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

Taiwan (Traditional Chinese: 臺灣 or 台灣; Simplified Chinese: 台湾; Hanyu Pinyin: Táiwān; Wade-Giles: T'ai-wan; Taiwanese: Tâi-oân) is an island in East Asia. "Taiwan" is also commonly used to refer to the territories administered by the Republic of China (ROC), a state whose effective area of administration consists of the island of Taiwan, Lanyu (Orchid Island) and Green Island in the Pacific off the Taiwan coast, the Pescadores in the Taiwan Strait, and Kinmen and Matsu off the southeast coast of the territories administered by the People's Republic of China (PRC). Taiwan is administered as Taiwan Province, Republic of China. It is one of two provinces administered by the Republic of China.

The main island of Taiwan, sometimes also referred to as Formosa (from Portuguese, meaning "beautiful"), is located off the coast of the territories administered by the People's Republic of China, south of Japan and north of the Philippines. It is bounded to the east by the Pacific Ocean, to the south by the South China Sea and the Luzon Strait, 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.





Prehistory and early settlement

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 language as Austronesian.[1] Han Chinese began settling in the Pescadores 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.[2]

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 Liuqiu and Lesser Liuqiu (etymologically, but perhaps not semantically, identical to Ryūkyū in Japanese), 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 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. They were content with their trading posts in Kyūshū, Japan.


Dutch and Spanish rule

Chihkan Tower, former Fort Provintia
Chihkan Tower, former Fort Provintia

In 1624, the Dutch East Indies Company, headquartered in Batavia, Java, established the first European-style government ever on the soil of Taiwan, and inaugurated the modern political history of Taiwan. They did not just collect taxes, but also tried to convert the native Formosans, who enjoyed a friendly relationship with the Dutch, and learned the Dutch language. Some aborigines still retain their Dutch Bibles even today. The records of the Dutch rule are well-preserved in a museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Documents there show that they even set up orphanages on Taiwan at that time (a rare occurrence in East Asia then). Today, their legacy in Taiwan is visible in Anping District of Tainan City where the remains of their Castle Zeelandia are preserved, in Tainan City itself where their Fort Provintia is still the main structure of what is now called Chihkan Tower, and finally in Tamsui where Fort Anthonio (now called Hung-Mao Cheng (紅毛城, literally, the Fortress of the Red-haired ones) still stands as the best preserved Redoubt (minor fort) of the Dutch East India Company anywhere in the world. The building was later used by the British consulate until the United Kingdom severed ties with the KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party or Kuomintang) regime and its formal relationship with Taiwan.

It was the Dutch who started importing on a large scale Chinese workers from China's Fujian province as laborers, many of whom became naturalized. The Dutch had their colonial capital at Tayoan City (source of modern name "Taiwan", and present day Anping). The Dutch military presence concentrated at a fort called Castle Zeelandia.[3] The Dutch colonialists also used the aborigines to hunt the native Formosan Sika deer (Cervus nippon taioanus) that inhabited Taiwan, contributing to the eventual disappearance of a small subspecies in the wild.[4] (A small population of the subspecies is being kept in captivity and currently being reintroduced into the Kenting National Park in southern Taiwan.) The pelt of the deer was shipped to Japan, from which the commodity continued its trip to Europe, the U.S., etc.

The Spaniards occupied the northern part of Taiwan for seventeen years before finally being driven away by the Dutch. There are no visible remains of their presence left. Their forts in Tamsui and Keelung were destroyed. A trace of Spanish influence remains in the name of Sandiao Cape (三貂角, the easternmost part of Taiwan), which derives from "Santiago".

The French occupied Keelung and the group of islands in the Formosa Strait called the Pescadores from October 1884 to July 1885. Admiral Amédée Courbet was instated as military governor and died and was buried there having secured peace with China. His bones were unearthed and brought back to France in the 1960s after France severed ties with the KMT regime, and along with it any formal relationship with Taiwan. [citation needed]


