Introduction Taiwan / ROC
Additional background information like data on geography and climate, selected statistics and more is available on the page Tools.
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◆ Disambiguation: Taiwan, ROC, China
For decades, there has been some confusion and controversy about the proper denomination of Taiwan that has been caused by political factors. In common usage, Taiwan is referred to as Taiwan or the ROC, and since 1949 it gradually has become a prevalent habit to use the two terms as substitutes for each other. However, it should not be forgotten that the ROC between its foundation in 1912 and the end of WWII in 1945 did not include Taiwan, and Taiwan had its own rich, colourful history before 1945. The following explanations are helpful to reduce possible misconceptions.
Please note that terms like "Taiwan, China" or "Taiwan, province of China" are regarded in Taiwan as being part of a scheme pursued by the PRC to downgrade Taiwan's status in the international arena, and they are not sanctioned or approved by the ROC government.
In modern Taiwan, it has become fashionable using the name "Formosa" when referring to Taiwan, especially among young supporters of Taiwan independence. In Chinese, both the phonetic equivalent Fuermosha 福爾摩沙 as well as meilidao 美麗島 (i. e. the Chinese translation of the whole original Portuguese term "Ilha Formosa", meaning "beautiful island" in English) are popular. On the negative side of the spectrum, some pro-independence hardliners refer to China using the old Japanese term "Shina" (Chinese pronunciation zhina 支那, in Japanese hiragana: shina しな) which is perceived as highly derogatory and offensive as well as an unmistakable marker of anti-China sentiment, therefore that term is generally considered inadmissible in civilized, academic discourse.
The relations between Taiwan and China are one of the most important aspects of ROC
politics, therefore Cross-Strait issues are covered extensively on this website. A selection of links is shown
Why mention "native province"?
Due to the nature of Taiwan's political landscape which is characterized by the persistent rivalry between "mainlanders" (waishengren 外省人) on the one side and "Taiwanese" (Taiwanren 台灣人)/"locals" (benshengren 本省人) on the other side as well as the deep rift between the "blue" and "green" political camps, the origin and background of a politician in the ROC is still regarded a significant factor. For this reason, lists showing the heads of government agencies and other organizations in this file feature a column labelled "Native Province" on the right side of the respective table.
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◆ Basic facts about the Republic of China (ROC)
The political system of the ROC today—a brief description
The ROC is a sovereign, independent and self-ruled democratic state. Modern democracies in general uphold the
principle of separation of powers, and most democratic states have a system with three branches (legislature/parliament,
executive/government, and judiciary/court system) according to the trias politica principle. By definition, a state
consists of all administrative agencies belonging to those three branches, but in Taiwan’s case the political system of
the ROC features five branches (Yuan 院) on the central level:
The most important elements of the ROC’s political system are as follows.
The head of state and commander-in-chief is the popularly elected President (see page "ROC Presidency"). The ROC president appoints the Premier, i. e. the head of the Executive Yuan, as well as the heads of the Judicial Yuan, the Control Yuan and the Examination Yuan—but not of the Legislative Yuan.
The Executive Yuan is the cabinet of the ROC, i. e. the central government. Its agencies implement the policies devised by the ROC president and the laws approved by the legislature. (See page "Executive Yuan [Cabinet]")
The popularly elected parliament of the ROC is called the Legislative Yuan. (See page "Legislative Yuan [Parliament]") The ROC Constitution that went into force on Dec. 25, 1947 stipulated a bicameral system with the Legislative Yuan and a National Assembly (NA). Since the abolition of the NA in 2005 the ROC's representation of the people has been unicameral.
The Judicial Yuan directs the ROC's court system. Its head is appointed by the ROC president. (See page "Judicial Yuan")
The Control Yuan executes impeachment and audit functions (see page "Control Yuan"), the Examination Yuan manages the civil service system of the ROC (see page "Examination Yuan"). The heads of those two Yuan are appointed by the ROC president.
Please note that in contrast to most states, not all ministries (bu 部) in the political system of the ROC are cabinet agencies. While most ministries of the ROC are under the Executive Yuan (cabinet), two other Yuan have ministries as well—the Control Yuan and the Examination Yuan (see the following list).
Local level, elections, political parties
On the local level, the ROC today formally consists of two provinces, Taiwan and Fujian, plus 6 special municipalities directly under the jurisdiction of the central government. In practical administrative reality, the two provincial governments were streamlined since 1998, and by the end of 2018 the positions of provincial governors were abolished. Counties and county-level cities are nominally still listed under the provinces—Taiwan Province has 14 county-level local governments, Fujian Province has 2. The heads of county-level governments and the mayors of special municipalities are elected by direct popular vote. (See page "Local administration")
Following the lifting of martial law in 1987 the ROC underwent a period of democratization, and the Taiwanese people have now been directly electing their own president and parliament in free and fair elections since more than a quarter of a century. City mayors and county magistrates are also popularly elected. (See page "Democratic elections")
Since 1987 the ROC evolved from a one-party dictatorship to a multi-party democracy. In today’s Taiwan, political parties play important roles as stakeholders, they contribute to the formation of political opinions, and leading administrative positions are usually (but not necessarily) occupied by members of the party currently in power. As the ROC president has been directly elected by the people from the year 1996 on, the presidency has been in the hands of either the KMT or the DPP. (See page "Political parties")
For more detailed descriptions and explanations please refer to the respective pages of this website.
Taiwan Who's Who—an overview of current top politicians in the ROC
● Presidential office
Executive Yuan (Cabinet)
The four other Yuan of the ROC
Provincial governors, city mayors, county magistrates
Leaders of major political parties
Territory and jurisdiction
● Taiwan area: Geographic margin points (dry land) and their coordinates
The size of the territory under ROC control changed significantly over time due to civil war and foreign invasion. The most dramatic area losses occurred between early 1946 and late 1949 when ROC forces were driven from the Chinese mainland by the Chinese Communists. Since the retreat from the Dachen Islands off Zhejiang province in February 1955, the territory under ROC control is limited to the Taiwan area.
However, decades went by until the situation was appropriately reflected in official ROC publications. For example, up until the early 1990s maps in the ROC Yearbooks showed that the ROC territory comprised not only Taiwan but also the Chinese mainland and even included Outer Mongolia. According to those sources China (= the ROC) had an area of 11,418,174 km² (ROC Yearbook 1995, p. 15). That stance was mitigated to a certain extent later in the 1990s, and according to recent publications like the annual brochure Taiwan at a Glance, the ROC (Taiwan and outlying islands) has a total land area of 36,197 km². Although the ROC has never formally given up its claim to be the legitimate ruler of China as a whole, it has finally acknowledged the reality that the ROC government exercises de facto control over the Taiwan area only and has no jurisdiction over mainland China.
The table below shows figures provided by the MOI listing the size of the territory actually controlled by the ROC government in the Taiwan area since WWII.
Please note that the term "Taiwan area" (Taiwan diqu 台灣地區 or Taiwan quyu 台灣區域) refers to the following territories: Taiwan proper; Penghu 澎湖 (aka the Pescadores); smaller islands close to Taiwan like Green Island/Lyudao 綠島, Orchid Island/Lanyu 蘭嶼 and others; plus the offshore island groups of Kinmen 金門 (aka Quemoy) and Matsu 馬祖 (administrative name: Lienchiang County 連江縣) close to mainland China's Fujian province. Another common Chinese version of that term is Tai Peng Jin Ma 台澎金馬, short for Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu.
Map A shows Taiwan's position in East Asia with continental China in the west/northwest, Japan in the northeast, the Korean peninsula in the north, and the Philippines in the south. Map B provides more details and presents Taiwan proper in grey, the outlying islands of Taiwan/the ROC in black and the territory controlled by the PRC in red. [Additional maps can be found under the page "Local administration" as well as under "Maps" in the toolbar.]
Taiwan area: Geographic margin points (dry land) and their coordinates
Outer Mongolia, incorporated into the Qing empire in 1691, declared independence in 1911, aligned itself with the USSR in 1924 as Mongolian People's Republic and was renamed Mongolia in 1992. It was not before Feb. 26, 2002 that the ROC indicated it had dropped its claim of Mongolia being Chinese territory by excluding that country's citizens from the coverage of the "Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area" (Taiwan diqu yu dalu diqu renmin guanxi tiaoli 台灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例), and on May 21, 2012 the ROC MAC confirmed that Mongolia was not included in the ROC territory.
The South China Sea
Islands in the South China Sea which are currently controlled by the ROC include the Pratas Islands (dongsha qundao 東沙群島) and Taiping Island (taiping dao 太平島). The ROC continues to uphold its claim over the largest part of the South China Sea (nanhai 南海) demarcated by the so-called "nine-dash line" (jiuduanxian 九段線) which is identical with the PRC's claim over that area. Other countries (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam) reject those claims. In comparison, the PRC follows a much more aggressive approach in its attempts to enforce its claim than Taiwan. For years, the PRC has taken to building artificial islands in disputed areas there, and the PRC has also increased its military presence in the waters of the South China Sea—measures which are strongly criticized by the US seeking to uphold freedom of navigation (FON) in international waters.
