Taiwan is an island off the coast of mainland China in the Pacific Ocean governed by the Republic of China (Chinese: 中華民國, Zhonghua Minguo). Along with the island of Taiwan, the Republic of China also governs the islands of Penghu, Matsu, and Kinmen. Taiwan and Penghu constitute the Republic of China's "Taiwan province", whereas Matsu and Kinmen are a part of its "Fujian province" (the People's Republic of China governs the rest of Fujian). The Kinmenese and Matsunese do not identify as "Taiwanese" and this has become a point of tension for some Taiwanese. Since Taiwan is by far the largest island, it is often treated as synonymous with the Republic of China or the name of the entire region itself although as previously noted, this is inaccurate.
It was first known to the Europeans through a Portuguese ship spotting it and giving it the name of Ilha Formosa (Beautiful Island). It is believed that the indigenous Taiwanese population first arrived there during the late Ice Ages. The indigenous Taiwanese speak Austronesian languages related to the Malayo-Polynesian languages of Southeast Asia and Oceania; genetic studies show that they are most closely related to the peoples of the Philippines (which truth be told aren't that far away, and whose peoples all historically speak Malayo-Polynesian languages). Although the Austronesians were even not the first people to inhabit the island as the oldest cultures found on Taiwan were likely created by Australo-Melanesian people known as Negritos, they might have survived on the islands until the early 1900s but their numbers had already plummeted after contact with Austronesians - perhaps due to competition, or intermarriage with them, or the Austronesians committing genocide on the Negrito population. The most likely explanation is that it was a mix of all three as the same situation happened on the Philippines with the Austronesian and Negrito peoples there. The Chinese, who after all were not that far away, were aware of the island, but they mostly left the place undisturbed because of the fearsomeness of the tribespeople and the lack of valuable goods for trade. Some of the islands off the coast had attracted a fishing colony by the 13th century, but it wasn't until the 16th century that the Chinese started settling in Taiwan in any significant numbers.
Europeans noticed the island at about the same time. Though the first Europeans to take note of Taiwan were Portuguese (hence "Formosa"), they did not lay claim to the island. Instead, control of Formosa was disputed by the Spanish and the Dutch, with the latter eventually prevailing. Then in 1661, a Ming loyalist and pirate lord named Zheng Chenggong (a.k.a. Guoxingye, "Bearer of the Nation's Name", which was transliterated as Koxinga) assembled a fleet and expelled the Dutch, hoping to turn Formosa into a base for the reconquest of the mainland from the Qing.
But in 1683, the new dynasty claimed the island, and ruled it until they lost the First Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese held Taiwan from 1895 until the end of World War II, after which it fell into the hands of China's Nationalist government. When they lost the Chinese Civil War to the communists in 1949, the Republic of China, led by the dictator Chiang Kai-shek and the other Nationalists, fled to the island, with the communists establishing the People's Republic of China in the resulting vacuum on the mainland. Mao had plans to follow Chiang and capture Taiwan in 1949, but the United States sent their Seventh Fleet to dissuade that, and an attempted PLA invasion of Taiwan failed. Since then Taiwan maintained a quasi-sovereign status thanks to the protection of the United States. It was placed under martial law from 1949 to the 1980s, when Chiang's son and successor, Chiang Ching-kuo, followed by the first actually "Taiwanese" president, Imperial Japanese Army veteran Lee Teung-Hui, began to democratize the nation's political system, turning it from a one-party state to a multi-party democracy. Also around this time, the incredibly wealthy government-in-exile (the ruling nationalist party, Kuomintang (KMT), personally had holdings worth around $10 billion US, a consequence of police state rule) started to lose control: while Taiwan would become one of the Four Great Asian Tigers, Taipei itself lost most international recognition as the government of all of China as the People's Republic of China made greater headway in the international theater. Today, the only remaining allies are a few countries in Africa and Latin America, as well as the Vatican.
