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History of Taiwan

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See also Republic of China for a history of the government that currently administers Taiwan.

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Prehistoric Settlement Taiwan has been populated for approximately 50,000 years. Little is known about the original inhabitants, but distinctive jadeware, and corded pottery of the Beinan, Chilan and Tapenkeng cultures show a marked diversity in the island's early inhabitants. Today's Taiwan's aboriginal peoples, are classified as belonging to the Austronesian ethno-linguistic group of people, a linguistic group that stretches as far west as Madagascar, to Easter Island in the east and to New Zealand in the south with Taiwan as the northern most point.

Some Chinese nationalists claim that significant migration to Taiwan from the Chinese mainland by Han Chinese began as early as 500 AD, though such assertions are based upon weak historical evidence, and neither the People's Republic of China nor do Chinese nationalists of the Republic of China officially base their claims that Taiwan is part of China on those assertions.

European Settlement Dutch traders, in search of an Asian base first claimed the island in 1624 as a base for Dutch commerce with Japan and the Chinese coast. Two years later, the Spanish established a settlement at Santissima Trinidad on the northwest coast of Taiwan near Keelung, which they occupied until 1642 when they were driven out by the Dutch. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) administered the island and its predominantly aboriginal population until 1662, setting up a tax system, schools to teach romanized script of aboriginal languages and evangelizing. Although its control was mainly limited to the southwest and north of the island, the Dutch systems were adopted by succeeding occupiers. The first influx of migrants from the China came during the Dutch period, in which merchants and traders from China sought to purchase hunting licensed from the Dutch or hide out in aboriginal villages to escape the authorities in China. Most of the immigrants were young single males who were discouraged from staying on the island often referred to by Chinese as "The Gate of Hell" for its reputation in taking the lives of sailors and explorers.

The Dutch originally sought to use their castle Zeelandia at Tayowan as a trading base between Japan and China, but soon realized the potential of the huge deer populations that roamed in herds of thousands along the alluvial plains of Taiwan's western regions. Deer were in high demand by the Japanese who were willing to pay top dollar for use of the hides in samurai armor. Other parts of the deer were sold to Chinese traders for meat and medical use. The Dutch paid aborigines for the deer brought to them and tried to manage the deer stocks to keep up with demand. The aborigines also began to farm sugarcane and rice for export, some of it reaching as far as the markets of Persia. Unfortunately the deer the aborigines had relied on for their livelihoods began to disappear forcing the aborigines to adopt new means of survival. The Dutch built a second administrative castle on the main island of Taiwan in 1633 and set out to earnestly turn Taiwan into a Dutch colony. The first order of business was to punish villages that had violently opposed the Dutch and unite the aborigines in allegiance with the VOC. The first punitive expedition was against the villages of Baccloan and Mattow, north of Saccam near Tayowan. The Mattow campaign had been easier than expected and the tribe submitted after having their village razed by fire. The campaign also served as a threat to other villages from Tirossen (Chia Yi) to Lonkjiaow (Heng Chun). The 1636 punitive attack on Lamay Island in response to the killing of the shipwrecked crew of the Beverwijck and the Golden Lion (Xiao Liu Qiu) ended ten years later with the entire aboriginal population of 1100 removed from the island including 327 Lamayans killed in a cave, having been trapped there by the Dutch and suffocated in the fumes and smoke pumped into the cave by the Dutch and their allied aborigines from Saccam, Soulang and Pangsoya. The men were forced into slavery in Batavia (Java) and the women and children became servants and wives for the Dutch officers. The events on Lamay changed the course of Dutch rule to work closer with allied aborigines, though there remained plans to depopulate the outlying islands.