— — — Map of disputed areas in the South China Sea — — —
Source: Wikimedia © Creative Commons, author: Goran tek-en (Jan. 23, 2014)
Just a "small country"?
Because Taiwan/the ROC has large and powerful regional neighbours like China and Japan, it is in general often perceived by the international community as a small country. However, it should be taken into consideration that not only is the ROC the most populous country not represented in the United Nations (UN), but also that today more than half of the countries and territories in the world each have a population which is significantly smaller than that of the ROC, e. g. Chile, the Netherlands, Belgium, Cuba, Greece, Sweden, Israel, Austria, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Singapore, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand and many others. Regarding Taiwan's economic strength (especially in the area of ICT products), its GDP and per-capita-income, calling Taiwan a small country seems inadequate as well.
A glance at the ROC's historical background
Major periods of ROC history
⚬ Early ROC—the era Yuan Shikai (1912–1916)
The ROC before 1945—the Chinese mainland without Taiwan
The ROC, established on Jan. 1, 1912 after the Hsinhai Revolution (xinhai geming 辛亥革命) which led to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), was Asia’s first republic and has been a sovereign, independent state to this day. In its early period the ROC was plagued by internal strife, civil war-like conditions and division, and between the death of president Yuan Shikai in 1916 and 1928 there was no uncontested central government with real authority when much of the mainland was controlled by local warlords (junfa 軍閥). After the 1926–1928 Northern Expedition (beifa zhanzheng 北伐戰爭) against the warlords was successfully concluded under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek (“CKS”), most of today’s ROC government agencies and institutions were established in the capital Nanjing. The ROC Political Tutelage Period Act (Zhonghua minguo xunzheng shiqi yuefa 中華民國訓政時期約法), promulgated on June 1, 1931, stipulated that the central government was to be led by the Chinese Nationalist Party/Kuomintang (KMT).
Later in 1931 Japanese forces began invading the ROC, first advancing into the Manchurian provinces where a Japanese puppet regime called “Manchukuo” led by former Qing emperor Pu Yi was installed in 1932. An incident at the Marco Polo Bridge (Lugouqiao 蘆溝橋) in Beiping (as Beijing was called between 1928 and 1949) in 1937 was followed by a massive Japanese offensive into the Chinese heartland, and another Japanese puppet regime was installed in Nanjing under Wang Ching-wei in 1940 while the ROC government retreated to Chongqing. After Japan’s eventual defeat at the end of WWII, Taiwan—ceded to Japan by the Qing in the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki (maguan tiaoyue 馬關條約) marking the end of the First Chinese-Japanese War (jiawu zhanzheng 甲午戰爭, 1894–1895)—was returned to China’s territory in 1945 according to the agreements by the Allies.
Interlude with fundamental changes (plus Taiwan, minus mainland)
The same year civil war broke out on the mainland between forces led by the Chinese Communist Party (Zhongguo gongchandang 中國共產黨, abbrev. Zhonggong 中共 in Chinese and CCP in English) and troops loyal to the KMT. (An instructive animated sequence of historical maps—researched and produced by Yan Xishan 閻錫山—showing the progression of the Chinese Civil War since 1945 can be viewed on YouTube, please click on the image on the right.) The victorious Chinese Communists founded the People’s Republic of China (Zhonghua renmin gongheguo 中華人民共和國, abbrev. PRC) on the mainland on Oct. 1, 1949 while the KMT-led ROC government retreated to Taiwan, along with more than a million refugees. Since 1955, the ROC has been in control only of the Taiwan area. (More information about Taiwan's specific history can be found here.)
Directly after the termination of Japan's colonial period (Riju shidai 日據時代, also called Rizhi shiqi 日治時期) in Taiwan the ROC's new provincial administration arrived on the island, but soon tensions mounted with the local population, which was regarded as "hostile overseas Chinese" (diqiao 敵僑) by the government. Clashes triggered by the bloody 1947 "Incident of the 28th February" (ererba shijian 二二八事件/"2-28") in Taipei resulted in an islandwide violent uprising and a brutal crackdown carried out by hastily deployed government troops from the mainland. In response to the insurgency in Taiwan and civil war raging on the mainland, CKS imposed martial law over the ROC on May 20, 1947. The following period is often referred to as the "White Terror" (baise kongbu 白色恐怖) in Taiwan, during which any opposition activity was mercilessly suppressed by the regime, thousands of people were executed and even more were incarcerated as political prisoners. Members of the Japanese-educated elite were especially targeted, and mentioning 2-28 or advocating Taiwan independence could be enough to earn a death warrant from the authorities.
The ROC since 1949—Taiwan without the Chinese mainland
In the decades of Cold War between the ROC and the PRC, the Taiwan area was ruled with an iron fist by CKS's military dictatorship. After CKS's death in 1975 things started to change. His son and successor Chiang Ching-kuo ("CCK") gradually initiated political reforms, and martial law was lifted in 1987 (in Taiwan and Penghu; 1992 in Kinmen and Matsu). While in many countries the transition from authoritarian rule to democracy is marred by chaos and bloodshed, CCK accomplished this feat with comparatively minimal disruption. Another important trend that took shape under CCK's presidency was localization (bentuhua 本土化), increasingly more Taiwan-born politicians were appointed as top cabinet officials or obtained other major positions of political leadership in the ROC. These had almost exclusively been reserved for mainlanders when CKS was in command.
Under CCK's successor Lee Teng-hui the "Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion" (dongyuan kanluan shiqi linshi tiaokuan 動員戡亂時期臨時條款)—imposed in 1948—were abolished in 1991, and reforms were continued and extended significantly. Over time, the ROC evolved into the vibrant, fully-fledged multi-party democracy it is today. The first opposition political party—the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)—was founded in 1986, elections for all seats of the National Assembly and the Legislative Yuan took place in 1991 and 1992, respectively, the first direct presidential election was held in 1996, and 2000 saw the first peaceful transition of political power to an opposition party when DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian was elected ROC president.
The consolidation of the ROC's democratic development has been confirmed with the subsequent peaceful transitions of political power—the victories of KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou in the 2008 presidential election and of DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen in the 2016 presidential election as well as the DPP winning an absolute majority in the Legislative Yuan in 2016. Those events clearly indicate that change of political power decided by ballot and a subsequent smooth handover of administration has become a normal, established feature in Taiwan politics.
Selected timelines and chronologies
Please note that for additional historical information this website offers several different detailed chronologies, see list directly below.
Capitals in the history of the ROC
The ROC capital (Zhonghua minguo shoudu 中華民國首都) was moved several times due to internal strife, civil war or attack by foreign forces.
Please note that Luoyang was referred to as "administrative capital" (xingdu 行都), Chongqing was called "provisional capital" (peidu 陪都), and Taipei's official status is "seat of the central government" (zhongyang zhengfu suozaidi 中央政府所在地). Between June 29, 1928 and Sept. 27, 1949 Beijing was called Beiping 北平.
The ROC Constitution and its amendments
The current Constitution of the ROC (Zhonghua minguo xianfa 中華民國憲法) was devised when the territory controlled by the ROC government still comprised mainland China and Taiwan. While the constitution nominally went into effect on Dec. 25, 1947, it could factually not be implemented as martial law (jieyanfa 戒嚴法) was imposed over the ROC on May 25, 1947. Until martial law was finally lifted on July 15, 1987, the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion (dongyuan kanluan shiqi linshi tiaokuan 動員戡亂時期臨時條款)—short "Temporary Provisions"—were the real legal foundation of the regime. Between 1991 and 2005 the ROC Constitution was amended seven times in order to make it more relevant to the country's current condition, but a debate on whether the old constitution should be scrapped altogether and replaced with a new one has been going on for years.
Chronology of the ROC Constitution
Chapters and sections of the ROC Constitution
National day, national symbols and national anthem
● ROC national flag
The ROC's national day (guoqingri 國慶日) is celebrated annually on Oct. 10 and therefore also called "Double Tenth" (shuangshijie 雙十節). It commemorates the 1911 Wuchang Uprising (Wuchang qiyi 武昌起義) that heralded the Hsinhai Revolution which in turn eventually led to the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the founding of the ROC.
The three most important national symbols in the ROC today are the ROC national flag (Zhonghua minguo guoqi 中華民國國旗), the ROC national emblem (Zhonghua minguo guohui 中華民國國徽), and the ROC national flower (Zhonghua minguo guohua 中華民國國花).
