A brief history of Taiwan

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Aborigines hunting deer

Aborigines hunting deer: illustration from "Tai fan tu shuo" <台番圖說> ("Illustrated description of the barbarians in Taiwan") dated 1743.


Taiwan before 1600

prehistoric period: Malayo-polynese tribes, ancestors of present-day aborigines, settle in Taiwan.

1387: the Penghu islands <澎湖列島> (also known as the "Pescadores" in the West) are incorporated into the administrative system of the Chinese Ming dynasty.

VOC occupies Southwest-Taiwan

The Dutch East India Co. occupies the southwestern region of Taiwan in 1623

Dutch colonial period

1622: the Dutch "Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie" (VOC - United East India Co.) occupies the Penghu islands.

1623: the VOC gives up the Penghu islands and withdraws to the area around present day Tainan on Taiwan.

1626-1642: Spanish footholds in northern Taiwan (near present day Keelung and Tanshui).

1624-1644: first wave of Han Chinese settlers to Taiwan. Around A.D. 1650 population of about 100.000 Han Chinese.

Reign of the Chinese Zheng clan

1644: The manchurian Qing dynasty is established in China (until 1911).

1649-1661: Struggle of Ming loyalist Zheng Chenggong <鄭成功> against the Qing dynasty (also known by his epithet "Guoxingye" <國姓爺>: "Lord of the imperial surname", transmogrified to "Koxinga" by the Dutch).

1661/62: Zheng withdraws to Taiwan and expels the Dutch. Beginning of systematic sinification of Taiwan: Han Chinese peasants are encouraged to settle in Taiwan, agriculture and the administrative system are developed following Chinese patterns.

1683: the regents of Zheng's grandson (13 yrs.) surrender to the Qing dynasty. Taiwan becomes a prefecture of Fujian province <福建>, seat of government: "Taiwanfu" <臺灣府>, present day city of Tainan <台南>)

Taiwan under the reign of the Qing dynasty

1683-1895: Reign of the Qing dynasty in Taiwan. Rapid increase of Han Chinese population despite frequently imposed immigration restrictions. Frequent armed conflicts settlers of different origin, between Chinese settlers and the aborigines as well as the Chinese authorities.

1680: population of about 200.000 Han Chinese.

1810: population of about 2 million Han Chinese.

1858: ("unequal") Treaty of Tianjin: the ports of Taiwanfu (Tainan) in the South and und Tanshui <淡水> in the North are opened to trade by the Wester colonial powers.

1884/85: due to the conflict with China about North-Vietnam, blockade of Taiwan and occupation of Jilong (at the time: <雞籠> "Keelung") and Danshui by France.

1885: Taiwan acquires the status of a province of its own. The reform minded governor Liu Mingchuan <劉銘傳> begins with the construction of modern infrastructure (fortifications, railway, navigation, telegraph, coal mining). The provincial capital is moved from Tainan to Taipei.

Japanese colonial period

1895: as a result of the war about Korea, that China lost against Japan, Taiwan and the Penghu Islands are ceded to Japan. Taiwan is conquered by the Japanese between May and October. Guerilla warfare continues until approx. 1915.

5-7/95: Asia's first Republic, the "Democratic Republic of Taiwan": "Taiwan minzhuguo" <台灣民主國>) is proclaimed in an attempt by the Chinese ex-governor, to obtain support from the Western powers against the Japanese.

1895-1945: Japanese colonial reign and complete isolation of Taiwan from China. Initially population of approx. 3 mill. Han Chinese (approx. 80% from Fujian province, 15% from Guangdong province). Period of rapid economic construction: agriculture and forestry (sugar cane, rice, bananas, pineapple, wood, camphor), expansion of railway lines, road netword, ports, containment of tropical diseases, construction of hydro-electric power plants and first steps towards electrification.