A curious quirk which remains as a result of the above is that both the People's Republic and the Republic of China acknowledge that there is only one China... and that they are the rightful government of all that China, with the other government being in effect a rebellion. Don't bring up the alternative— it's Serious Business and likely to get you Banned In China note . To prevent the PRC from throwing a hissy fit, Taiwan participates in international affairs with the name "Chinese Taipei". It doesn't make any sense, but that's the point: they use the policy of deliberate ambiguity.
Starting in the late Eighties/early Nineties, the opposition parties gained more voice in the public arena, especially given the Nationalist party's rampant corruption issues and endless infighting. The Nationalists were never particularly popular among the Taiwanese Han outside of the party and the military, since they were seen to be ignoring "native" Taiwanese interests... never mind that indigenous Taiwanese had been had been forcibly assimilated or forced into the mountainous areas long before the Nationalists arrived. As pressure mounted, the Nationalist party began removing restrictions on free speech and free press, and Congress began the long, arduous process of amending the constitution to correct the most obvious inequities. Hilariously, the Taiwanese Aboriginals themselves overwhelmingly favor KMT over all opposition parties due to their intense dislike of the Taiwanese Hokkien majority.
The Kinmenese and Matsunese also favor the Nationalists due to their peculiar histories, their strong dislike of Taiwanese independence, and their refusal to identify as "Taiwanese" because their own regional identities predate the Taiwanese one by centuries. Both Kinmenese and Matsunese are frequently ignored by the government located in Taipei - they suffered a water shortage for decades that was only solved when local governments asked mainland China for help. This deal with mainland China sparked outrage from Taiwanese people (never mind that they preferred to forget that the ROC Fujian province even existed and let them suffer from water shortages) which in turn led to Kinmenese and Matsunese people to become increasingly distrustful of Taiwan. Currently in these two regions, there have been localization campaigns which actively promote their distinctive cultural heritages coupled with a rejection of certain Taiwanese cultural elements. Local politicians have been pushing for more rights and freedom from Taiwan while remaining a part of the Republic of China.
In the Late Nineties, the grassroots, "native" pan-Green coalition won the Presidency, launching Taiwan back into the realm of international politics as then-President Chen Shui-bian began proclaiming that Taiwan was seeking its independence from China; previous to this, both Taiwan and mainland China had laid claim to all of China despite neither having formal diplomatic or economic relations with each other until the early 2000s. Still, no serious move towards independence materialized, combined with a general economic downturn linked to Japan's economic bubble burst and rumbles of even worse corruption began to surface. Since 2008, changing political fortunes inflicted a catastrophic blow on the pan-Green coalition (including the DPP), with the pan-Blues (led by the KMT) winning a supermajority in the legislature and regaining the presidency. Moreover, President Chen's own ongoing corruption scandal hurt the DPP's reputation substantially.
The KMT-led ruling coalition, led by President Ma Ying-jeou, pursued policies during their eight years in power that tried to link Taiwans economy more closely with Chinas. By the middle of Mas second term, his governments approval ratings had plummeted due to unease with closer ties with China, as well as a perception that the KMT had failed to improve Taiwans economy (their signature issue in 2008 and 2012). In 2014, an attempt to pass a trade pact with China with very minimal review or debate led to weeks of (mostly) peaceful protests, most notably a three-week student-led occupation of the national legislature.
The 2014 protests and their aftermath became known as the Sunflower Movement, and came to symbolize the emergence of a new generation of politically active Taiwanese youth who were wary of Chinas overwhelming political influence. The KMT suffered heavy losses in the 2016 elections, and a new DPP-led government came to power, including the largest DPP legislative majority in the countrys history. President Tsai Ing-wen appears to be dealing with China very cautiously, although Taiwans continued sluggish economy has put Tsai under fire from both political left and right.
A quirk that Taiwan is infamous for is the fist fights between its parliamentarians. The Taiwanese even had a word for it, called Legislative Brawling (立委群毆). Needless to say, this earned the Taiwanese parliament a notorious reputation, at some point, according to detractors, the parliamentarians even stage fights merely to maintain the reputation and garner attention.
