutch East India Company who convinced Cheng to attack Taiwan island and overthrow the Dutch.

Cheng collect an army on Kinmen and build a fleet of ships. Cheng set sail for the Penghu Islands, where he swiftly deposed the Dutch. Then he arrived in Taiwan and was greeted by local supporters seeking to be free of the Dutch. Realizing their days in Taiwan were numbered, the Dutch surrendered to Cheng in 1662 and left the island.

With Cheng to Taiwan came 30000 mainland Chinese, who established Taiwan island as their home. Others soon followed. Taiwan’s growing population accelerated development on the island, especially in the north and along the fruitful plains of the west coast. To manage Taiwan’s fast growth, Cheng set up an efficient system of counties, some of which remain today. However, his dreams of overthrowing the Manchu remained unfulfilled; he died a year after landing on Taiwan. Many Taiwanese today regard Cheng as a hero for driving the Dutch out of Taiwan.

After Cheng’s death, his son and grandson ruled the island but their inactivity caused a lot of poverty and despair. In 1683, the Qing government overthrew Cheng’s dynasty and took over the island, placing it under the jurisdiction of Fujian province. But the Qing court’s attitude towards Taiwan was about not so strong, and Taiwan was again mostly ignored by China, and a lot of Chinese immigrants leaved China Mainland for Taiwan.

The same time Europeans were looking for Taiwan for its strategic location After the second Opium War ended, Taiwan was opened to trade with the West in Keelung and Suao. The southern ports of Kaohsiung and Tainan were also opened. Foreign trade increased rapidly, with Taiwan’s main exports being camphor, rice, tea and opium.

Japanese occupation (1894–1945)

Though Taiwan was important trading center, the island was a wild and uncontrolled, and the Qing government did practically nothing to control the frequent unrest between settlers, foreign sailors and the aboriginal population. In 1872 the crew of a shipwrecked Japanese ship was executed by an aborigines. Qing emperor told that the aboriginals on the island were beyond his court’s control, Japanese troops invaded Taiwan. But before the annexation was complete, the Qing government offered compensation to the families of the dead sailors, as well as guaranties to exert more control over Taiwan. Satisfied for the time being, the Japanese withdrew from Taiwan.

In 1894 war broke out between Japan and China over the Japanese invasion of Korea. China had poorly equipped navy and was no match for Japan’s modern fleet, and in 1895 China signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki which ceded the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa), Taiwan and the Penghu Archipelago to Japan.

Taiwan didn’t accept the treaty and formed the Taiwan Democratic Republic, writing a Declaration of Independence and informed the island is a sovereign nation. But Japan was not stopped, and after subduing the areas of Keelung and Danshui, the Japanese took over the ex-Qing governor’s office in Taipei. Control over the rest of the island was not as easy as in the north and the Japanese met strong resistance as they moved further south. Using over a third of its army in Taiwan, the Japanese eventually overcame the Taiwanese who’d confronted the modern weapons with bamboo spears and outdated weapons of Taiwanese.

The hopes to organize Taiwan Democratic Republic were crushed, and Japan was to stay on the island for 50 years. It’s believed that in the first several months after the Japanese arrived, over 10000 soldiers and civilians lost their lives.

Once the Japanese felt they had things under control, they set out to modernize the island, building, highways and railways to improve trade and to open up formerly isolated areas, especially along the east coast. They also constructed hospitals, schools and government buildings in an effort to improve the infrastructure of the island. Despite these improvements, the Japanese rule on the island was harsh, with brutal crackdowns on political dissent.

The Republic of China

The loss of Taiwan to Japan was one of a lot of derogation from foreign hands beginning from the tottering Qing dynasty, and by 1900 it was obvious that end will come soon.

Fresh wind came in the form of a revolutionary doctor named Sun Yat-sen, founder of China’s Nationalist party, Kuomintang. In 1911, China’s last dynasty finally collapsed; Kuomintang came instead of it and Imperial China became Republic of China. By this time Taiwan had been under Japanese control for nearly two decades, and the nascent republic had far bigger things to worry about than reclaiming Imperial China’s former and farthest-flung possession. From the creation of the Republic of China in 1911 until the destruction of Japan in 1945, Taiwan remained in Japanese hands, while the Republic of China battled for its existence on the Chinese mainland.

This situation changed on 25 October 1945 (day, known as Retrocession Day in Taiwan). Japan, defeated in World War II, was forced to deliver all overseas possessions. Taiwan was handed over to the Republic of China.