ROC national flag
The design of today's national flag as shown on the right is called "Blue Sky, White Sun and a Wholly Red Earth" (qingtian bairi mandihong 青天白日滿地紅). The flag's three colours of blue, white and crimson collectively signify the Three Principles of the People (sanmin zhuyi 三民主義): blue—liberty, justice and democracy (minquan 民權); white—equality, brightness and social well-being (minsheng 民生); and crimson—fraternity, sacrifice and nationalism (minzu 民族). The Three Principles of the People are the political philosophy of Dr. Sun Yat-sen 孫逸仙, and they are mentioned in Article 1 of the ROC Constitution: 'The Republic of China, founded on the Three Principles of the People, shall be a democratic republic of the people, to be governed by the people and for the people.' (中華民國基於三民主義，為民有民治民享之民主共和國。)
The canton of the flag consists of the "Blue Sky with a White Sun flag" (qingtian bairiqi 青天白日旗) which was first used for the "Revive China Society" (xing Zhong hui 興中會) in February 1895, designed by Lu Haodong 陸皓東 (1868-1895) around 1893 and still used as KMT party flag to this day. The red portion of today's national flag was added by Sun Yat-sen in 1906, but Sun's design didn't become the ROC national flag until after his death when it officially replaced the five-coloured flag (wuseqi 五色旗) in December 1928.
The five-coloured flag, adopted as ROC national flag in January 1912, had represented the principle of five races under one union (wuzu gonghe 五族共和) with five horizontal stripes—(from top to bottom) red for the Han, yellow for the Manchus, blue for the Mongols, white for the Hui/Chinese Muslims, and black for the Tibetans.
ROC national emblem
The current national flag also contains the national emblem: the circular Blue Sky with a White Sun (qingtian bairi 青天白日). It was designed by Ho Ying-chin 何應欽 in 1924 and adopted as national emblem on Dec. 17, 1928. The twelve points of the white sun represent the traditional twelve two-hour periods of the day (shichen 時辰), and together they stand for the spirit of unceasing progress. On Jan. 29, 2021 the ROC Legislative Yuan passed a resolution (63-37) instructing the Ministry of the Interior to evaluate the possibility of changing the ROC national emblem, pointing out that the national emblem is ‘easily confused’ with the KMT’s party emblem.
ROC national flower
The plum blossom (Prunus mei), called meihua 梅花 in Chinese, was officially designated as national flower by the ROC Executive Yuan on July 21, 1964. The triple grouping of stamens (one long and two short) represents the Three Principles of the People. The five petals symbolize the five branches of government (Executive Yuan, Legislative Yuan, Judicial Yuan, Control Yuan, and Examination Yuan).
The ROC national flag has become a rare sight outside the ROC. As a result of pressure applied by the PRC globally, most states in the world have adopted a ‘One-China’ policy, and therefore showing the ROC national flag in the public sphere and at international sporting events has been banned in most countries except those maintaining formal diplomatic relations with the ROC. And of course showing the ROC national flag is prohibited in the PRC.
In the ROC itself, attitudes concerning display of the flag are considerably different among supporters of the blue camp and of the green camp. Quite often, supporters of the blue camp are happy to show the flag on ROC soil but hesitate to do so abroad in order not to unnecessarily anger the PRC. In contrast, supporters of the green camp often do the opposite—reluctant to show the flag at home because it is regarded as a symbol of the old KMT one-party state and oppression, they eagerly display the flag in other countries as an act of defiance, to set themselves apart from the PRC.
Many supporters of Taiwan independence reject the design of flag, national emblem and national flower as not appropriate for Taiwan since these symbols came from China and don't reflect the Taiwanese. Especially the design of the national flag and the emblem are controversial as they contain the symbol of the KMT party flag, while in a modern democracy national symbols are supposed to be non-partisan.
In this context the Taiwanese Popular Party (Taiwan minzhongdang 臺灣民眾黨) should be mentioned. The Taichung-based political organization was established on July 10, 1927 by Chiang Wei-shui 蔣渭水 (1891-1931) et. al. and banned by the Japanese colonial authorities on Feb. 18, 1931. The original flag of the party, used between Jan. 2 and Oct. 6, 1929, contained the white sun in the same shape, size and position like in the KMT party flag, while the background colour in the flag's upper half was blue and in the lower half red, using the same hues as the ROC national flag. The design of the Taiwanese Popular Party flag, called shang qing xia hong zhongyang bairi 上青下紅中央白日 in Chinese, clearly indicates that the white sun symbol was not considered as being foreign in Taiwan before the island came under ROC control. Please note that the Taiwanese Popular Party is not identical with the Taiwan People's Party (Taiwan minzhongdang 台灣民眾黨, abbrev. TPP) which was established on Aug. 6, 2019.
Displayed below are the logos of the ROC presidential office and the five Yuan. Please note that following the return of the DPP to power in 2016, the original logos of the ROC Presidential Office, the ROC Legislative Yuan and the ROC Examination Yuan which were based on the national flower have been replaced with new designs.
ROC national anthem
The text of the ROC national anthem (Zhonghua minguo guoge 中華民國國歌), written by Sun Yat-sen, was first introduced on June 16, 1924. Its music was composed in 1928 by Cheng Mao-yun 程懋筠 (1900-1957), the song was then adopted as the KMT anthem. On June 16, 1937 the KMT Central Standing Committee suggested to make the song the ROC national anthem, and on April 16, 1947 the approval of the proposal was announced.
The text of the ROC national anthem was translated by Tu Ting-hsiu 杜庭修 (b., d. N/A), and the musical accompaniment is attributed to Huang Tzu 黃自 (1904-1938).
The ROC national anthem is yet another bone of contention in Taiwan. It is regarded as unsuitable by many supporters of the green camp, not only for its origin as party anthem of the KMT but also because the beginning of the second phrase in the first line "wu dang" (吾黨, meaning "our party" in English) is interpreted by them as standing for the KMT and therefore rejected. Strictly speaking, the term could be also interpreted as standing for any political party/parties. The full text—comprising 48 Chinese characters—is as follows:
Click here to listen to the ROC National Anthem in MP3 format.
Major orders and decorations in the ROC
The ROC currently has a number of orders and medals that can be bestowed on merited persons from home or abroad. (Images courtesy ROC presidential office—civilian orders, military orders)
Selected civil decorations
① Grand Cordon of the Order of Brillant Jade (caiyu da xunzhang 采玉大勳章), created on Dec. 2, 1933
Selected military decorations
① Order of the Blue Sky and White Sun (qingtian bairi xunzhang 青天白日勳章), created on May 15, 1929
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◆ Essential information on Taiwan I—population and languages
Ethnic makeup of Taiwan's population
Taiwan's population today consists of several distinct groups, including Taiwanese, Mainlanders, Hakka, indigenous peoples (aka Aborigines) as well as new immigrants from Southeast Asian countries.
Taiwan's indigenous peoples (yuanzhu minzu 原住民族) were the earliest human inhabitants of the island and can be categorized as ethnic Austronesians. A majority of historians, anthropologists and ethnologists believes today that the ancestors of the Austronesian peoples in Taiwan have lived there for at least 6,000 years.
Those who today insist on that they are Taiwanese (Taiwanren 台灣人) actually are in most cases descendants of Han Chinese immigrants from the mainland who had arrived on the island in the 17th to 19th centuries. They are also called "Holo" (heluo 河洛/helao 河老) or "Hoklo" (fulao 福佬)—a term which is used to describe both the people and their language—and hailed from the area of Fujian province. Today, they account for approximately 70 percent of Taiwan's population.
The Hakka (kejiaren 客家人) are considered ethnic Han Chinese and arrived in Taiwan about the same time as the Holos. They had set off from Guangdong province on the mainland and now account for about one fifth of Taiwan's population.
While the majority of Hakka arrived in Taiwan as families, the early Holo immigrants, typically male and single, often married women of the indigenous Austronesian population, so now many local Taiwanese indeed also have aboriginal DNA. However, offspring of those interethnic unions was usually brought up with an education and cultural identification which was clearly Chinese and had no attributes of aboriginal socialization, especially the later generations. Those who can be identified as aborigines today make up less than 3 percent of Taiwan's total population (according to MOI statistics 580,758 individuals at the end of 2021).
"Mainlanders" (waishengren 外省人) usually refers to the group of Han Chinese immigrants who moved to Taiwan from all parts of China after WWII. Most of them were soldiers and ROC government officials who came as refugees when the mainland was overrun by Communist troops—as many as 1.2 million fled to Taiwan then. Their offspring, including the second and third generation, are commonly regarded as mainlanders as well.
The term "new immigrants" (xin zhumin 新住民) refers to a group of people who have emigrated from a foreign country into Taiwan and settled down. Most of the new immigrants in the ROC came from the PRC, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia and other countries, in many cases as spouse of an ROC citizen. Others have taken up residence in Taiwan in pursuit of advanced education or job opportunities. The ROC government encourages offspring of mixed marriages to take cultural exchange and language trips to their parents' native countries during school breaks, promoting related activities with subsidies and scholarships. Since the 1990s, the population of the new immigrants continues to rise considerably. According to statistics from the National Immigration Agency (NIA) under the ROC MOI, there were more than 533,000 new immigrants (including more than 338,000 spouses hailing from the PRC) living in the ROC at the end of March 2018.