1918-1934: (largely unsuccessful) "Petition movement" (following the examples of: Woodrow Wilson, Irish struggle for liberation) for more autonomy and equality within the Japanese state.

beginning with the 1920's: limited education opportunities for Taiwanese

from 1934: in the course of Japanese expansionist policy, industries are further developed, especially to serve military needss.

2nd World War:attempt at realising full Japanisation of the Han-Chinese population.

Taiwan under the governance of the "Kuomintang" <國民黨> (National People's Party)

1943: Allied Cairo Declaration: after the end of the war, Taiwan and the Penghu-Islands (Pescadores) shall be restored to the "Republic of China".

1945: the ruling party of China, the Kuomintang (KMT) takes over Taiwan after Japanese surrender and dispatches General Chen Yi <陳儀> to be the provisional provincial governor. Han-population: around 6 million, Japanese are repatriated (roughly 5% of the population).

beginning with February 28th, 1947: ignited by the"2.28 Incident" ("er-er-ba shijian" <二•二八事件>) uprising against govenor Chen Yi's discriminating and corrupt regime that seizes the entire island. Troop reinforcements suppress the uprising with estimated more than 10,000 casualties (including a high proportion of the Taiwanese elite).

1948/49: after being defeated in the civil war against the Communists, Taiwan becomes the last Retreat of the KMT's "Republic of China" under Chiang Kai-shek <蔣介石>. More than 2 million refugees from the mainland. State of emergency remains in force for decades.

1950s: Cold War and Period of "White Terror" against any kind of opposition.

about 1960-1980: Emergence of the Taiwanese Economic miracle.

1970s: through local elections and supplementary elections to the national bodies increasing room for manoeuvre for the political opposition. Emergence of a "grey" market for critical media.

1971: the "representatives of Chiang Kai-shek" are excluded from the United Nations and the "People's Republic of China" takes their seat.

1975: Death of Chiang Kai-shek. His successor is Vice President Yan Jiagan.

1978: Chiang Kai-shek's son Jiang Jingguo <蔣經國> becomes President.

Dec. 10th 1979: "Mei-li-tao"-Incident <美麗島> occurs on Human Rights' Day: brutal suppression of a demonstration of supporters from the oppositional magazine of the same name that planned to establish an opposition party.

from 1983: 3:the "Study society for public politics" ("gongzhenghui" <公政會>) starts to set up branch offices with the ultimate goal to establish an opposition party.

Taiwan on the road to democracy

1986: coming under pressure from the increasingly strong opposition, Jiang Jingguo paves the way for a process of liberalisation.

Sept. 28th, 1986: Founding of the oppositional "Democratic Progressive Party" (DPP) is tolerated by the KMT.

Febr. 28th, 1987: Commemorative demonstrations and beginning public debate on the 40th anniversary of the uprising of Febr. 28th, 1947 ("2.28" <二•二八>).

July 15th, 1987: State of emergency is lifted.

November 1987: first visits of relatives to China are permitted.

Jan. 1st, 1988: "newspaper ban" is lifted: newspapers may now be published with more pages, new newspapers can be established.

January 1st, 1988: Death of President Chiang Ching-kuo. His successor is Vice President Li Teng-hui ("Li Denghui" <李登輝>), a native Taiwanese.

November 1988: Beginning of "flexible foreign policy" ("tanxing waijiao" <彈性外交>, de facto abandonment of the claim to sole representation of China.

January 1st, 1989: the establishment of new parties is officially permitted.

November 1989: during the election campaign slogans demandingi independence of Taiwan are tolerated for the first time.

May 5th, 1990: President Li Teng-hui is reelected by the National Assembly (1st regular term of office).

June 28th - July 2nd, 1990: "Conference on National issues" ("Guo shi huiyi" <國是會議>: Round table of KMT and DPP): it is decided to reelect the parliamentary bodies and to reform the constitution.

April 4th, 1991: "Provisionary regulations for the period of suppression of the [Communist] rebellion" (ie: unlimited right of the president to issue emergency decrees) are lifted:

Dec. 12th, 1991: the National Assembly is reelected for the first time since 1948: KMT: 71.25, DPP: 24%.