Though some say the Taiwanese were relieved to be rid of the Japanese, others maintain that most already grown accustomed to the stability offered by the Japanese. In any event, any goodwill towards their Chinese ‘liberators’ would be short-lived. Almost immediately following the destruction of Japan, civil war broke out on the mainland between the Kuomintang (led by Chiang Kai-shek) and Chairman Mao’s communist forces. Forced into civil war, Chiang sent an unskillful general named Chen Yi to govern Taiwan; Chen Yi and his forces plundered Taiwanese homes and shops, sending anything of value back to the mainland to help support the Nationalist fight against the communists. Revolts against the Kuomintang lead to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians.

Taiwan under Chiang Kai-shek

Chiang’s Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) couldn’t fight good enough with soldiers, Mao’s communist forces had driven the Kuomintang from the mainland. Fully defeated, Chiang Kai-shek fled for safety to Taiwan, followed by a steady stream of soldiers, monks, artists, peasants and intellectuals. By 1949, the Republic of China consisted of Taiwan, Penghu, and a number of islands off the Chinese coast including Matsu and Kinmen. These islands were converted into military zones to rebuff any mainland attack and to set up a base from which Chiang declare to retake the Chinese mainland.

Chiang started couple of land reforms and it was very successful for Taiwan’s future economic. While economic development was rapid, Chiang’s rule was quick to crush any political dissent. The White Terror era of the 1950s was a frightening time in Taiwanese history, when people disappeared if they spoke against the government. Political dissidents were either shipped to Ludao (Green Island) to serve long sentences or executed outright.

During the Korean War, the Americans protected Taiwan, assuring the Taiwanese that they would reject any communist attacks. Military outbreaks between China and Taiwan were common in the 1950s and 1960s, with regular attacks of Kinmen.

August 23rd Artillery War (1958) strengthen Chiang’s "Free China" in anti-communist America. At the time of the Kuomintang arrival, the Taiwanese had been strong manipulated by the Japanese and spoke little Mandarin. They were also accustomed to a higher standard of living than the mainland and felt their superiority towards the poorer and less well-educated immigrants, especially soldiers who often came from humble backgrounds. The Kuomintang issued laws requiring all Taiwanese to speak Mandarin, in an attempt to adapt to Chinese conditions the population. The Taiwanese resented the domination of the Kuomintang, and there were various outbreaks of nonconformity and impacts with military police. When 1970s began, Taiwan economy becoming one of the richest in Asia, and her population growing to 16 million.

In 1971 Republic of China were withdrew from the UN Security Council after the council’s admission of the People’s Republic of China. In 1979, America switched official recognition from the Republic of China to the People’s Republic of China. US policy towards Taiwan started to be dictated by the Taiwan’s Relations Act, which, while promising to protect Taiwan militarily in the case of attack by mainland China, recognized Beijing as the sole capital of a China which included Taiwan.

Chiang Kai-shek died in 1975, his presidential duties taken over by his son, Chiang Ching-kuo. He made rule over Taiwan softer than that of his father; in an effort to improve relations with native Taiwanese. Chiang allowed Taiwanese to take up political positions. At the end of 1970s was surge of political dissent in Taiwan. One of the most noted uprisings took place in December 1979. A turning point in Taiwan from authoritarian rule to democracy was the Kaohsiung Incident occurred when editors of Meilidao magazine who published often critical of the government, organized a protest to celebrate International Human Rights Day. The day before the rally, two organizers were arrested and beaten by police when they were distributed promotional flyers. Next day, the day of the meeting, was a big fight between police and protestors and the situation turned violent, changing from a peaceful event into a full-scale riot. Eight of the organizers were arrested, including Taiwan’s vice president in 2000-2008 Annette Lu. Among the lawyers who represented the organizers was Taiwanese president in 2000-2008 Chen Shui-bian. This all brought increasing support for democratic reforms and at the end of the day brought to political concessions from Kuomintang side.

In 1986, with martial law still in effect, was formed Taiwan’s first opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party. Chiang Ching-kuo, did not shut the party down, resulting in a large number of its candidates were elected to the government and it was the official formation of Taiwan’s first opposition party.

In 1987, Chiang Ching-kuo announced the end of martial law. The following year, Chiang passed away and his vice president, Lee Teng-hui, became the first born in Taiwan president of Republic of China. For Taiwan, a new era had begun.


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