Languages in modern Taiwan
There are a number of different languages in the Taiwan area which are spoken by local inhabitants as first language, including the following:
While Mandarin Chinese, Holo and Hakka belong to the family of Sinitic languages and dialects, the Austronesian languages do not. However, this seemingly simple categorization of languages in modern Taiwan has been complicated for political reasons in connection with cross-strait relations and national identity.
Today, about 70 percent of Taiwan's population speak Holo, and it has become common to refer to Holo as 'Taiwanese' (taiyu 台語 or Taiwanhua 台灣話), with the both terms being interchangeable. An intense ideological debate has been going on in Taiwan about the proper categorization of Holo, in particular whether that language should be considered being a variety of the Southern Min dialect (minnanhua 閩南話)—prevalent in the southern part of Fujian province—or not.
Most linguists accept that Holo is indeed a variety of the Southern Min dialect as both languages are mutually intelligible. (Southern Min itself belongs to seven to ten dialect groups—depending on classification—of spoken Chinese, which also include Mandarin, but it should be noted that Chinese features an extraordinarily high degree of internal diversity, and in most cases these dialect groups are mutually unintelligible.) Other varieties of Southern Min include Hokkien (Fujianhua 福建話), Amoy (Xiamenhua 廈門話) and Teochew (Chaozhouhua 潮州話).
Migrants from Fujian (most of them hailing from Quanzhou 泉州 and Zhangzhou 漳州) started to settle in Taiwan since the 17th century, and over time the Hokkien of their descendants began to deviate from their original dialect spoken in mainland China due to influences from and interaction with Taiwan's indigenous peoples, the Dutch and later the Japanese. Over the centuries, several local variants of Holo developed. Holo as spoken in Tainan, Kaohsiung and Taitung is regarded the prestige accent. Distinct Holo variations include the accents spoken in Yilan, in Lukang, in Taipei/Hsinchu, in Taichung/Changhua/Chiayi as well as on Penghu. In general, the term 'Taiwanese' is now applied to all of these Holo variations.
Hardliners in the camp of pro-independence advocates deny any connection between Taiwan and China. As they regard Mandarin a 'colonizer's language', the name Southern Min dialect is loathed and rejected because the term views Holo as a variant of the Chinese variety spoken in Fujian province on the mainland.
On the other hand, it is an undeniable fact that the Holo variations common in today's Taiwan and the Southern Min dialect are mutually intelligible, while Holo and other languages which influenced its development to some degree like Japanese, Dutch or indigenous tongues are mutually unintelligible. When a native Holo speaker from Taiwan with no foreign language skills travels to Kinmen or Xiamen 廈門, he or she would have little trouble communicating with residents there in their local dialect. Furthermore, the same person would not be able to have a conversation with any Taiwanese aborigines who only speak their indigenous tribal language, or with Dutch or Japanese people without foreign language proficiency.
It could be argued that using the term 'Taiwanese' exclusively for Holo can be misleading for at least two reasons. First, there is not one single language predominantly spoken in Taiwan today but several. Second, just 500 years ago Holo wasn't even a native language in Taiwan's population—at that time only Austronesian languages were spoken by the island's inhabitants, and the indigenous peoples have resided on Taiwan much longer than any other ethnic group. (This page offers more information about Taiwan's indigenous peoples and their marginalization.) All said, it would be more appropriate and fair to use the term 'Taiwanese' for a group of languages, including Holo, Hakka and the Austronesian languages.
After the 1987 lifting of martial law, restrictions which had been imposed against the use of all Chinese dialects except Mandarin as well as the Austronesian languages of Taiwan's indigenous peoples were completely removed in the 1990s, and today Holo is omnipresent in Taiwan as spoken language and in the media. Meanwhile, most of the languages of the indigenous peoples and also Hakka are considered endangered as the numbers of their speakers in younger generations are declining dramatically. The phenomenon of young Taiwanese not learning the local dialect of their ancestors and speaking mostly Mandarin Chinese instead can even be observed in the Holo segment, so efforts for preserving native languages in Taiwan have been extended to Holo as well.
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◆ Essential information on Taiwan II—history
Taiwan's history—much more than just the ROC
Taiwan has been inhabited for millennia by non-Chinese indigenous peoples which are categorized as Austronesian. In general, Taiwan's indigenous peoples did not set up states in the Western sense but lived in tribal societies which had no written history or recorded interaction with other countries or peoples overseas.
Taiwan was first sighted by Western explorers in the 16th century. After the onset of Taiwan's colonization, the indigenous population was decimated and marginalized, and a succession of various political entities controlled either parts of the island or all of Taiwan.
Displayed below are the flags which were officially flown in Taiwan during the various historical periods since 1624.
Complementary timeline Taiwan/ROC
The following chronology lists events that the chief researcher deems helpful for a better understanding of the history of the ROC and/or Taiwan, especially in terms of political status and changes thereof. Please note that the timeline shows no events prior to the 16th century because before that no affairs with international relevance took place in the Taiwan area.
Note: The origin of the terms Jiawu zhanzheng and Hsinhai Revolution is explained in the page "Tools" under the headline "The ROC calendar" (see The Ganzhi cycle and its terminology).
Colonization acknowledged as historical fact
● Go Dutch
The dominance of Han Chinese in Taiwan's population and mainstream culture is conspicuous and yet a relatively recent phenomenon. Modern historians and anthropologists agree that before the 16th century—less than 500 years ago—there was no noteworthy Chinese population on the island, while indigenous Austronesian peoples are known to have populated Taiwan for at least 6,000 years; according to the Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP), archeological evidence confirms the presence of Malayo-Polynesian peoples on the island dating back 12,000 to 15,000 years.
The Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) which preceded the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) did not show any interest in Taiwan. Between 1405 and 1433 Admiral Zheng He 鄭和 (1371-1433), the most famous explorer of the Ming, undertook seven large-scale expeditionary voyages and reached the shores of Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, the Arab peninsula and even the east coast of Africa. None of these seven expeditions had Taiwan listed on their itineraries. Zheng He did make a brief, unplanned visit to Taiwan in 1430 when he was shipwrecked while returning to China from Southeast Asia, and while he found it inhabited by aborigines, he evidently did not encounter any Chinese settlements there. The Ming's indifference towards Taiwan is also clearly indicated by their dealings with the Dutch—when the Dutch in 1622 tried to establish a base on Penghu, Ming China immediately intervened and warned them that Penghu was Chinese territory. The Dutch were eventually expelled from there in 1624 but were allowed to withdraw to Taiwan where the presence of the Dutch drew no objections from the Ming.
Whereas Taiwan was ignored by the Ming government, a certain amount of trade took place between Chinese merchants and aborigines on Taiwan in the 16th century. The Chinese bought products such as coal, sulfur and gold, and they sold iron and textiles to the aborigines. Similarly sought after by the Chinese were mullet fish as well as deer products—venison, skins, and antlers. In the early 17th century there was a small network of Chinese traders living on the island, according to estimates less than 2,000 persons. Also, Chinese pirates appear to have found Taiwan an amenable base in the first half of the 17th century.
The period of Taiwan's history which began in the 17th century was unquestionably a history of colonization. The first foreign power to gain a colonial foothold on Taiwan was the Netherlands which established a base called Fort Zeelandia (relanzhe cheng 熱蘭遮城) in present-day Anping District of Tainan (southern Taiwan) in 1624. Parts of northern Taiwan came under Spanish sway in 1626, with two settlements—one around Fort Antonio (hongmao cheng 紅毛城) aka Fort San Domingo (sheng duomingge cheng 聖多明哥城) at Tamsui and one around Fort San Salvador (sheng saerwaduo cheng 聖薩爾瓦多城) on Heping Island off Keelung. The Dutch drove the Spanish out of Taiwan in 1642, and while the presence of the Spanish remained a small footnote in history, the activities of the Dutch in Taiwan set in motion a development that would thoroughly change the island. (A detailed account on the era of the Dutch in Taiwan can be found in Tonio Andrade's "How Taiwan Became Chinese", published in 2005; click here.) Map 1 shows the areas where the two European colonist powers were active on Taiwan, marked in grey—the Dutch in the south (1624-1662) and the Spanish in the north (1626-1642).
Dutch governors on Taiwan 1624–1662
Spanish governors on Taiwan 1626–1642
In order to turn their Taiwanese possession into a profitable enterprise, the Dutch and their United East India Company (VOC) sought to encourage agricultural production of rice and sugar cane. Unfortunately for the Dutch, the indigenous residents were mostly content to plant just enough for themselves and their families and had no interest in raising crops for sale. For this reason, Chinese immigration was encouraged. Rules, laws and regulations imposed and implemented by the Dutch created a calculable economic and social environment, making Taiwan a safe place for Chinese to move to and invest in. Under the influx of the Chinese since the early 1630s the Dutch colony prospered—as Dutch governor Nicolaas Verburgh (in office 1649-1653) then put it: 'The Chinese are the only bees on Formosa that give honey.' Towards the end of the Dutch era in Taiwan, estimates put the number of Chinese living in Taiwan in a range between 10,000 and 60,000.