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 Lord Koxinga (Traditional Chinese: 鄭成功, Simplified Chinese: 郑成功, pinyin: Zhèng Chénggōng), son of a Southern Fujian pirate-merchant and a Japanese samurai's daughter. Following the fall of the Ming dynasty, Koxinga retreated to Taiwan as a self-styled Ming loyalist and established the Kingdom of Tungning (1662–1683). Koxinga established his capital at Tainan and he and his heirs, Zheng Jing (Traditional Chinese: 鄭經, Simplified Chinese: 郑经, pinyin: Zhèng Jīng) who ruled from 1662-82 and his son Zheng Keshuang (Traditional Chinese: 鄭克塽, Simplified Chinese: 郑克塽, pinyin: Zhèng Kèshuàng), who served less than a year, continued to launch raids on the south-east coast of mainland China well into the Qing dynasty in an attempt to recover the mainland. Koxinga's attempt to solicit support from the Japanese Shogun was unsuccessful.[5]

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. Cheng's followers were expatriated to the farthest reaches of the Qing Empire. The Qing Dynasty government wrestled with its Taiwan policy to reduce piracy and vagrancy in the area, which led to a series of edicts to manage migration and respect for aboriginal land rights. Migrants mostly of Southern 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 shifted eastward, with some aborigines 'Sinicizing' while others retreated into the mountains. The bulk of Taiwan's population today claim descent from these migrants. During this time, there were a number of conflicts involving Chinese from different regions of Southern Fujian, and between Southern Fujian Chinese and aborigines.

In 1887, the Qing government upgraded Taiwan's status from that of being a prefecture of Fujian to one of province itself, the twentieth in the country, with its 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.[6]


Japanese 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.

Japan also sought to claim sovereignty over Taiwan (known as Takasago Koku, or "country of High Sand," a complimentary term in Japanese) since 1592, when Toyotomi Hideyoshi undertook a policy of expansion and extending Japanese influence overseas. Korea, to the west, was invaded, but attempts to invade Taiwan turned out to be unsuccessful due mainly to endemic and epidemic diseases that had no cure at that time such as cholera and malaria, and fierce resistance by aborigines on the island. In 1609, the Tokugawa Shogunate sent Haruno Arima on an exploratory mission of the island. 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 ground that the raw ("wild"/"unsubjugated") aboriginals of Taiwan(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 Japan's 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).

Following its defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), by signing the Treaty of Shimonoseki, Qing China ceded Taiwan and the Pescadores to Japan in perpetuity, on terms dictated by the latter. Inhabitants wishing to remain Chinese subjects were given a two-year grace period to sell their property and return to China. Very few Taiwanese saw it plausible. [7]

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. This period of Japanese occupation was marked by suppression of local resistance movements by the Japanese, and the subjugation of the local populace into manual labor in various factories and plantations set up by the occupying force to produce exports to the Japanese mainland. Japan spent the first 10 years to eradicate the endemic diseases from Taiwan, setting up a public hospital for each chō, an Japanese administrative unit between the town and village. It also poured money and first-class expert labor into the island. Among those who worked to improve the condition of Taiwan was Nitobe Inazo. He and his, American wife, a Quaker, lived in Taiwan for two years, to improve the sugarcane quality of Taiwan. The first plantation scale sugar industry was thus established on Taiwan. Japanese also introduced the "Horaimai" into Taiwan, which was Japanese rice seeds planted in Taiwan's soil. The success came after years of research and experimentation. Some products were so good that they were submitted by the Taiwan governor to the emperor in Tokyo for the imperial family's consumption. Taiwan quickly became the jewel of the Yamato crown, yielding profits for the Japanese. Taiwan supplied the empire with rice, sugar, banana, pineapple, and high-class timber, hinoki, which was used by all the major Buddhist temples (otera) and Shinto shrines (jinja) in Japan. It was the first time that poor Japanese and Koreans had the chance to eat sugar. Before annexation of Taiwan, sugar in the form of snacks (okashi) was for the nobles only.

Despite the otherwise relatively friendly relationship between Japanese and Taiwanese in Taiwan, Japan had some lingering suspicion of Taiwanese as Chinese, and did not draft Taiwanese as soldiers before the war. On the other hand, Koreans were not only drafted, but even allowed to enter Shikan Gakko, the government-run officers' school. Some women from Taiwan, like their counterparts from the Japanese mainland and Korea, were forced to serve as "comfort women" (sex slaves) for the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War.[8] Taiwanese people were classified as second and third-class citizens and Chinese treated as pariahs. Resistance had to be put down and by 1920s, armed uprisings have largely been suppressed. However, resistance with non-violent means continued and flourished in intellectual circles such as the Taiwanese Cultural Association. Many famous Taiwanese writers emerged from these literary groups.