Unique among most of Japan's neighbors, the relationship between Japan and Taiwan has been generally positive and easygoing, with relatively few bitter grudges stemming from the Japanese occupation, especially considering that Taiwan was spared most of the horrors of the Second Sino-Japanese War. It saw no significant land battles, though the island was devastated by American bombing which destroyed more than 90% of its industrial and electric output and hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese fought in the Imperial Japanese Army (indeed, the last "Japanese" holdout to surrender to Allied forces, Pvt. Teruo Nakamura, was actually an ethnic Amis Aboriginal Taiwanese with the birth name Attun Palalin). The Japanese occupation ended after WW2 when the Allies handed over the island to the Republic of China, which was still in a state of civil war until 1949, when the KMT moved to the island. As a result of decades of Secret Police arrests and executions—called the "White Terror"—under the KMT ended up creating a Nostalgia Filter for the time when Taiwan was a colony of the Japanese Empire, since the Japanese never did treat Taiwan itself quite so badly as the KMT that followed them. During the authoritarian rule of Chiang Kai-shek's military dictatorship, hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese were first involved in a violent uprising (following the infamous 228 Incident in Taipei), or targeted in subsequent terror period, with tens of thousands being arrested, executed or otherwise "disappeared", usually for being accused of communist sympathies, in one of the longest periods of martial law in modern history. Many were completely innocent, and the purges nearly destroyed the Taiwanese intellectual elite. Since then, many Taiwanese resent the KMT and Chiang for killing or imprisoning friends and family, compared to Imperial Japan's fairly gentle treatment of the Taiwanese Hoklo. The view is not universal, of course. Some Taiwanese Aboriginals tend to prefer the KMT over Japan, who persecuted them by the thousands during the occupation (the Aboriginals were evenly split between supporting and opposing Japan. As stated above, the last Japanese holdout was also an Aboriginals).
The period of Japanese rule has since left a few cultural marks. Among these are the integration of certain Japanese phrases into the local vernacular, including Oba-San (strictly in the sense of "older woman"), and some Japanese foods. The widespread use of the Asian Plum blossom as a floral symbol of Taiwan also seems to be inspired by the use of sakura blossoms as a floral symbol of Japaneseness (the flowers look very similar, as both are species of the plum/peach/cherry/apricot genus Prunus). Japanese pop culture also has a strong presence, especially in the forms of music and manga, and a few Japanese television channels (including NHK) are available. The older generation will sometimes speak Japanese among themselves instead of Mandarin or Taiwanese Hokkien. Next to some Southeast Asia countriesnote , Taiwan is probably the most Japanophilic country in the world.
Standard Mandarin (the variety of Mandarin based on the Beijing dialect with vocabulary from some other Northern varieties of Chinese) is the lingua franca today. Basically all Taiwanese speak Mandarin, and the vast majority speak it as a first language. After the arrival of the KMT to Taiwan, policies to have the Taiwanese learn Mandarin were put into place. Mandarin was also given an elevated status due to its association with the 1949 mainland refugees known as 'waishengren' who were generally preferred by the KMT government than their local Taiwanese counterparts, even if the latter possessed higher qualifications. The waishengren had a privileged social status and occupied high positions in the government. Many of them also had the opportunity to migrate to Western countries, thus for a time, the majority of overseas Taiwanese were of waishengren origin. Mandarin also carried prestige for it's varieties being the languages of the imperial court since the 14th century. Non-Mandarin languages such as Hokkien and Hakka were marginalised and their usage was discouraged in formal settings. Nowadays, Hokkien and Hakka are freely spoken and seen as a source of pride. There is no emphasis on having to speak Mandarin all the time which has led to a much more "relaxed" pronunciation of the language where tones are not always correctly used. Many mainland Chinese stereotype the Taiwanese pronunciation as 'lazy' or non-standard for this reason, as well as "effeminate" due to the addition of mood particles from Hokkien thus the Taiwanese accent is often seen as the Chinese equivalent of the Valley Girl accent in the Mainland. On the other hand, many Taiwanese view "mainland Mandarin" as 'coarse' or 'brash' (although what is meant by this is uncertain as there are about ten branches of Mandarin and many are not even mutually intelligible with each other!).