The Koxinga interlude
The presence of the Dutch in Taiwan ended when they were expelled by forces led by Ming loyalist Zheng Chenggong 鄭成功 (1624-1662, also known as "Koxinga" [guoxingye 國姓爺]). After the Dutch surrendered at their main base in southern Taiwan in 1662, they retreated to the former Spanish base in northern Taiwan but were attacked there by Koxinga's troops as well and eventually withdrew from Keelung in the second half of 1668.
Koxinga's "Kingdom of Tungning" (dongning wangguo 東寧王國) covered only a territory of modest size (see grey area in Map 2), and it also did not last long—just a little over two decades. In 1683 the Manchu rulers of the Qing Dynasty turned to Taiwan because the island and Penghu were the hideout of rebels under Koxinga's leadership, the last stronghold of anti-Qing resistance they sought to eliminate. Qing forces led by Admiral Shi Lang 施琅 (1621-1696) first took the Penghu archipelago in July 1683, the Tungning Kingdom of Koxinga's descendants finally surrendered on Sept. 5 that year.
Rulers of the Tungning Kingdom (1662–1683)
Taiwan's plains occupied by the Qing
The Qing made Taiwan a prefecture (fu 府) under Fujian province, the administrative seat was established at Tainan. The first Qing official in charge of the local administration based in Tainan was prefectural magistrate ("prefect", zhifu 知府) Jiang Yuying 蔣毓英. In the first decades of Qing rule over Taiwan, the authorities tried to limit immigration to the island and barred families from traveling there to ensure the immigrants would return to their families and ancestral graves in China. Illegal migration to Taiwan continued in spite of that, and the restrictions were relaxed following the 1760s. By 1811 there were more than 1.9 million Chinese immigrants on Taiwan.
Although the Qing never controlled Taiwan in its entirety, they nonetheless regarded Taiwan as a whole as their possession. The development of administrative subdivisions as shown below reflects how control of Qing forces over the island gradually advanced (the red asterisk [*] indicating newly established subdivisions).
• 1684–1875: Taiwan Prefecture 臺灣府 under Fujian Province
It should be noted that the additions of new counties on Taiwan proper represented the encroachment of ethnic Han settlers and Qing administration on previously indigenous territory. On the other hand, when Penghu became a subprefecture under Fujian’s Taiwan Prefecture in 1727, it was merely an administrative transfer as Penghu had been considered part of the Chinese empire since the Southern Song dynasty (1126-1279), and it had been listed under Fujian’s Quanzhou Prefecture (Quanzhou fu 泉州府) in the dynasties of Yuan (1279-1368) and Ming (1368-1644).
• 1875–1887: Two prefectures on Taiwan under Fujian Province
Following the 1871 Mudan Incident (Bayaowan shijian 八瑤灣事件) and the punitive military action Japan subsequently took against Taiwan in 1874, as well as the 1884-1885 French blockade of northern Taiwan, the Qing became aware of the growing strategic importance of Taiwan and in 1885 decided to upgrade it to a province in its own right, a measure that was implemented in 1887.
• 1887–1895: Taiwan Province, with four prefectures
Notes: While many of the Qing's administrative subdivisions (Changhua County, Chiayi County, Hsinchu County, Keelung Subprefecture, Miaoli County, Penghu Subprefecture, Yilan County, and Yunlin County) are roughly corresponding to the respective ROC's cities and counties at the beginning of the 21st century, others no longer exist in their original form.
Ⓧ Anping County (Anping xian 安平縣)—set up in 1887 based on former Taiwan County; centered around the area of today's Tainan City.
Qing governors of Taiwan Province (1885-1895)
Japan takes charge
By the time the Qing ceded Taiwan and Penghu to Japan in 1895 after the lost First Sino-Japanese War, Han Chinese settlers and their descendants were already dominating Taiwan's plains and had driven the majority of surviving Austronesian aborigines into the sparsely populated mountainous regions of the island, areas where the Qing authorities had no real control. (The grey areas in Map 3 represent parts of the island which were fully controlled by the Qing authorities around 1894.) The most fierce resistance which advancing Japanese forces encountered was from the indigenous peoples in the mountains, and it was broken with brutal force. When rule over Taiwan was handed to the ROC in 1945 after Japan was defeated in WWII, effective local administration had already been established in all parts of the Island.
In addition to military suppression against armed resistance, approaches of the Japanese towards the aborigines also included anthropological study and assimilation. Initially the Japanese had only two categories for Taiwan's indigenous peoples: "domesticated" aborigines (shoufan 熟蕃 / jukuban, literally: 'cooked savages') and "wild" aborigines (shengfan 生蕃 / seiban, literally: 'raw savages'). Japanese anthropologist Ino Kanori 伊能 嘉矩 (1867-1925) was the first scientist who undertook systematic research about Taiwan's indigenous peoples, and in 1899 his book "Notes on Taiwan Barbarians" (Taiwan fanren shiqing 台灣蕃人事情 / Taiwan Banjin Jijō 台湾蕃人事情) was published where eight groups were identified—Amis, Atayal, Paiwan, Puyuma, Tsalisen (zelixian zu 澤利先族, i.e. Rukai), Tsao 曹族 (= Tsou), Vonum (= Bunun), and Pepo (= Pingpu). Assimilation saw some members of the indigenous peoples recruited as soldiers for Japan's imperial army during WWII in a unit called Takasago Volunteers (gaosha yiyongdui 高砂義勇隊 / Takasago Gyūtai).
A concise general description of Japan's colonial rule over Taiwan can be found here.
Returned to the Han
After the handover of Taiwan's administration from Japan to the ROC, the new government enacted the "Regulations on Restoration of Original Names of Citizens of Taiwan" (Taiwan shengmin xingming huifu banfa 台灣省民姓名回復辦法) on Dec. 9, 1945, and although the law's main purpose was to reverse measures imposed by Japan's colonial government encouraging the Taiwanese to adopt Japanese names (for example, Lee Teng-hui called himself "Iwasato Masao" [岩里政男] in the colonial era), it resulted in many aborigines being forced by uncooperative civil servants in household registration offices to adopt Chinese names, disrupting their culture and societies.
Further explanations about the situation of the indigenous peoples in today's Taiwan can be found here.
The Republic of Formosa (May to October 1895)
● Abstract of events
Contemporary advocates of Taiwan independence sometimes cite the Republic of Formosa (Taiwan minzhuguo 台灣民主國) aka Democratic Republic of Taiwan as a precedent underscoring the legitimacy of an independent Taiwan, an early manifestation of a Taiwanese national identity. The events in connection with the advent of Taiwan being a Japanese colony for half a century do indeed deserve a closer look.
Abstract of events
After the Qing dynasty (1644-1911)—the Manchu rulers of China—was defeated in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), the Qing court agreed in the Treaty of Shimonoseki (maguan tiaoyue 馬關條約) to cede Taiwan, Penghu and the Liaodong peninsula to Japan 'in perpetuity'. The Qing notified the authorities on the other side of the Taiwan Strait that the islands were no longer Chinese territory, and they ordered the officials and troops stationed there to return to the mainland.
When the news spread in Taiwan, an outpouring of public indignation there decried the abandonment by Beijing. The general perception of Taiwan's Chinese residents was that China had sold them out, and local intellectuals feared Chinese culture and civilization were in jeopardy. Qiu Fengjia, a Hakka and leading member of the landed gentry from Changhua, urged Tang Jingsong (Taiwan provincial governor [xunfu 巡撫] since September 1894) to fend off a Japanese takeover by declaring Taiwan an independent republic. The political calculation was that one or more of the European powers like the UK or France would come to Taiwan's aid against Japan. Tang reluctantly agreed. Chen Jitong was picked for the position of FM to promote the republic abroad.
On May 25, 1895 the Republic of Taiwan's Declaration of Independence (Taiwan minzhuguo duli xuanyan 台灣民主國獨立宣言) was proclaimed, and "Forever Qing" (yong Qing 永清) was chosen as the newly established republic's era name (nianhao 年號). Tang Jingsong made it clear that his government recognized Chinese suzerainty, with the republic having the status of a vassal state. A parliament comprising members of the gentry, merchant class, and literati was appointed. Although the Republic of Formosa was in name a democracy, its leadership was not recruited by application of regular democratic mechanisms.
For the Western powers, however, Taiwan was of much less strategic interest than the Liaodong peninsula (Liaodong bandao 遼東半島) in northeast China, and they did not intervene on behalf of Taiwan or Qing China. Taiwan's transfer to Japanese rule under the Treaty of Shimonoseki was regarded as legitimate, and the Western powers therefore did not recognize the Republic of Formosa. Furthermore, the Qing government in Beijing was anxious not to offend Japan, fearing the Japanese might change their minds about giving the Liaodong peninsula back to China.