Koxinga and Imperial Chinese Rule In 1661, a naval fleet led by the Ming loyalist Zheng Chenggong (Cheng Ch'eng-kung in Wade-Giles, known in the West as Koxinga), arrived in Taiwan to oust the Dutch from Zeelandia. Zheng, born in 1624 to Japanese mother and a Chinese father in a family made wealthy from shipping and piracy, inherited his father's trade networks, which stretched from Nagasaki to Macao. Following the Manchu advance on Fujian, Zheng retreated from his stronghold in Amoy (Xiamen) and besieged Taiwan in the hope of establishing a strategic base to marshall his troops to retake his base on China. In 1662, following a nine month siege, Cheng captured the Dutch fortress Zeelandia and Taiwan became his base. Concurrently the last Ming pretender had been captured and killed by General Wu San Gui, extinguishing any hope Zheng may have had of re-establishing the Ming Empire. He died shortly thereafter in a fit of madness after learning of the cruel killings of his father and brother at the hands of the Manchus. In 1683, following a naval engagement with Admiral Shi Lang, one of Zheng's father's trusted friends, Zheng's grandson submitted to Manchu (Qing Dynasty) control. Zheng's followers were forced to depart from Taiwan to the more unpleasant parts of Qing controlled land. By 1682 there were only 7000 Chinese left on Taiwan as they had intermarried with aboriginal women and had property in Taiwan. The Zheng reign had continued the tax systems of the Dutch, established schools and religious temples.

From 1683 the Qing Dynasty ruled Taiwan as a prefecture and in 1875 divided the island into two prefectures, north and south. In 1887 the island was made into a separate Chinese province.

The Manchu authorities tried to limit immigration to Taiwan and barred families from travelling to Taiwan to ensure the immigrants would return to their families and ancestral graves. Illegal immigration continued, but many of the men had few prospects in China and thus married aborigine women to secure land in Taiwan, creating a popular saying from the era, "mainland grandfather no mainland grandmother". The Qing tried to protect aboriginal land claims, but also sought to turn them into tax paying subjects and Confucianists. Han and tax paying aborigines were barred from entering the wilderness which covered most of the island for the fear of raising the ire of the non taxpaying aborigines and inciting rebellion. A border was constructed along the western plain, built using pits and mounds of earth, called "earth cows", to discourage illegal land reclamation. Following a shipwreck of an Okinawan vessel on the southern tip of Taiwan in 1874, in which the heads of all crew members were taken by the Paiwan people, the Japanese sought to test the Manchu commitment to Taiwan. After being refused compensation on account of that part of Taiwan being outside of Qing jurisdiction, the Japanese launched a bloody pacification campaign, which resulted in a high number of casualties for both the Paiwan and the Japanese. The Okinawan affair was more of a trial balloon sent up by the Japanese to test the situation on Taiwan for a possible colonization campaign of their own. This caused the Qing to re-think the importance of Taiwan in their maritime defense strategy and greater importance was placed on gaining control over the wilderness regions. The second test of Qing commitment came during the French blockade of Keeling harbor following a territory dispute between the French and the Qing. The result was a brief bombardment of Qing positions before both parties arrived at an agreement. In the waning years of Qing control over Taiwan, Governor Liu Ming-chuan initiated a series of modernizing reforms and infrastructure projects, including 60Km of railroad track laid between Keelung and Shin Chu (Xin Zhu).

On the eve of the Sino-Japanese War about 45 percent of the island was administered under standard Chinese administration while the remaining lightly populated regions of the interior were under Aboriginal control.

Japanese Rule As settlement for losing the Sino-Japanese War, Imperial China ceded the entire island of Taiwan to Japan in 1895. The Japanese feared military resistance from both Taiwanese settlers and Aborigines following the establishment by the local elite of the short-lived Republic of Taiwan. Taiwan's elite hoped that by declaring themselves a republic the world would not stand by and allow a sovereign state to be invaded by the Japanese, thereby allying with the Qing. The plan quickly turned to chaos as standard Green troops and ethnic Yue soldiers took to looting and pillage. Given the choice between chaos at the hands of Chinese or the submission to the Japanese, the Taipei elite sent Ku Hsien-rong to Keelung to invite the advancing Japanese forces to proceed to Taipei and restore order.

The Taiwanese resistance was sporadic, but at times fierce, and was crushed by 1902 however relatively minor rebellions occurred in years following. Aboriginal resistance to the heavy handed Japanese policies of acculturation and pacification lasted up until the early 1930s. The last major Aboriginal rebellion, the Wushe Uprising[?] in late 1930 by the Sediq people, angry over their treatment laboring in the burdensome job of camphor extraction, launched the last headhunting party in which over 150 Japanese officials were killed and beheaded during the opening ceremonies of a school. The uprising, led by Monalu Dao was crushed by 2000 to 3000 Japanese troops and Aboriginal auxiliaries. This included the use of poison gas.