Japan was forced to draft Taiwanese only after Pearl Harbor. However, Taiwanese proved themselves to be good soldiers, especially the aborigines. The dedication of these aboriginal soldiers ("Takasago Hei") towards the Japanese imperial armed forces is still celebrated by the Japanese veterans even today. After the Second World War, some soldiers stayed in Indonesia to fight the Independence War and were decorated by the Indonesian government as heroes. One of Admiral Yamamoto's personal pilots was a Taiwanese and some Taiwanese pilots even volunteered to become kamikaze. Around 1935, the Japanese began an island-wide assimilation project to integrate the island into the Japanese Empire. Koo Hsien-jung (辜顯榮), who guided the Japanese soldiers into the Taipei city in 1895, was appointed by the emperor as the first Taiwanese member of the Japanese House of Nobles, thus becoming a Japanese noble. Three other Taiwanese were subsequently appointed. By 1945, just before the end of World War II, desperate plans were put in place to allow entry of Taiwanese into the Japanese Diet to make Taiwan an integral part of Japan proper.[citation needed]


Kuomintang rule (Chinese Nationalist Party or KMT)

Further information: Legal status of Taiwan

With Japan's defeat in the war, Japan signed the Instrument of Surrender on August 15 1945. On October 25 1945, ROC troops representing the Allied Command accepted the formal surrender of Japanese military forces in Taihoku. A dispute exists as to whether the surrender of Japan formally transferred sovereignty to the ROC, with supporters of Taiwan independence claiming that only the postwar peace treaties such as the San Francisco Peace Treaty affect sovereignty, and that the legal sovereignty of Taiwan is ambiguous because the treaty did not specify the recipient of Taiwan's sovereignty. They argue that the ruling KMT government of the ROC have merely exercised stewardship over the island, since no international legal documents have transferred the sovereignty of Taiwan to China. [9] The People's Republic of China, on its part, says that Taiwan's sovereignty was transferred to China under the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, which Japan necessarily accepted by surrendering to the Allies. [10] Some but by no means all Pan-Blue supporters in Taiwan are of a similar opinion. [11]

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei.

The ROC administration, led by Chiang Kai-shek, announced October 25, 1945, as "Taiwan Restoration Day" (Traditional Chinese: 臺灣光復節, Simplified Chinese: 台湾光复节, pinyin: Táiwān Guāngfùjié). At first, they were greeted as liberators by the people of Taiwan. However, the ROC military administration on Taiwan under Chen Yi was generally unstable and corrupt; it seized property and set up government monopolies of many industries. These problems, 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 administration.[12] This culminated in a series of severe clashes between the ROC administration and Taiwanese, in turn leading to the bloody 228 incident and the reign of White Terror.[13]

In 1949, on losing the Chinese Civil War to the CPC (Communist Party of China), the KMT, led by Chiang Kai-shek, 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 Greater Mongolia. On the mainland, the 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.[14] Some 1.3 million refugees from Mainland China, consisting mainly of soldiers, KMT party members, and most importantly the intellectual and business elites from the mainland, arrived in Taiwan around that time. In addition, as part of its retreat to Taiwan, the KMT brought with them literally the entire gold reserve and foreign currency reserve of mainland China. This unprecedented influx of human and monetary capital laid the foundation for Taiwan's later dramatic economic development. From this period on, 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" (Traditional Chinese: 動員戡亂時期臨時條款, Simplified Chinese: 动员戡乱时期临时条款, pinyin: dòngyuán kānluàn shíqī línshí tiáokuǎn), from 1948 to 1987, when 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).

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 East 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 of Taiwan) until the 1970s, when most nations began switching recognition to the PRC.[15]


Recent events

Chiang Kai-shek's eventual successor, his son Chiang Ching-kuo, began to liberalize Taiwan's political system. In 1986, the Democratic Progressive Party was formed illegally and inaugurated as the first opposition party in Taiwan to counter the KMT. A year later Chiang Ching-kuo lifted martial law. Chiang selected Lee Teng-hui, a native Taiwanese technocrat.

After the 1988 death of Chiang Ching-Kuo, his successor as President Lee Teng-hui continued to hand more government authority over to the native Taiwanese 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 constituencies, were forced to resign in 1991. Restrictions on the use of Taiwanese languages in the broadcast media and in schools were lifted as well.