Consequently, when the Japanese arrived to take possession of their new colony, the republicans were on their own. Available resistance forces included remnant regular Qing troops as well as local militias and volunteer fighters. The fighting motivation of the Qing troops was limited, and following the fall of Keelung less than a week after the Japanese landed, most of the Chinese soldiers left Taiwan and returned to China, among them Tang Jingsong, Qiu Fengjia and many others. After that, local militias under the command of Liu Yongfu (who never formally assumed the title of president) kept up the resistance, but they were no match for the Japanese units who were not only well-trained, disciplined and equipped with modern weapons but also received necessary reinforcements. Guerrilla attacks by local groups of insurgents and partisan bands did little to slow down the Japanese advance but provoked brutal reprisals. Given the conditions, the collapse of the republic could not be averted. Today, the military campaign which lasted from May 29 to Nov. 18 is known as "Yiwei War" (yiwei zhanzheng 乙未戰爭); yiwei 乙未 was the denomination of the year 1895.
Article 5 of the Treaty of Shimonoseki granted registered inhabitants of ceded territories a grace period until May 8, 1897 to sell their property and leave, after that date they would be regarded Japanese subjects. Some 6,400 persons, including many members of the upper gentry, moved from Taiwan to China in those two years. (Taiwan's population in 1895 stood at ca. 3 million.)
Due to the enormous significance of the topic "independence" in today's Taiwan, interest in the circumstances and motivations for the establishment of the Republic of Formosa in 1895 is justified. Obviously, the aspirations and reasons for the founding of the republic back then are not identical with those of contemporary activists for Taiwan independence. The biggest difference is that today's advocates strive for true independence from China, whereas the republicans in 1895 wanted independence only from Japan but not from China—the recognition of China's suzerainty and the era name are all strong indications that the independence move was not a sign of a national identity separate from China but a desperate measure by local politicians to ward off foreign rule. Essentially, the republic's leaders had remained loyal Chinese subjects. They had no intention to sever ties to China completely but wished to keep a connection of some kind. Naturally, most of them returned to the motherland after their enterprise failed.
On the other hand, the manner how quickly the Qing court was willing to abandon Taiwan and hand it over to a hostile power could very well have sown the seeds of bitterness and alienation in Taiwan's ethnic Han population and over time given rise to a distinctive Taiwanese identity on the island. In consequence of the 1895 cession, Taiwan and its inhabitants grew inevitably more and more detached from China during 50 years of Japanese rule.
The Republic of Formosa's national flag has been cherished by activists as a potent symbol for Taiwan independence to this day, its design showing a yellow tiger on a blue background. It should be noted that tigers, like giant pandas, are an endemic species on the Chinese mainland but not in Taiwan's wildlife—Taiwan’s most iconic endemic species include the Formosan Black Bear (Taiwan heixiong 台灣黑熊, Ursus thibetanus formosanus), the Formosan Landlocked Salmon (Taiwan yinghua gouwengui 台灣櫻花鉤吻鮭, Oncorhynchus masou formosanus), the Formosan Blue Magpie (Taiwan lanque 台灣藍鵲, Urocissa caerulea), the Taiwan Blue Pheasant aka Swinhoe’s Pheasant (lanxian 藍鷳, Lophura swinhoii), and the Formosan Sambar Deer (Taiwan shuilu 台灣水鹿, Cervus unicolor swinhoei).
Major figures of the Republic of Formosa (1895)
Republic of Formosa chronology
Please note that all dates in the timeline below refer to the year 1895.
Full text of the Declaration of Independence
The text of the official declaration of independence as issued on May 25, 1895 is shown directly below.
Facts about Japan's colonial rule over Taiwan
● Historical prelude
Between 1895 and 1945 Taiwan was under Japanese control as a colony, a period known as Japanese colonial period (Riju shidai 日據時代 / Rizhi shiqi 日治時期). The image on the right shows the emblem of Japan's colonial government in Taiwan.
The process which led to the Qing losing Taiwan and the Pescadores to Japan began in 1885 when Japan declared that Korea was henceforth to be considered as falling under the joint sphere of influence of Japan and China. That was not a small issue as China’s suzerainty over Korea had been unchallenged until then. When the Qing in May 1894 sent troops to Korea at the request of the Korean emperor to help suppress a massive peasant uprising, Japan regarded that as a challenge and sent troops to Korea as well. Japan installed a new government in Korea in June 1894, the legitimacy of which the Qing rejected, and by August 1894 the two countries were officially at war. In that conflict, dubbed Sino-Japanese War (jiawu zhanzheng 甲午戰爭), Japan’s armed forces proved to be superior to the Qing’s army, and in April 1895 the Qing were forced to sign the Treaty of Shimonoseki (maguan tiaoyue 馬關條約). According to the conditions of the treaty, Qing China had to cede Taiwan, the Pescadores (Penghu) and the Liaodong Peninsula to Japan, recognize Korea’s independence, among other painful concessions.
The following list shows Japan's Governor-generals of Taiwan (Taiwan zongdu 台灣總督 / Taiwan sōtoku 台湾総督) for the five decades of colonial rule.
Please note that the first seven and the last three of Japan's Governor-generals in Taiwan were high-ranking military officers (army generals or navy admirals), the Governor-generals between 1919 and 1936 were civilians.
After its establishment the agency of the Governor-general had three departments—Department of Civil Affairs (minzhengju 民政局 / Minsei Kyoku), Department of Army (lujunju 陸軍局 / Rikugun Kyoku), and Department of Navy (haijunju 海軍局 / Kaigun Kyoku); the army and navy departments were merged to the Department of Military Affairs (junwuju 軍務局 / Gunmu Kyoku) in April 1896. The Department of Civil Affairs was renamed minzhengbu 民政部 / Minseibu in June 1898, and by November 1901 its authority was expanded with six subordinate agencies:
▶ Department of Communications (tongxinju 通信局 / Tsūshin Kyoku),
was renamed Department of Postal Affairs (dixinju 遞信局 / Teishin Kyoku) in June 1919,
In the first years when the Japanese colonial authorities were in the process of establishing and consolidating their administration, the administrative divisions frequently changed. Regions in the mountain ranges of central Taiwan were not covered by Japan's administrative units before 1920 (see grey areas in maps below). In November 1901 twenty local administrative offices (ting 廳 / chō 庁) were established.
① Taihoku (Taibei ting 台北廳 / Taihoku chō 台北庁);
In October 1909 the administrative subdivisions in Taiwan were redesigned into twelve local administrative offices.
① Taihoku (Taibei ting 台北廳 / Taihoku chō 台北庁);
In August 1920 the administrative subdivisions were rearranged according to the system used in Japan, and by 1926 the Japanese had subdivided their colony into eight prefectures:
① Taihoku Prefecture (Taibei zhou 台北州 / Taihoku shū) = Taipei—included today's Keelung City, New Taipei City, Taipei City, Yilan County;
Please note that between September 1920 and July 1926 Hoko was not a prefecture in its own right but a district (jun 郡 / gun) under Takao prefecture.
Shortly after the Japanese took over Taiwan, the island had an estimated population of 2.7 million in 1897. During the
Japanese colonial period the authorities conducted censuses seven times which yielded the following population figures
for Taiwan (source: Japanese Wikipedia).
The table below shows official population figures of 1941. Accordingly, the total population in Taiwan's eight prefectures then stood at 6,249,468. (Source: World War II Database)
After the end of WWII more than 300,000 Japanese left the island which—according to statistics available on the website of the MOI—had 6,090,860 inhabitants in 1946 and 7,554,399 inhabitants in 1950. (For Taiwan's population statistics since 1946 please click here.)
Timeline of important events
Several earthquakes were recorded in Taiwan during Japan’s colonial rule as shown in the table directly below (locations are referred to with their current names in today’s ROC cities/counties). Information about earthquakes in Taiwan after the end of WWII can be found here. Please note that for earthquakes before 1935 no exact data or maps are available on the website of the ROC Central Weather Bureau.
For information about Taiwan's geology, fault lines, major earthquakes since the end of WWII and more click here.
During WWII Japan occupied large parts of Asia under its imperialist concept called "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" (da dongya gongrongquan 大東亞共榮圈), and some of the empire's prisoners of war (POW) were held in Taiwan. On May 1, 1999 the Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society (Taiwan zhanfuying jinian xiehui 台灣戰俘營紀念協會, abbrev. TPCMS) was set up based on the work of Canadian expat Michael Hurst. The TPCMS website lists more than a dozen POW camps (zhanfuying 戰俘營).
Churon and Maruyama are listed as evacuation camps. In addition, a Taiwan Hellships Memorial (erci dazhan zhanfuchuan jinianpai 二次大戰戰俘船紀念牌) was dedicated on Jan. 26, 2006 in Qijin District (Kaohsiung City).
Background information pertaining to that subject as well as additional contents about Japan's relations with Taiwan after WWII and China/the ROC since the 19th century can be found on the following pages of this website.