Despite these uprisings, Japanese rule in Taiwan was much more humane and less oppressive than in Korea or mainland China, and Taiwanese perceptions of the Japanese colonial era are significantly more favorable than perceptions other parts of East Asia, partly because during its 50 years (1895-1945) of colonial rule Japan expended considerable effort in developing Taiwan's economy and raised the standard of living for most Taiwanese citizens to levels far higher than other places in Asia. By 1905 the island had electric power. At the same time, Japanese rule led to a three stage process of colonization of the island, which began as an oppressive paternalistic approach, then a "doka" policy was instituted in which the Japanese considered the Taiwanese to be separate but equal, and the final stage being "kominka", a policy which readied Taiwanese to fight for the emperor. The "kominka" period hoped to teach the Taiwanese the "Japanese Spirit", including compulsory Japanese education and forcing residents of Taiwan to adopt Japanese names. The later period of Japanese rule saw a local elite educated and organized. During the 1930s several home rule groups were promoted as the Taiwanese developed a "Taiwan Consciousness" in contrast to the Japanese and Chinese. Taiwanese eventually pushed for entry into the Japanese Diet.

The Republic of China In the Cairo Conference of 1943 the allied powers agreed to have Taiwan be handed over to the Republic of China upon Japan's surrender. According to both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China, this agreement was given legal force by the instrument of surrender of Japan in 1945, though there is contention over the wording of the document which never invokes the Cairo Declaration nor cedes Taiwan to either entity. The position of the People's Republic of China is that the Republic of China ceased to be a legitimate government in 1949 and as the successor government of China, it has the right to rule Taiwan under the succession of states theory as supported by the United Nations Vienna Conference on Succession of States in 1978, which advocates states rights to territorial integrity. The official position of the Republic of China is that it is a legitimate government with a general mandate over the people of Taiwan.

A number of advocates of Taiwan independence argue that Instrument of Surrender of Japan did not transfer title of Taiwan and that when Japan renounced sovereignty of Taiwan in the Treaty of San Francisco in 1951, the sovereignty of Taiwan returned to the people of Taiwan based on the principle of self-determination provided by the UN Charter. Although this was used to question the legitimacy of the Republic of China before the 1990s, the introduction of popular elections in Taiwan means that except for the most extreme Taiwan independence supporters, supporters of the popular sovereignty theory no longer see a conflict between this theory of sovereignty and the ROC position of the R.O.C. being the sovereign government of Taiwan, Kinmen, Penghu and Matsu. In fact, Chen Shui-bian has often emphasized the popular sovereignty theory in his speeches.

See also: Political status of Taiwan

Beginnings of Nationalist Rule

Nationalist rule began in October 1945 after the end of World War II. During the immediate postwar period, the Nationalist Chinese Kuomintang (KMT) administration on Taiwan was repressive and corrupt, leading to local discontent. Anti-mainlander violence flared on February 28, 1947, prompted by an incident in which a cigarette seller was injured and a passerby was shot to death by Nationalist authorities.

For several weeks after the February 28 Incident the rebels held control of much of the island. Feigning negotiation the Nationalists assembled a large military force (carried on United States naval vessels) that attacked Taiwan massacring nearly 30,000 Taiwanese and imprisoning thousands of others. The killings were both random and premeditated as local elites or educated Taiwanese were sought out and disposed of. Many of the Taiwanese who had formed home rule groups under the Japanese were the victims of 228. This was followed by the "White Terror" in which many thousands of Taiwanese were imprisoned or executed for their real or perceived opposition to the Kuomintang military regime, leaving many native Taiwanese with a deep-seated bitterness to the mainlanders. Until 1995, the KMT authorities suppressed accounts of this episode in Taiwan history. In 1995 a monument was dedicated to the victims of the "2-28 Incident", and for the first time the ROC President Lee Teng-hui publicly apologized for the Nationalists' brutality.

From the 1930s onward a civil war was underway in China between Chiang Kai-shek's ROC government and the Communist Party of China led by Mao Zedong. When the civil war ended in 1949, 2 million refugees, predominantly from the nationalist government, military, and business community, fled to Taiwan. In October 1949 the People's Republic of China (P.R.C.) was founded on the mainland by the victorious communists; several months before Chiang Kai-shek had established in December 1949 a "provisional" ROC capital in Taipei and moved his government there from Nanjing. Under nationalist rule, the mainlanders dominated the government and civil service forcing 37,000 Taiwanese out of the government sector.