Febr. 28th, 1992: basic decision is made to pay indemnifications to victims or their dependants of "Febr. 28th, 1947" and to erect a memorial in Taipei.

May 15th, 1992: after revision of §100 of the penal code most imprisoned dissidents are released, peaceful advocation of Taiwan's independence is no longer prosecuted.

Summer 1992: first visits of scholars and journalists from China.

Oct. 10th, 1992: first National day without military parade.

Dec. 19th, 1992: the Parliament is reelected for the first time since 1948 ("Legislative Yuan": "Lifa-Yuan" <立法院>): KMT: 53%, DPP: 31%.

April 27th - 29th, 1993: first semi-official negotiations between Taiwan and China in Singapore with the aim to settle practical issues (illegal immigrants, smuggling, economic cooperation etc.)

June 9th, 1993: first efforts by the government to develop a strategy for Taiwan's reentry to the United Nations.

July 1993: direct flights between Germany and Taiwan.

Oct. 1993: 23 countries favour Taiwan's reentry to the United Nations in the general assembly.

--> see also online pdf-Version of "History of Taiwan" by Walter Chen.

Basic data on Taiwan

Geography: between 21°45' and 25°56' of Northern latitude and 119°18' and 124°34' of Eastern longitude. Extension from North to South: approx. 375 km, East to West: approx. 135 km. Area: 36,000 km2 (half the size of Ireland). Distance from the Chinese mainland (Xiamen, Fujian Province), approx. 150 km.

The tropic of cancer runs through Taiwan, with subtropical climate in the North and tropical climate in the South. 60% of the area is covered by the Central Mountain Range (highest peak is Yushan <玉山> [Jade Mountain] 3.997 m - old Western name: Mount Morrison). Only scarce mineral resources.

Demography: Population of about 23 million (2002), more than 70% originate from Fujian (dialect: "Minnan" <閩南> or simply "Taiwanese"), approx. 10% originate from Guangdong (dialect: "Hakka"/"Kejia" <客家>), approx. 2% aborigines (malay-polynesian idioms), approx. 15% mainland refugees and their offspring.

Politics: official designation: "Republic of China", capital: Taipei, official language: Mandarin Chinese, currency: "New Taiwan Dollar" (NT$). International dialling code: +886- ; international country abbreviation: "RC". Ruling party: DPP ("Democratic Progressive Party": "Minzhu Jinbu Dang" <民主進步黨>); main opposition party: Kuomintang <國民黨> (KMT, ie "National People's Party"); President: CHEN Shuibian <陳水扁>, Prime Minister: YÜ Shyi-kun.

Zheng Chenggong landing in Taiwan
Zheng Chenggong <鄭成功> landing in Taiwan in 1662.
Futile Dutch attempts to fend off Zheng Chenggong
The Dutch try in vain to repulse Zheng Chenggong.
Liu Mingchuan
Taiwan's first Chinese provincial governor:
Liu Mingchuan <
Japanese troops occupying Taipei
1895: Japanese troops moving into Taipei.
Japanese surrender 1945
The last Japanese governor, Ando Rikichi <安藤利吉>, signing the document of surrender on Oct. 25th, 1945.
2.28 uprising 1947
Contemporary woodcut on the brutal suppression of the 2.28 uprising.
Founding of the DPP in 1986
Party founding congress of the DPP on Sept. 28th, 1986.
2.28 demonstration
Demonstration for breaking the taboo on public discussion of the 2.28 tragedy
Taipei Lung-shan temple: demo in 1986
May 19th, 1986: Sit-in in Taipei Lung-shan temple ("Longshansi")
龍山寺> demanding the lifting of martial law.
First 2.28 monument in Chia-i
Aug. 19th, 1989: first monument commemorating "2.28" near Chia-i ("Jiayi" <嘉義>) financed by private donations.

German / English / Chinese

(compiled by G. Whittome)