2-28, White Terror and a soured relationship
● Crucial date: February 28, 1947
Crucial date: February 28, 1947
The victory of the Allies over Japan in WWII paved the way for the ROC to take over Taiwan, an explicit war goal since the 1943 Cairo Declaration. The ROC leadership under Chiang Kai-shek was wary of Taiwan since the island had been ruled by their enemies for half a century, so Taiwan was regarded to some degree as hostile territory. Chiang Kai-shek commissioned Chen Yi—a man who had gained some notoriety for his harsh rule as provincial governor of Fujian between 1934 and 1941—to head the ROC's new Taiwan provincial government because Chen could be expected to reliably set up the KMT-led administration, enforce its rule and crack down hard against any possible resistance on Taiwan.
When troops and administration personnel of the ROC arrived in Taiwan in October 1945, they received an enthusiastic welcome by locals who were happy to see Japan's colonial rule coming to an end. The joy did not last long because locals were largely excluded from administrative posts, and the new rulers who were fighting a civil war against the Chinese Communists on the mainland drained resources from the island, with negative consequences for the living conditions in Taiwan. The province also experienced unprecedented inflation. The resulting discontent and growing tensions eventually led to a violent uprising in February 1947 ("2-28") by locals against the ROC administration.
The 2-28 Incident was triggered by a clash between government officials and local bystanders after agents working for the government's Taiwan Provincial Monopoly Bureau (Taiwansheng zhuanmaiju 台灣省專賣局) on Feb. 27, 1947 confiscated contraband cigarettes from a 40-year-old widow named Lin Jiang-mai 林江邁 at the Tianma Tea House (tianma chafang 天馬茶房), located in today's Datong District of Taipei City. During the ensuing dispute and scuffle the officials fired shots and killed one person. The following day a large crowd gathered in front of the building previously used by the Japanese Governor-general in Taipei and demanded the monopoly agents to be brought to justice. Security personnel opened fire, resulting in several deaths. After that open rebellion broke out at many locations on the island, and the KMT-led central government in Nanjing deployed troops to suppress the uprising with brutal force. According to an investigation conducted by a commission of the ROC government in 1992, an estimated 18,000 to 28,000 people were killed during the crackdown, which lasted into early May 1947. Martial law, imposed on May 25, 1947, remained in place for four decades.
The bloody campaign unleashed to exterminate the rebellion especially targeted the elite of Taiwanese intellectuals educated in Japan and wiped out a sizable portion of that group. It left the opposition traumatized and decimated, and in the White Terror period no serious attempts were made by organized opponents to overthrow the government. By and large, rare oppositional activity was non-violent, except for an assassination attempt against Chiang Ching-kuo in 1970 and another one against Shieh Tung-min in 1976. The following chronology lists a selection of major events in the aftermath of 2-28 until the end of martial law in July 1987.
The release dates of the "Kaohsiung Eight" who were incarcerated in connection with the
Kaohsiung Incident were as follows (in chronological order):
All guilty sentences for Formosa Incident defendants were removed by the Transitional Justice Commission (TJC) by May 23, 2022.
Please note that the events in connection with the death of Deng Nan-jung 鄭南榕 (also known under the name Nylon Cheng) are not included in above chronology as they took place in April 1989, i. e. after martial law was lifted.
For additional information about the events around and after Taiwan was put under ROC rule the chief researcher recommends the classic "Formosa Betrayed" by George H. Kerr, published in 1965. Another noteworthy account about the events is the book "Taiwan 1947: The Uprising against the Kuomintang", written by German-British sinologist, translator and linguist Günter Whittome and published in 1991 by the Institut für Asienkunde (Institute for Asian Studies, abbrev. IfA) in Hamburg, available in English and German. (The IfA was renamed German Institute for Global and Area Studies—abbrev. GIGA—in 2006.)
A topic no longer taboo
Since the lifting of martial law, many facts about 2-28 and the White Terror have been revealed in countless publications, and the ROC government has changed its official attitude towards those events. The first 228 Peace Memorial Monument (Jiayishi mituolu ererba jinianbei 嘉義市彌陀路二二八紀念碑) was completed on Aug. 29, 1989 in Chiayi City. On Nov. 29, 1990 the ROC Executive Yuan established the "Ad Hoc Research Group into the 228 Incident" (xingzhengyuan yanjiu ererba shijian zhuan'an xiaozu 行政院研究二二八事件專案小組) which on Feb. 22, 1992 published the "February 28 Incident Research Report" (ererba shijian yanjiu baogao 二二八事件研究報告). On Feb. 28, 1995 Lee Teng-hui, doubling as ROC president and KMT chairman, expressed a formal apology to the families of the victims of the 2-28 Incident. One year later, the 228 Memorial Monument (ererba heping jinianbei 二二八和平紀念碑) in the Taipei New Park (xingongyuan 新公園) was unveiled and the park renamed 228 Peace Memorial Park (ererba heping jinian gongyuan 二二八和平紀念公園). On Feb. 27, 1997, the MOI designated the Peace Memorial Day (heping jinianri 和平紀念日)—observed annually on Feb. 28—a national holiday from 1998 on, and the following day the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum (Taibei ererba jinianguan 台北二二八紀念館) was opened.
Two prisons which held political prisoners in the White Terror period have been transformed into human rights memorial sites—the New Life Correction Center (xinsheng xundaochu 新生訓導處) and the Green Island Reform and Reeducation Prison (Lüdao ganxun jianyu 綠島感訓監獄) became the Green Island Human Rights Culture Park (Lüdao renquan wenhua yuanqu 綠島人權文化園區) on Dec. 10, 2002; and the former Chingmei Military Detention Center (Jingmei junshi kanshousuo 景美軍事看守所) became the Jing-mei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park (Jingmei renquan wenhua yuanqu 景美人權文化園區) on Dec. 10, 2007. The Organizational Act of the National Human Rights Museum (guojia renquan bowuguan zuzhifa 國家人權博物館組織法) was approved by the Executive Yuan on July 20, 2017 and passed by the Legislative Yuan on Nov. 28 that year, stipulating that both former detainment centers for political prisoners will be combined into "White Terror Memorial Parks" (baise kongbu jinian yuanqu 白色恐怖紀念園區); the National Human Rights Museum (guojia renquan bowuguan 國家人權博物館, abbrev. NHRM) itself was inaugurated with a ceremony at the Green Island White Terror Memorial Park (baise kongbu Lüdao jinian yuanqu 白色恐怖綠島紀念園區) on May 17, 2018 by ROC President Tsai Ing-wen and another one the following day at Jing-Mei White Terror Memorial Park (baise kongbu Jingmei jinian yuanqu 白色恐怖景美紀念園區) by ROC Premier William Lai Ching-te.
Another military prison in the martial law era that should be mentioned was the Production and Education Experiment Institute (Taiwan shengchan jiaoyu shiyansuo 臺灣生產教育實驗所) in Tucheng (today's New Taipei City), a camp where political prisoners underwent re-education. It was established in 1954 and renamed Taiwan Renai Education Experiment Institute (Taiwan ren'ai jiaoyu shiyansuo 台灣仁愛教育實驗所) in 1972.
On April 7, 1995 the ROC Legislative Yuan promulgated the February 28 Incident Disposition and Compensation Act (ererba shijian chuli ji peichang tiaoli 二二八事件處理及賠償條例). On Dec. 5, 2017 the Legislative Yuan passed the Act on Promoting Transitional Justice (cujin zhuanxing zhengyi tiaoli 促進轉型正義條例) which aims at addressing injustices perpetrated by then-KMT led ROC government between Aug. 15, 1945, when the Japanese government announced it had surrendered, and Nov. 6, 1992, when martial law on the outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu ended. The bill also provided for the establishment of a Transitional Justice Commission (cujin zhuanxing zhengyi weiyuanhui 促進轉型正義委員會, abbrev. cuzhuanhui 促轉會 in Chinese and TJC in English), with its nine members nominated by the premier and confirmed by the Legislature. That commission was formally set up on May 31, 2018.
Despite the improved official stance, the alienation between local Taiwanese and mainlanders who arrived in Taiwan after 1945 still heavily influences politics in Taiwan today, and true reconciliation has yet to be achieved as great bitterness prevails, notably among the descendants of victims who lost their freedom or their lives between 1947 and 1987. Comments of older-generation mainlanders like former ROC Premier Hao Pei-tsun downplaying the extent of the White Terror are contributing to the problem, highlighting the fact that more disclosures concerning the events in question, sincere reflection and open-minded discussions are necessary to advance the process of transitional justice and help healing the wounds which are still aching Taiwan's society. Although leading KMT politicians have repeatedly offered apologies for 2-28 atrocities and the White Terror, those are often perceived by Taiwanese as not genuine and therefore rejected, especially since the same KMT politicians keep honouring Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo.