Economic Developments

The KMT took control of Taiwan's monopolies and property that had been government property under the Japanese passed into possession of the KMT party-state. Approximately 17% of Taiwan's GNP was nationalized and disposed of. Taiwanese investors lost their claim to the Japanese bond certificates they possessed and much of the property remains in KMT party hands and has yet to be returned to the public. Consequently, these real estate holdings made the KMT into the richest political party in the world.

During the 1950s, the KMT authorities implemented a far-reaching and seemingly highly successful land reform program on Taiwan. They redistributed land among small farmers and compensated large landowners with commodities certificates and stock in state-owned industries. Although this left some large landowners impoverished, others turned their compensation into capital and started commercial and industrial enterprises. These entrepreneurs were to become Taiwan's first industrial capitalists. Together with refugee businessmen from the mainland, they managed Taiwan's transition from an agricultural to a commercial, industrial economy.

Taiwan has developed steadily into a major international trading power with more than $218 billion in two-way trade. Tremendous prosperity on the island was accompanied by economic and social stability.

Taiwan's phenomenal economic development earned it a spot as one of the East Asian Tigers.

Internationally, the Republic of China, headquartered in Taipei, was recognized as the sole legitimate government of China by the United Nations and most Western nations, both of which refused to recognize the People's Republic of China on account of the Cold War.

Democratic Reforms

The late 1970s and early 1980s were a turbulent time for Taiwanese as many of the people who had originally been oppressed and impoverished by the KMT occupation became members of the Taiwan's new middle class. Free enterprise had allowed native Taiwanese to gain a powerful bargaining chip in their demands for respect for their basic human rights. The Kaohsiung Incident and would be a major turning point for democracy in Taiwan.

Taiwan also faced setbacks in the international sphere. In 1971, the ROC government walked out of the United Nations shortly before it recognized the Beijing government as the legitimate holder of China's seat in the United Nations. The R.O.C. had been offered dual reopresentation, but Chiang Kai sheck demanded to retain a seat on the UN Security Council, which was not acceptable to the PRC. Chiang expressed his decision in his famous "the sky is not big enough for two suns" speech. In 1979, the United States switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing.

The events of 1979 highlighted the need for change and groups like Amnesty International were mobilizing a campaign against the government and President Chiang Ching-kuo. Finally, in 1986, the DPP was 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, an native Taiwanese technocrat to be his Vice President. The move followed other reforms giving more power to the native Taiwanese and calmed anti-KMT sentiments.

Chiang Kai-shek's eventual successor, his son Chiang Ching-kuo, began to liberalize Taiwan's political system. 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, 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 in the broadcast media and in schools were lifted as well.

However, Lee failed to crack down on the massive corruption that developed under authoritarian KMT party rule. Many KMT loyalists feel Lee betrayed the R.O.C. by taking reforms too far, while other Taiwanese feel he did not take reforms far enough.

Lee ran as the incumbent in Taiwan's first direct presidential election against DPP candidate and former dissident, Peng Min-ming, which prompted the PRC to conduct a series of missile tests in the Taiwan Strait to intimidate the Taiwanese electorate. The aggressive tactic prompted U.S. President Clinton to invoke the Taiwan Relations Act and dispatch an aircraft carrier into the region off Taiwan's southern coast to monitor the situation.

One of Lee's final acts as president was to declare on German radio that the R.O.C. and the P.R.C. have a special state to state relationship. Lee's statement was met with the PRC's People's Army conducting military drills in Fujian and a frightening island-wide blackout in Taiwan, causing many to fear an attack. Lee's assertion that Taiwan is a sovereign and independent nation was popular among Taiwanese. However many suspected that his two nation theory was intended to ultimate create a Republic of Taiwan, which was not popular among the electorate.

In the 2000 presidential election marked the end to KMT rule. Opposition DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian won a three way race that saw the pro-reunification vote split by independent James Soong and KMT candidate Lien Chan. Chen garnered 39% of the vote.

See also: Timeline of Chinese history, History of China, Politics of Taiwan

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