Taiwan, formally known as the Republic of China is a state situated on an island in East Asia which is adjacent to mainland China. It has a primarily Chinese population. The Republic of China, not to be confused with the People's Republic of China, claims to be the legitimate government over all of China, including both the mainland and Taiwan. The People's Republic, for its part, also claims authority over the island of Taiwan and does not recognize its government as being legitimate. Despite increasingly cordial relations between the two states in recent years, neither officially recognizes the other.
The island of Taiwan was home to indigenous peoples for several thousand years before the Dutch began colonizing the island. That event kicked off a massive wave of Chinese immigration from the mainland. After the Qing dynasty overtook the Ming dynasty in the Seventeenth Century, Ming loyalists fled to Taiwan and established the Tungning Kingdom, in a move that should probably sound somewhat familiar to you. Eventually, the Qing annexed Taiwan into their greater Chinese empire, but they lost it to the Empire of Japan in 1895. The island remained in Japanese hands until World War II, when the Republic of China retook it after the Japanese surrender. The Chinese Civil War between nationalists and communist forces immediately set in, and communist victory saw the nationalist forces flee to Taiwan to establish an independent government in 1949.
Since then, Taiwan's economy has grown rapidly, and in the 1990s it successfully reformed away from its former military dictatorship into the democracy we now know today. In May of 2019, Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage and now holds LGBT pride parades attended by people from all over Asia.
- 1 History
- 2 International relations
- 3 Culture
- 4 See also
- 5 References
Colonization by Europeans and Chinese
Taiwan is the linguistic homeland (Urheimat) of Austronesian languages, which are spoken by the indigenous people of Taiwan, Micronesians, Polynesians, many Melanesians, and most Indonesians, Filipinos, some mainland Southeast Asians, and the people of Madagascar. Today, aborigines make up about 2% of Taiwan's population, and they still face significant social challenges.
As an island close to the massive economic power of Imperial China, Taiwan naturally became the subject of extreme interest by European colonizers. The Dutch, who knew Taiwan as "Formosa", established Fort Zeelandia on the southern edge of Taiwan, using it as an international business and trade hub. The Dutch later expanded their rule to encompass most of the southern part of the island. Not to be outdone, Spanish colonizers took the northern side of the island and built two major settlements called Fort Santo Domingo and San Salvador. The Dutch managed to expel the Spanish from the island after the Eighty Years War, and they decided to solidify their hold on Taiwan by providing incentives to attract Chinese immigration to Dutch Taiwan. For a long time, the Dutch and Chinese cooperated against the indigenous Taiwanese, but the Dutch eventually pissed off the Chinese colonists by raising taxes.
Meanwhile, in mainland China, one of the bloodiest wars in the history of the world was drawing to a close. Manchu tribal peoples from the north had successfully taken advantage of an internal rebellion against the Ming dynasty, sweeping south in their enemy's moment of weakness to begin conquering large swathes of Chinese territory. In 1644, the Manchu had seized Beijing and declared a new dynasty called the Qing. However, southern China did not go along with this, and Ming loyalists from the region fled to Taiwan in the hopes that the island would become a staging point for a reconquest of China. The Dutch naturally objected to this, but they were defeated militarily by Ming loyalist general Zheng Chenggong. Zheng then established the Tungning Kingdom with himself as its ruler in 1662.
This so-called Tungning Kingdom did not last very long. After Zheng died in 1681, the Qing invaded the island and defeated its navy in a single decisive engagement. Taiwan surrendered to Chinese rule almost immediately after.
As it existed during the high point of European imperialism, the Qing had the dubious honor of having to constantly defend Taiwan against foreign encroachments. The UK for instance considered trying to seize Taiwan from the Qing as early as 1840, and they later launched attacks against the island during the First Opium War. During the same conflict, some British troop transports shipwrecked off the coast of Taiwan, and the Qing had most of them, some 300 people, either beheaded or slowly killed through maltreatment.
The French also tried to invade Taiwan during the Sino-French War. Once again, the Qing successfully defended the island, dealing a significant and embarassing defeat to the European power.
Taiwan also presented the Qing with a variety of domestic problems as well. There were more than a hundred rebellions against Qing rule in Taiwan, and these occurred so frequently that the Chinese came up with a pithy saying, "every three years an uprising; every five years a rebellion". The waters around Taiwan were perpetually infested with pirates who posed an extreme threat to the Chinese navy, and the aborigines were far from suppressed.