The Republic of China transitioned into a democracy over the 1990's. In 2000, Chen Shui-bian, a Hakka Taiwanese, was elected as President and is now serving his second and last term. A divide in Taiwanese politics has emerged between the Pan-Blue Coalition of parties led by the Kuomintang, favoring eventual Chinese unification, and the Pan-Green Coalition of parties led by the Democratic Progressive Party, favoring eventual Taiwanese independence.



Map of Taiwan
Map of Taiwan

The island of Taiwan lies some 120 kilometers off the southeastern coast of China, across the Taiwan Strait, and has an area of 35,801 square kilometers (13,823 square miles). The East China Sea lies 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 characterized 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, and there are five other peaks over 3,500 meters. This makes it the world's seventh-highest island.

The shape of the main island of Taiwan is similar to a sweet potato seen in a south-to-north direction, and therefore, Taiwanese people, especially the Min-nan division, often call themselves "children of the Sweet Potato"[citation needed]. There are also other interpretations of the island shape, one of which is a whale in the ocean (the Pacific Ocean) if viewed in a west-to-east direction, which is a common orientation in ancient maps, plotted either by Western explorers or the Ching Dynasty.

Taiwan's climate is marine tropical.[16] The Northern part of the island has a rainy season that lasts from January to late March during the southwest monsoon, and also experiences meiyu in May.[17] The entire island succumbs to hot humid weather from June until September, while October to December are arguably the most pleasant times of year. The middle and southern parts of the island do not have an extended monsoon season during the winter months, but can experience several weeks of rain, especially during and after Lunar New Year. Natural hazards such as typhoons and earthquakes[18] are common in the region.

Taiwan is a center of bird endemism; see Endemic birds of Taiwan for further information.


Environment and pollution

With its high population density and many factories, some areas in Taiwan suffer from heavy pollution. Most notable are the southern suburbs of Taipei and the eastern stretch from Tainan to Lin Yuan, south of Kaohsiung. In the past, Taipei suffered from extensive vehicle and factory air pollution, but with mandatory use of unleaded gasoline and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, the air quality of Taiwan has improved dramatically.[19] The motor scooters which are ubiquitous in Taiwan, especially older or cheaper two-stroke versions, also contribute disproportionately to air pollution in Taiwan.

Land and soil pollution has decreased as Taiwanese industry moves out of heavy industry; however, several toxic sites continue to pose challenges. Solid waste disposal has become less of a problem as a nation-wide recycling movement has taken hold, especially with support from Buddhist charity organizations.

Water pollution remains a problematic issue. Nearly 90% of sewage waste in Taiwan is dumped into waterways untreated. Several rivers are so heavily polluted that it would take billions of dollars to clean them.


Natural resources

Because of the intensive exploitation throughout Taiwan's pre-modern and modern history, the island's mineral resources (eg. coal, gold, marble), as well as wild animal reserves (eg. deer), have been virtually exhausted. Moreover, much of its forestry resources was harvested during Japanese rule for the construction of shrines (using particularly firs) and has only recovered slightly since then. The remaining forests nowadays do not contribute to significant timber production mainly because of concerns about production costs and regulations of environmental protection.

Camphor oil extraction and cane sugar production played an important role in Taiwan's exportation from the late nineteenth century through the first half of the twentieth century. The importance of the above industies subsequently declined not because of the exhaustion of related natural resources but mainly of the decline of international market demands.

Nowadays, few natural resources with significant economic value are retained in Taiwan, which are essentially agriculture-associated. Domestic agriculture (rice being the dominant kind of crop) and fishery retain importance to a certain degree, but they have been greatly challenged by foreign imports since Taiwan's accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001. Consequently, upon the decline of subsistent importance, Taiwan's agriculture now relies heavily on the marketing and exportation of certain kinds of specialty, such as banana, guava, lychee, wax apple, and high-mountain tea.


Energy resources

Taiwan has significant coal deposits and some insignificant oil and gas deposits. Electrical power generation is nearly 50% oil-based, less than 10% natural gas, less than 10% nuclear power, and about 35% hydroelectric power, with the remainder from renewable energy sources. Nearly all oil and gas for transportation and power needs must be imported, making Taiwan particularly sensitive to fluctations in energy prices. Because of this, Taiwan's Executive Yuan is pushing for 10% of energy generation to come from renewable energy by 2010, double from the current figure of approximately 5%. In fact, several wind-farms built by American and German companies have come online or will in the near future. Taiwan is rich in wind-energy resources, both on-shore and off-shore, though limited land area favors offshore wind resources. Solar energy is also a potential resource to some extent. By promoting renewable energy, Taiwan's government hopes to also aid the nascent renewable energy manufacturing industry, and develop it into an export market.