About 70% of residents also speak Taiwanese Hokkien, commonly known as simply 'Taiwanese'. Taiwanese Hokkien derives from the Hokkien dialect (more accurately known as Quanzhang) of Min Nan (from Southern Fujian province), where most of the Taiwanese originated from. The Kinmenese also speak a mutually intelligible Hokkien dialect but they call it Kinmenese instead due to their rejection of Taiwanese identity. Speakers of Hokkien are known as 'Hoklos'. The Matsunese speak a Min Dong (Eastern Min) dialect from Fuzhou (the capital of Fujian province) and it is not mutually intelligible with Min Nan. Two islands known as Wuqiu which are governed as part of Kinmen speak Pu-Xian Min, which is a separate branch of Min as well. Hakka or Ke Jia Hua is also spoken by a substantial minority. Unlike other Han Chinese groups, the Hakkas are not named after a geographical region, e.g. a province, county or city as they are a diaspora who live all across southern China. The ancestors of the Hakka left northern China to settle in the south at a much later date than other Han Chinese which meant the southern Chinese languages and cultures were already quite divergent from the north and each other by this point, which made it extremely difficult for the Hakka to settle in. The Hakka language shares features with Mandarin which are lacking in most other Southern Chinese varieties although Hakka is most similar to the Gan Chinese languages of Jiangxi province where the Hakka population must have settled in for a long period of time before their dispersal into other regions. This explains why a dish known as three-cup chicken which is from an inland province like Jiangxi was able to make it to Taiwan.
The Aboriginals' languages belong to the entirely different Austronesian language family. Taiwan is widely considered to be the ancestral homeland or near-homeland of the family, as it harbors nine of the ten generally-recognize subfamilies of Austronesian. The tenth family is the Malayo-Polynesian family (which includes Malay, Indonesian, and a large number of Polynesian languages including Māori, Tongan, Samoan, and Hawai'ian). These languages are also thought to have some substrates from the languages of the Negrito people who lived on Taiwan before the Austronesians arrived. English is widely taught in Taiwan, but proficiency is highly variable.
Unlike the mainland, Taiwan has retained traditional characters for writing Chinese; however, since 2009, Taiwan officially uses the mainland's Hanyu Pinyin system for transcription of Mandarin, though the Wade-Giles system is still used for place names and most personal names basically out of inertia. Some Taiwanese people who advocate for Taiwanese independence declare that Taiwanese Hokkien should be the official language as Mandarin was only popularized by the KMT's arrival and is a northern Chinese language far removed from the tongues of their ancestors, but this has generated controversy from the Hakkas and Taiwanese Aboriginals who think their languages and identities are being sidelined in favor of the Hoklo majority.
It should be noted that Taiwan is more liberal when it comes to LGBT issues in contrast to many Asian countries where homosexuality is either illegal or seen as taboo. In May 2019, Taiwan legalized same-sex marriagenote . Taiwan also hosts one of the largest gay pride parades in Asia, drawing numerous LGBT tourists every year.
Taiwan also uses the Minguo Calendar year numbering system, which starts its first year at 1912, year of the founding of the Republic of China.
For Taiwanese Live-Action TV series, please click here. Like Hong Kong Cantonese songs, Taiwan Chinese pop songs are widely enjoyed by Chinese. Taiwan is rather popular with night markets and temple festivals. It is renowned for inventing bubble tea and for being the origin of the restaurant chain Din Tai Fung (even if the food they serve is actually from the Wu region and loathed by many Shanghainese for being "inauthentic"). Taiwan is also known for producing electronics with companies like Asus, Acer, and Foxconn having a global presence.
For those interested in traditional Chinese religions, the principal deity in Taiwan is the Fujianese shaman goddess Mazu who watches over the sea. Mazuism is practised in its native Fujian and many other places in Southeast Asia dominated by ethnic Chinese from Fujian province, the worship of Mazu is uncommon outside of culturally Min areas.