When aborigines attacked a United States ship in 1867, the US launched a punitive invasion of Taiwan. The invasion ended with a humiliating American failure, as the natives successfully used guerrilla tactics to exhaust the US Marines and eventually kill their commander.
Despite their valiant efforts, the Qing dynasty eventually lost control of Taiwan. Conflict had long been brewing between China and Japan over hegemony over Korea, and tensions finally resulted in outright war in 1894. Although greatly outnumbered by the Chinese (of course), the Japanese possessed a much more modern army and navy. In about a year, Japan managed to invade much of northern China and force an end to the war. China unhappily signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki, ceding Taiwan and several ports to Japan and conceding Korea's independence under Japanese influence.
Pro-Qing leaders briefly attempted to resist Japanese rule by declaring independence as the Republic of Formosa, but Japan quickly quelled the movement. There would be several more uprisings against the Japanese, all unsuccessful.
Japanese overlordship over Taiwan actually benefited the island's people in several ways, mostly due to Japan's intense campaign to modernise Taiwan's infrastructure. Japan built railroads, established Taiwan's first sanitation systems, and establishing an official education system. However, as you might expect, all was not sunshine and roses under the Japanese Empire. Japan used Taiwan to benefit its own industrialization, by effectively outsourcing agricultural production to its island colony. Taiwanese workers were thus forced into farming cash crops like rice and sugar. Meanwhile, Japan launched a series of bloody suppression campaigns against Taiwan's aborigines, who resented being considered by their colonial overlords as third-class citizens. Japan also used its education system to attempt assimilating the Taiwanese people into Japanese culture, eventually expanding that effort by banning the Chinese language and suppressing Taiwanese culture.
Japanese exploitation of Taiwan climaxed during the Second World War. Japan used Taiwan as a base to attack China, and the Japanese military forced thousands of Taiwanese women into sexual slavery, euphemistically calling them "comfort women".
A little trouble in big China
Over in mainland China, the Xinhai Revolution of 1911-12 overthrew Qing imperial rule and established the Republic of China (ROC). However, Republican rule was marred by a series of conflicts, most notably the Chinese Civil War (from 1927) between the nationalist party Kuomintang (KMT) led by General Chiang Kai-shek and the Communist Party led by Mao Zedong, and the Second Sino-Japanese War (from 1937) when Japanese forces invaded.
The civil war was temporarily put aside while both parties fought the Japanese under an uneasy alliance, and the Sino-Japanese War became subsumed into the Second World War. Chiang Kai-shek represented the ROC in talks with allied leaders coordinating action against Japan and restitutions they would seek, leading to the Cairo Declaration of 1943 which included a statement that "all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa [Taiwan], and The Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China", a claim notably absent from the official surrender document, the 1952 Treaty of San Francisco.
After the fall of the Japanese Empire, KMT forces entered Taiwan, annexing it to the ROC according to the Cairo Declaration. This was somewhat controversial within the island itself, since this "reunification" of China and Taiwan placed the island under a nationalist regime to which it had never been subject. Relations between Mandarin-speaking ROC troops and Taiwanese locals (most of whom spoke Taiwanese Hokkien) became increasingly strained, particularly as the ROC was more interested in stripping Taiwan's assets to finance the civil war in China (which had resumed after Japan's surrender) than in actually governing Taiwan. An altercation between ROC soldiers and a cigarette vendor in 1947 resulted in a bloody crackdown known as the 228 Incident and the declaration of martial law within Taiwan. Estimates of the death toll range from 5,000 to a whopping 28,000.
The Chinese Civil War ended with total Communist Party victory on the mainland in 1949, in which the Communist Party took decisive control of the mainland, establishing the People's Republic of China (PRC). Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT government, together with its armed forces, retreated to Taiwan, where they established Taipei as the temporary capital of the ROC (though it has remained the capital ever since). Although Red China planned to take Taiwan, the Korean War broke out before they could, pitting them against the United States. President Harry Truman ordered the US Navy into the Taiwan strait to protect the nationalists from any communist assault, and Mao was forced to give up on the assault rather than face the technologically superior US military.
