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Last updated : Nov 2009
Taiwan History
Taiwan History - TravelPuppy.com
Taiwan is an island located just off the southeast coast of China and is said to be the custodian and preserver of the world’s oldest traditions. Formerly known as Formosa, it was in the beginning occupied by mainland Chinese until the 17th century. The island was then inhabited by the Dutch and Spanish for 40 years.

In 1684, the country was influenced by supporters of the overthrown Ming Dynasty and was a tao (a sub-province or county) of the mainland province of Fukien across the Taiwan Straits. (The island’s use as a refuge for overthrown governers from the mainland is a frequent feature of Taiwanese history.) In 1885, Taiwan was fully influenced by the Qing Dynasty and made into a province in its own right.

10 years later, Chinese failure in the first Sino-Japanese War brought the first occupations of Chinese territory by the Japanese. The country was 'ceded in perpetuity' to Japan by Article 2 of the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Though it was sternly resented and actively opposed by the population, the country was under Japanese control from 1895 until its overthrow at the end of World War II.

The Chinese Civil War, having already been in movement for some years, came to a head in 1948. The nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-Shek were overthrown by Mao’s Communists, and the nationalist leadership, as well as many thousands of supporters, fled to Taiwan. Here, their political vehicle, Kuo Min-Tang (KMT) quickly came to take over Taiwanese politics – having insured its own survival, the KMT then set about developing the economy. In this, the KMT regime was outstandingly successful and Taiwan has been one of the fast-developing ‘tiger economies’ of the Pacific Rim (see Business Profile).

In a political way, Taiwan relied for a long time on the support of the USA until the early-1970s, when the rapprochement between Beijing and Washington happened. The Chinese still believe Taiwan to be part of the national territory and continue to harbour the long-term objective of reuniting Taiwan with the mainland. International recognition of Taiwan (by the United Nations, for example) is therefore unbearable to Beijing.

For all their political conflict, a great deal of trade, travel and communications links have increased between Taiwan and China since the early 1970s: yearly bilateral trade is currently worth well over US$50 billion and one million people travel between these 2 countries each year.

Many people in Taiwan believe that the 2 countries should be reunified but disagree on the terms under which this should happen; the idea of a Hong Kong-type solution is given short shrift. But in the mid-1990s, an unusual alternative came under consideration for the first time – full independence. This drew a fuming reaction from Beijing but, inside Taiwan, it has attracted growing support.

The main part of the reason has been the shift in Taiwanese domestic politics which took place after the death of Chiang Ching-Kuo (Kai-Shek's son, president from 1978) in 1988. His Kuo Min-Tang successor, Lee Teng-Hui, took over as the president. President Lee modified the original ROC constitution to strengthen representative democracy on the island.

The KMT gained control of the presidency and the national assembly during the 1990s, but its share of the vote was unavoidably declined.

Lastly, in March 2000, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the most important opposition party, took control of the presidency through its candidate Chen Shui-Bian. The DPP also became the biggest party in the Li Fa Yuan (see Government) the following year, even though it was short of an overall majority.

For the very first time, the KMT was entirely exempted from political power. KMT-led pan-blue opposition camp still rules the legislature, having won 114 of the 225 seats in legislative elections in December 2004.

Not long after that the election of President Chen, George W Bush, who at that time was the Republican candidate at the 2000 US presidential election, indorsed Taiwanese independence and gave a huge boost to the pro-independence lobby. This however is not representative of US policy on Taiwan. The US remains steadfast to both the 'One China' policy and the defense of Taiwan (Taiwan Relations Act).

While disapproving what it describes as ‘splittist forces’, the Chinese continued to build up their relations with Taiwan. Trade particularly has developed since the launch of new airline connections and China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation.

Taiwan and China started historic charter flights on Jan 29, 2005 for the Lunar New Year celebrations with commercial jets flying non-stop between the 2 countries for the first time since 1949.

Many people hope that this is the sign of bettering relationships. Chen was elected again by a narrow majority in the 2004 elections. The Election Day referendum was not on the issues of sovereignty or renaming Taiwan but on improvement of anti-missile defence systems and opening talks with Beijing. Voting on the referendum fell short of the required 50%.

In the foreign policy arena, the ‘recognition competition’ carries on. 28 countries recognise Taiwan, against more than those who recognise the People’s Republic. Both sides have ‘bought’ certain countries, characteristically by offering a substantial aid package and/or soft loans in exchange for recognition.