Ethnic groups

Bunun dancer in traditional aboriginal dress.
Bunun dancer in traditional aboriginal dress.

The ROC's population was estimated in 2005 at 22.9 million, most of whom are on Taiwan. About 98% of the population is of Han Chinese ethnicity. Of these, 86% are descendants of early Han immigrants known as "native Taiwanese" (Chinese: 本省人; pinyin: Běnshěng rén; literally "home-province person"). This group contains two subgroups: the Southern Fujianese or "Hokkien" or "Min-nan" (70% of the total population), who migrated from the coastal Southern Fujian (Min-nan) region in the southeast of Mainland China; and the Hakka (15% of the total population), who originally migrated south to Guangdong, its surrounding areas and Taiwan, intermarrying extensively with Taiwanese aborigines. The remaining 12% of Han Chinese are known as Mainlanders (Chinese: 外省人; pinyin: Wàishěng rén; literally "external-province person") and are composed of and descend from immigrants who arrived after the Second World War. This group also includes those who fled mainland China in 1949 following the Nationalist defeat in the Chinese Civil War. Due to political reasons, more and more young people started to call the mainlanders hsin yi min (新移民), or "new immigrants."

Dalu ren (Traditional Chinese: 大陸人, Simplified Chinese: 大陆人, pinyin: dàlù rén) 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 ROC citizens through marriage. It also excludes foreign brides from Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines or foreign grooms of which a greater number come from Western countries. One in seven marriages now involves a partner from another country. As Taiwan's birthrate is among the lowest in the world,[20] this contingent is playing an increasingly important role in changing Taiwan's demographic makeup. Transnational marriages now account for one out of six births.

The other 2% of Taiwan's population, numbering about 458,000, are listed as the Taiwanese aborigines (Chinese: 原住民; pinyin: yuánzhùmín; literally "original inhabitants"), divided into 12 major groups: Ami, Atayal, Paiwan, Bunun, Puyuma, Rukai, Tsou, Saisiyat, Tao (Yami), Thao, Kavalan and Taroko.[21]



About 80% of the people in Taiwan belong to the Holo (Chinese: 河洛; pinyin: Héluò) or Hoklo (Chinese: 福佬; pinyin: fúlǎo) ethnic group and speak both Standard Mandarin (officially recognized by the ROC as the National Dialect) and Taiwanese (a variant of the Min Nan dialect spoken in Fujian province). Mandarin is the primary language of instruction in schools; however, most spoken media is split between Mandarin and Taiwanese. The Hakka (Chinese: 客家; pinyin: Kèjiā), about 10% of the population, have a distinct Hakka dialect. Aboriginal minority groups still speak their native languages, although most also speak Mandarin. English is a common second language, with many large private schools such as Hess providing English instruction. English also features on several of Taiwan's education exams.

Although Mandarin is still the language of instruction in schools and dominates television and radio, non-Mandarin dialects have undergone a revival in public life in Taiwan. A large fraction of the populace speak the Taiwanese dialect, a variant of Min nan spoken in Fujian, China, and a majority understand it. Many also speak Hakka. People educated during the Japanese period of 1900 to 1945 used Japanese as the medium of instruction. Some in the older generations only speak the Japanese they learned at school and the Taiwanese they spoke at home and are unable to communicate with many in the modern generations who only speak Mandarin.

Most aboriginal groups in Taiwan have their own languages which, unlike Taiwanese or Hakka, do not belong to the Chinese language family, but rather to the Austronesian language family. Their lingua franca is Japanese, incidentally.

The national phonetic system of the ROC is Zhuyin Fuhao (Traditional Chinese: 注音符號; Simplified Chinese: 注音符号; Hanyu Pinyin: Zhùyīn Fúhào; Wade-Giles: Chu-yin fu-hao), or "Symbols for Annotating Sounds", often abbreviated as Zhuyin, or known as Bopomofo (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) after the first four letters of this phonemic alphabet. It is used for teaching the Chinese languages, especially Standard Mandarin, to people learning to read, write, and speak Mandarin.