That's basically been the status of Taiwan ever since. Both Chinese regimes regarded themselves as the rightful government of both territories, pledging to reunify them in due course, and both officially still maintain this "One China policy".
The first years of KMT rule on Taiwan were grim. Martial law dragged on for decades, and the KMT used it to impose harsh political suppression measures, massacring tens of thousands of Taiwanese out of fear that they might be communists or liberals. As many as 140,000 dissidents may have been murdered by Taiwan's dictatorship.
The United States, meanwhile, had decided due the Korean War that maintaining Taiwan's independence was a critical method of containing Communist China's aggression. To that end, the United States signed the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty in 1955, promising to aid Taiwan in the event that China tried anything funny. That commitment was tested during the First Taiwan Straits Crisis, when the PRC started artillery bombardments of some ROC-controlled islands. The US Congress retaliated by passing the "Formosa Resolution", permitting President Dwight Eisenhower to use any military means necessary to protect Taiwan from Chinese aggression. China backed down due to the very real threat of war with the United States, but they started bombing Taiwan again in 1958. The PRC hoped that the US would be distracted by its military activities in Lebanon, but Eisenhower was able to organize a resupply of the ROC's military, convincing the Chinese that US commitment was still there. Communist China once again backed down.
As time went on, Taiwan's economy started to dramatically improve. The island's economic production was limited by the fact that the Japanese had considered it a giant farm and nothing else. Thus, the ROC's main challenge was to transform Taiwan from an agrarian society to one built on manufacturing. Taiwan started its economic development by focusing on textile and apparels, which they knew had formed the backbone of the UK's early industrialization. The government then used state-owned banks to attract foreign capital and help would-be factory owners get off the ground. Production soon outpaced domestic demand, so Taiwan then had to offer incentives for other countries to start buying Taiwanese-made products. The end result of this was a great economic boom which allowed Taiwanese manufacturing to branch out into other industries such as consumer electronics. Taiwan bought licenses from Japan to build radios and televisions which were then sold to American consumers. Much later, Taiwan got into making semiconductors and computers.
Unfortunately, while the economy was taking off, Taiwan did not liberalize for a long time. The KMT forbade the creation of any new parties, and as a result, competitive elections were impossible.
Becoming a democracy and entering the modern era
Chiang Kai-Shek kicked the bucket in 1975, having maintained until his dying day that he would one day rule the Chinese mainland. Reforms only began very slowly. The government cracked down on a pro-democracy protest in 1979, but this time the event managed to unify the KMT's opposition against its dictatorship. The Democratic Progressive Party managed to organize in 1986, becoming the main opposition organization in Taiwan. Taiwan's government lifted martial law in 1987, although it quickly enacted a security law to ensure that dissidents would not get too excited.
Much of this was motivated by Taiwan's dismay at the US' warming relationship with the People's Republic, which had finally killed the Taiwanese dream of one day unifying China under nationalist rule. Once that objective was tossed aside, there was no need for such a forceful military dictatorship. Taiwan finally held its first democratic election in 1989. The KMT finally lost power in 2000 when its candidate lost the election.
Taiwan also started to finally assert a separate identity from China. Taiwan finally acknowledged Taiwan as one of its official names, although it did not give up on the title "Republic of China." Tsai Ing-wen is the current president of Taiwan, of the Democratic Progressive Party. In 2019, Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage.
One China policy
“”Taiwan is part of the sacred territory of the People's Republic of China. It is the lofty duty of the entire Chinese people, including our compatriots in Taiwan, to accomplish the great task of reunifying the motherland.
|—Preamble to the Constitution of the PRC.|
As with the two Koreas, the two Chinas were a major political football in the early decades of the Cold War. Both the ROC and the PRC maintained a "one China policy", as did their diplomatic allies who recognised one or the other as the true government of China. The Soviet Union and Communist Bloc of course backed the PRC while the western powers viewed "Red China" as a bastard regime and instead favoured the ROC.
It was the ROC (i.e. Taiwan) who initially represented China within the United Nations, while communist powers repeatedly petitioned the UN General Assembly to expel the ROC and recognise the PRC instead. Things changed when US President Richard Nixon decided to start a diplomatic rapprochement with the PRC, and the US did not prevent the United Nations from raising the question of who should have the Chinese Security Council seat. As a result, the body successfully passed a resolution expelling Taiwanese diplomats and admitting those of Communist China. Taiwan's humiliation was cemented in 1972 when US President Richard Nixon opened relations with the PRC and the United States officially recognised the PRC rather than the ROC as China's government. Taiwanese, weren't happy about this, and when US officials arrived at Taipei to explain that they would be severing relations with Taiwan, an angry mob attacked their car.