Taiwan and its inhabitants in fiction:
- One Dale Brown novel, Fatal Terrain, has China attack Taiwan.
- Sino-Dutch War 1661 (鄭成功 1661) by Wu Ziniu is about Zheng Chenggong.
- The Wedding Banquet is about a Taiwanese immigrant to the US whose parents come from the old country on the occasion of his wedding.
- Betelnut Beauty depicts the quintessentially Taiwanese practice of having scantily-clad pretty young women sell betelnuts to passing motorists from roadside booths.
- By Lin Cheng-sheng, see also Murmur Of Youth (美麗在唱歌) and Sweet Degeneration (放浪).
- Another film that deals with the betelnut beauty phenomenon is Help Me, Eros (幫幫我,愛神) by Lee Kang-sheng.
- Yi Yi is a Slice of Life story centered on an ordinary Taiwanese family.
- By Edward Yang, see also A Brighter Summer Day (牯嶺街少年殺人事件).
- Three Times is a Boy Meets Girl story that takes place three times over, at three different points in the modern history of Taiwan. It shows how much its society and culture have changed over the past century.
- Other movies by Hou Hsiao-hsien that deal either with recent Taiwanese history or life in Taiwan are:
- The Sandwich Man (兒子的大玩偶)
- The Boys From Fengkuei (風櫃來的人)
- The Green, Green Grass Of Home (在那河畔青草青)
- A Summer At Grandpa's (冬冬的假期)
- A Time To Live, A Time To Die (童年往事)
- Dust In The Wind (戀戀風塵)
- Daughter Of The Nile (尼羅河女兒)
- City Of Sadness (悲情城市)
- The Puppetmaster (戲夢人生)
- Good Men, Good Women (好男好女)
- Goodbye South, Goodbye (南國再見,南國)
- Millennium Mambo (千禧曼波)
- Strawman (稻草人), set during the Japanese occupation.
- The critically acclaimed Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, based on the Musha Incident, where the Seediq indigenous group retaliated against the Japanese occupation.
- Thunderlord, aka Liang Xih-K'ai, is the Superhero from Global Guardians and he is the Buddhist monk from Taiwan.
- Dark Action Girl and martial-arts assassin Shenhua of Black Lagoon is Taiwanese.
- Axis Powers Hetalia has a Moe Anthropomorphism of Taiwan, represented as a cute Plucky Girl. In her two sort-of canon appearances, she first tells China to stay aside and not harass Japan, and later she endlessly teases China over his Totally Radical way to think.
- She recently got a full strip in the fourth manga volume. In it she tries to read Japan's fortune, makes bets with Hong Kong and Macau about China (and loses), has Les Yay with Vietnam as they take some photos, and tries to get Italy to buy souvenirs. She also gets to doll up as an internet idol (namedly, Silverlight) in Hetaween 2011, interacting quite a bit with the other Asians.
- Colours By Numbers has Chinese Taipei as having the only competitor that did worse than two of the Australians in the World Sudoku Championships.
- Cytus features the special Timeline chapter, a telling of Taiwanese history through music, visual art, and an Easter Egg webpage, starting at 6 million BC and going into the present, and then continuing into predictions of the future to tell a Green Aesop.
- Nobunagun starts with a Japanese school trip to Taiwan, specifically to the southern city of Kaohsiung and the very colorful temples near Lotus Pond. The main character encounters a food stall owner who learned Japanese from his grandfather. And then the monsters attack.
- Lucy is set in Taipei for the first half of the movie.
- A significant portion of Alpha Protocol takes place in Taipei, primarily concerned with stopping the assassination of a pro-independence president.
- One episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd GIG takes place in Taiwan when Motoko goes there as part of her investigation into Hideo Kuze.
- Nobunagun starts in Taiwan and features Taoyuan International Airport. There's not much more than that after the first episode, though.
- The Gangster's Daughter (2017) and Summer Times (2009) are two films actually set in Kinmen, not Taiwan.
The Taiwanese flag