Officially, Taiwan’s name is the Republic of China (ROC). Not to be confused with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to the east. It is a state in East Asia. Taiwan is southeast of mainland China, south of Japan, and north of the Philippines.
Portuguese sailors discovered an unchartered island and noted it on their maps as “Ilha Formosa” meaning “Beautiful Island” in 1542. The Dutch went on to colonise the south of Formosa. The Spanish tried to colonise the northern part of the country, but the Dutch eventually defeated them.
The Qing Dynasty
The Dutch East India Company set up here in the 17th-century. They called the island “Tayouan”, because of their name for a nearby Taiwanese aboriginal tribe. The Chinese adopted a similar sounding name for the island, written in the Chinese language. Over the years the name has evolved to be the modern spelling of Taiwan. The first permanent settlement of both European colonists and Chinese immigrants together was in this region.
The Chinese defeated the Dutch to claim the territory at the Siege of Fort Zeelandia. The Siege of 1661–1662 ended the Dutch East India Company’s rule over Taiwan. Thus began the Kingdom of Tungning’s control over the island. Taiwanese scholar Lu Chien-Jung described the siege as “a war that determined the fate of Taiwan in the four hundred years that followed”.
The Chinese Qing dynasty annexed Taiwan in 1683. In 1895, The Qing Dynasty ceded to the Japanese. In 1945, the Japanese surrendered to the Allies, and the ROC took control. Although the ROC tried to claim to be the legitimate government of China, their limited jurisdiction was only of Taiwan and its several outlying islands, including Matsu and Quemoy.
In 1860, Taiwan became a treaty port following the Treaty of Tientsin, which opened the island to the rest of the world. Between 1884-1885, the French navy blockaded the port during the Sino-Franco War.
During the 1960s, the Chinese government withdrew after losing the Chinese Civil War. The island became known as “Nationalist China” or “Free China”. The mainland of China became “Communist China”. There is a movement for the island to separate completely from China once more. For diplomatic reasons, teams from Taiwan use the name “Chinese Taipei” when competing internationally, for example at the Olympics. Taipei city is, in fact, the capital of Taiwan (ROC).
In the 1980s, the country changed from being a one-party military dictatorship to a multi-party democracy. Taiwan is now one of the largest economies in the world. Its high-tech industry plays a vital role in the global economy. The country has a highly skilled workforce.
The People’s Republic of China consistently claims Taiwan as their territory. Under the One-China Policy, they refuse to have diplomatic relations with any country that recognises the ROC. Today, 17 countries maintain ties with the ROC. However, other governments “quietly” continue to support unofficial relations with the ROC through their representative offices.
The major political division is the difference in opinion between eventual Chinese unification of the region with China or the future Independence of Taiwan. Currently, although both sides have moderated their positions slightly, China threatens to use military force if Taiwan tries to declare independence.
Today, people who live in the area don’t all agree. Although many Taiwanese do not think there is freedom in China, there are still some Taiwanese who want to unite with China. The majority of the population would like to keep everything as it is now.
The original population are Taiwanese Aborigines, with some descendants still living in the region. Now, however, Taiwanese Hans make up nearly 95 per cent of the people in the country. The Hans are of Mandarin descent and form the largest ethnic group in the world. Austronesians and other nationalities make up the last five per cent of the population. Han Taiwanese speak three dialects: Mandarin, Hakka and Hokkien.
Taiwan is mostly mountainous to the east, with gently sloping plains in the west. Taiwan’s highest point is Yu Shan which is 12,966 ft, also known as Jade Mountain. The Penghu Islands lie west of the main island. China lies across the Taiwan Strait. The East China Sea is to the north, the Philippine Sea to the east, the Luzon Strait is to the south. The South China Sea is to the southwest.