The PRC has aggressively pursued its interpretation of the One China policy in all its international relations, only establishing diplomacy with countries which recognise Taiwan as a province of China and refusing to deal with countries who maintain any official diplomatic relations with the ROC. Meanwhile China's significance as a major political and economic power has continued to grow. As a result of the PRC's hostile stance on the issue, only 14 member states plus the Holy See still maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Within Taiwan, the One China Policy is a thorny issue. Despite the official position, reunification with China has largely been given up as a pipe dream. Reunification under the ROC is impossible, and annexation into the PRC unthinkable. Many still support the principle of the ROC as a Chinese government, but the Taiwanese independence movement has gained significant popularity since the democratisation of Taiwan in the 1980s and 1990s, seeking a distinct national identity for Taiwan. There is also an older tradition of Taiwanese nationalists who view the KMT rule in Taiwan as an illegal occupation little different from the Japanese imperialism which preceded it.
Internationally, the country is left in an awkward diplomatic stalemate. The PRC has repeatedly made it clear that it will tolerate (without recognising) ROC rule within Taiwan as long as the ROC maintains a One China policy, and that a declaration of Taiwanese independence would be seen as a direct act of aggression.
Relations with the United States
Although the two countries have no official diplomatic ties, the United States is still one of Taiwan's primary geopolitical allies. The US' bilateral defense pact with Taiwan, which was maintained throughout much of the Cold War, was repealed and replaced with the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979. The law declares that the US does not recognize any "Republic of China" but rather maintains ties with "Authorities in Taiwan", and it declares that Taiwan is of "grave concern" to the United States. Finally, it claims the US' right to continue selling defensive weapons to Taiwan.
If most of that sounds pretty damn ambiguous to you, then you're not alone. The US relationship with Taiwan is often defined as "strategic ambiguity", trying to ensure that the PRC isn't confident enough to attack Taiwan and that Taiwan is also not confident enough to officially declare independence. It is a deliberate attempt to maintain the fog of war in order to ensure that no one gets any funny ideas and starts shooting.
With President Donald Trump's recent trade conflict with the People's Republic and the subsequent souring of relations, the end of "strategic ambiguity" may be nigh. Congressional testimony from a Department of Defense official in February 2019 raised some eyebrows, as the official's language went significantly beyond the text of the Taiwan Relations Act when he was speaking about the US' relationship with the island. The Secretary of Defense did nothing to alleviate questions raised by the statements. Throughout the rest of 2019, Trump seems to have intentionally raised the heat in the Taiwan straits, breaking from the Obama administration's policies. US naval vessels sailed through the Taiwan strait six times that year, and Trump seems to be encouraging Taiwan to buy more weapons from the US including F-16 fighters. Trump's friendliness to Taiwan was an early fixture of his presidency; shortly after Tsai Ing-wen's election victory, President-Elect Trump called to congratulate her. That action sparked an official protest from Beijing.
Like Japan and South Korea, Taiwan has absorbed a heavy western influence during the 20th century, but retained very strong elements of its traditional culture. It did not undergo the Cultural Revolution inflicted on the People's Republic. Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, folk beliefs, feng shui and Chinese astrology continue to be important religious and cultural influences.
Mandarin is the official language, the language of instruction and the primary language used in the media, though many Taiwanese speak Hokkien as their vernacular language. Mandarin was heavily promoted by the KMT during the 20th century, who tried to eradicate Hokkien and other native languages as much as possible. This has led to a backlash from Taiwanese nationalists who favour giving Hokkien more prominence. The written language is traditional Chinese, unlike the simplified Chinese used in mainland China, which was adopted in the PRC under Chairman Mao.
Sun Yat-sen, a leader in the Xinhai Revolution and early days of ROC rule in mainland China, is revered as a national hero despite never having set foot in Taiwan. Chiang Kai-shek had been similarly honoured (at least officially) during the 20th century but modern views on him tend to be more circumspect.
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