The romanization of Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan is inconsistent. Although the national government officially adopted Tongyong Pinyin in 2002, it allowed local governments to make their own choices. Taipei, Taiwan's largest city, has adopted Hanyu Pinyin, replacing earlier signage, most of which had been in a bastardized version of Wade-Giles. Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second-largest city, has adopted Tongyong. Elsewhere in Taiwan, signs tend to be in a mixture of systems, with the most common overall being MPS2, which was official before the adoption of Tongyong Pinyin. Because romanization is not taught in Taiwan schools and there has been little political will to ensure that it is implemented correctly, romanization errors are common throughout Taiwan; at present the area with the fewest errors on official signage is Taipei. As the Pan-Blue bloc has largely aligned itself behind Hanyu Pinyin and the Pan-Green bloc has largely backed Tongyong Pinyin, Pan-Blue victories in the 2005 county elections are likely to result in an expansion of the use of Hanyu Pinyin, especially in northern and central Taiwan.

Most people in Taiwan have their names romanized using a modified version of Wade-Giles. This, however, is generally not out of personal preference but rather a tendency to use the system that most reference materials in Taiwan have employed to date.



Over 93% of Taiwanese are adherents of a combination of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism; 4.5% are adherents of Christianity, which includes Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, and other non-denominational Christian groups; and 2.5% are adherents of other religions, such as Islam and Judaism.

Confucianism is a philosophy that deals with secular moral ethics, and serves as the foundation of both Chinese and Taiwanese culture. The majority of Taiwanese and Chinese usually combine the secular moral teachings of Confucianism with whatever religions they are affiliated with.

One especially important goddess for Taiwanese people is Matsu, who symbolizes the seafaring spirit of Taiwan's ancestors from Fujian and Guangdong.



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. Fine arts, folk traditions, and popular culture embody traditional and modern Asian and Western motifs.

After the retreat to Taiwan, the Nationalists took steps to preserve traditional Chinese culture and suppress the local Taiwanese culture. The government launched a program promoting Chinese calligraphy, traditional Chinese painting, folk art, and Chinese opera.

Since the Taiwan localization movement of the 1990s, Taiwan's cultural identity has been allowed greater expression. Identity politics, along with the over one hundred years of political separation from mainland China, with half of the time under Japanese colonial rule, has led to distinct traditions in many areas, including cuisine, opera, and music.

The status of Taiwanese culture is a subject of debate. Along with the political status of Taiwan, it is disputed whether Taiwanese culture is a segment of Chinese culture (due to the Han Chinese ethnicity and a shared language and traditional customs with mainland Chinese) or a distinct culture separate from Chinese culture (due to the long period of recent political separation and the past colonization of Taiwan). Speaking Taiwanese under the localization movement has become an emblem of Taiwanese identity.

National Palace Museum, in Taipei City
National Palace Museum, in Taipei City

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. The 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% is on display at any time.

Popular sports in Taiwan include basketball and baseball. Cheerleading performances and billiards are quite fashionable. Badminton is also common.

Karaoke, drawn from contemporary Japanese culture, is extremely popular in Taiwan, where it is known as KTV. Small soundproof rooms containing sofas and a huge TV screen can be hired out, and friends take it in turns to sing songs. Other popular video entertainments include Taiwanese drama and computer games such as Warcraft III.

Taiwan has a high density of 24-hour convenience stores, which in addition to the usual services, provide services on behalf of financial institutions or government agencies such as collection of parking fees, utility bills, traffic violation fines, and credit card payments.[22]

Taiwanese culture also has influenced the West: bubble tea and milk tea are popular drinks readily available around city centers in Europe and North America. Ang Lee is the famous Taiwanese movie director of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Eat Drink Man Woman, Sense and Sensibility and Brokeback Mountain.


See also


Notes and references

  1. Trejaut, Jean, Toomas Kivisild, Jun Hun Loo, Chien Liang Lee, Chun Lin He, Chia Jung Hsu, Zheng Yuan Li, Marie Lin (August 2005). "Traces of Archaic Mitochondrial Lineages Persist in Austronesian-Speaking Formosan Populations". PLoS Biology 3 (8).
  2. Shepherd, John R. (1993), Statecraft and Political Economy on the Taiwan Frontier, 1600-1800, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.. Pg. 7. Reprinted 1995, SMC Publishing, Taipei; ISBN 957-638-311-0.
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