The period of democratization was certainly a result of constant pressure by dissidents and the dangwai movement, but it was set in motion by Chiang Ching-kuo and massively expedited by Lee Teng-hui with the support of the KMT. Yet many members of the green camp (DPP et. al., Taiwanese and 'pro-Taiwan') are not convinced that the KMT has really embraced democracy, and they believe that the blue camp (KMT et. al., mainlanders and pro-China) still prefers a one-party state. In this context the Chinese term dangguo weiquan 黨國威權 (= authoritarian party state) is often used.
Note: Some Western observers regard the term "2-28 Incident" as not appropriate and use the English term "2-28 Massacre" instead.
Cross-Strait relations since the late 1970s—an overview
The conflict between the KMT-led ROC and the Chinese Communists before and after the establishment of the PRC was primarily a military confrontation for decades. When the PRC was founded in October 1949, the regime in Beijing was resolved to 'liberate' the remaining territories under ROC control by force. The PRC captured the Dachen Islands off Zhejiang province in February 1955, and the shelling of Kinmen since August 1958 continued even after the deaths of the respective dictators Chiang Kai-shek in April 1975 and and Mao Zedong in September 1976.
The PRC puts pressure on Taiwan/the ROC in different ways:
The portraits below show the successive paramount leaders of the PRC's authoritarian regime (i. e. CCP CMC chairmen), from left to right: Mao Zedong 毛澤東 (1893-1976, Hunan), Hua Guofeng 華國鋒 (1921-2008, Shanxi), Deng Xiaoping 鄧小平 (1904-1997, Sichuan), Jiang Zemin 江澤民 (1926-2022, Jiangsu), Hu Jintao 胡錦濤 (b. 1942, Anhui), and incumbent Xi Jinping 習近平 (b. 1953, Shaanxi).
Crossing the line
The Taiwan Strait (Taiwan haixia 台灣海峽) is the part in the Western Pacific that separates Taiwan from continental China. In international shipping, it is regarded a critical corridor connecting the East China Sea (donghai 東海) to the South China Sea (nanhai 南海).
The shortest straight line between the two sides can be drawn from Taiwan’s Zhonghe Borough 中和里 (Houlong Town 後龍鎮, Miaoli County) to China’s Wan'an Village 萬安村 (Dongshan Town 東瀚鎮, Fuqing City 福清市, Fuzhou City 福州市, Fujian Province), and according to Google Earth that line has a length of 136.34 km. From Taiwan’s northern tip, the Taiwan Strait is at least 198 km wide, from the southern tip of the island at least 361 km, the average width is about 180 km. The Taiwan Strait is a relatively shallow with an average depth of 60 m, in the Penghu channel it reaches a maximum depth of 177 m, while above the Taiwan Shoal aka Taiwan Bank (Taiwan qiantan 台灣淺灘) near the center of the Taiwan Strait’s southern mouth it is merely 25 m deep.
Since the end of the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949) and the establishment of the PRC there has been a tacit agreement between Taipei and Beijing not to violate the median line (haixia zhongxian 海峽中線) of the Taiwan Strait which is also known as Davis Line (Daweisi xian 戴維斯線). The median line never had official status but was observed by both the ROC and the PRC starting in the 1950s, and crossing it as a deliberate provocation has been rare and remains uncommon, although an increased number of such incursions was reported following the high-profile visit of US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in early August 2022.
The ROC government considers the Taiwan Strait to be international waters, except for the 12-nautical-mile strip defined as territorial waters. The US considers the Taiwan Strait to be international waters as well. In contrast, the PRC government claims that the waterway falls within its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
More relevant contents pertaining to that subject can be found on the following pages of this website.
Taiwanese NGOs for PRC minorities
Taiwan's civil society has produced numerous NGOs working in fields of all kinds. Some of them are dedicated to improving the plight of people living in regions of the PRC where a majority of the population is non-Chinese and subjected to restrictions and oppression, e. g. Tibet and Xinjiang.
Selected Taiwanese NGOs with a focus on Tibet:
Selected Taiwanese NGOs with a focus on Xinjiang/the Uyghur ethnic group:
— — — Flag of East Turkestan — — —
NCCU polls in connection with Cross-Strait relations
Foreign observers following the political events in contemporary Taiwan soon discover that common categories used for political evaluation—left versus right, conservative versus liberal, or socialist versus capitalist—don't really apply in Taiwan. That is due to the fact that the most controversial, defining political issue in today's Taiwan is the relationship with China, which is much more passionately debated than other pressing issues like the death penalty, nuclear energy or marriage equality. In Taiwan, the two sides of the political spectrum can be described as China-friendly and leaning towards pro-unification (blue camp) on the one side and China-sceptical and leaning towards pro-independence (green camp) on the other side.
Surveys conducted from time to time analyzing whether Taiwan's inhabitants see themselves as Taiwanese, Chinese or both indicate that the number of people in Taiwan considering themselves as Taiwanese only and not Chinese is steadily on the rise, now exceeding more than half of the island's total population. A smaller but still sizeable portion of respondents to said surveys identify themselves as both Taiwanese and Chinese, while the smallest group (single-digit percentage) consider themselves as Chinese only.
The following two tables show the results of surveys conducted regularly by the Election Study Center (xuanju yanjiu zhongxin 選舉研究中心, abbrev. ESC) of the National Chengchi University (guoli zhengzhi daxue 國立政治大學, abbrev. zhengda 政大 in Chinese and NCCU in English) in Taipei. [ESC home page ⇒ Data Archives ⇒ Trends of Core Political Attitudes]
①: Unification as soon as possible; ②: Maintain Status Quo, move towards Unification; ③: Maintain Status Quo, decide at later date; ④: Maintain Status Quo indefinitely; ⑤: Maintain Status Quo, move towards independence; ⑥: Independence as soon as possible; ⑦: No response.
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◆ The indigenous peoples and their marginalization
The indigenous peoples in contemporary Taiwan
● Population and distribution
Although the population of modern Taiwan is ethnically dominated by Han of Chinese descent, large-scale migration from China to Taiwan began only after the 1600s, a colonization process resulting in the thorough marginalization of the island’s original inhabitants who belong to the category of ethnic Austronesians.
While archeological evidence confirms the presence of Malayo-Polynesian peoples on the island dating back 12,000 to 15,000 years, recent discoveries indicate that other populations had lived in Taiwan since the Pleistocene. Legends of the indigenous peoples have mentioned ‘little black people’ (hei airen 黑矮人), and skeletal remains recovered from the Xiaoma Caves (xiaomadong 小馬洞) in Taitung County are being explained by researchers as belonging to non-Austronesian small-stature individuals that might have continued to live in the remote mountains as late as the 1800s. A relevant study of scientists led by archeology professor Hung Hsiao-chun 洪曉純 titled “Negritos in Taiwan and the wider prehistory of Southeast Asia: New discovery from the Xiaoma Caves” can be found here.
Taiwan's indigenous peoples (yuanzhumin 原住民 or yuanzhu minzu 原住民族) are usually divided into two categories—mountain aborigines (gaoshanzu 高山族) and plains aborigines (pingpuzu 平埔族). Today, the ROC government recognizes 16 distinct indigenous groups (as listed below), the Kavalan currently being the only officially recognized tribe in the plains aborigines category.
The Yami are living on Orchid Island/Lanyu 蘭嶼 off Taitung's coast, the only of the 16 officially recognized indigenous groups not being based on Taiwan proper.
Please note that some indigenous groups are at times referred to with alternative names: Kavalan = Kavarawan; Puyuma = Pinuyumayan; Sakizaya = Sakiraya (shaqilaiya zu 沙奇萊亞族); Sediq = Seediq; Thao = Sao; and Truku = Taroko.
The main ROC government agency in charge of aboriginal affairs is the cabinet-level Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP).
Population and distribution
The following list shows the current population and main distribution areas (city/county) of Taiwan's indigenous groups, the respective data were provided by the MOI (population figures for end of March 2023, total population of the officially recognized 16 tribes then 576,110 plus 9,345 'undeclared' aborigines).
The following two maps show the distribution of indigenous peoples—the map on the left was provided by the Council of Indigenous Peoples/CIP (source: ROC Yearbook 2015, p. 49), the alternative map on the right is the reproduction of a map created by the National Chiayi University (guoli Jiayi daxue 國立嘉義大學).
— — — Maps of Taiwan's current 16 indigenous groups' distribution — — —
(Source/copyright notice see above)
The table below (created with MOI statistics) shows that the two counties of Taitung and Hualien in eastern Taiwan have by far the highest proportion of indigenous residents.
Increasing official recognition
After Taiwan was incorporated into the ROC in 1945, the government for decades officially recognized only 9 indigenous groups: Amis, Atayal, Bunun, Paiwan, Puyuma, Rukai, Saisiyat, Tsou, and Yami; the map on the right (source: ROC Yearbook 2000, p. 29) showing their distribution.
The table below contains data provided by the ROC MOI and shows population figures of Taiwan's nine major Aboriginal tribes at the end of 1988. Taiwan's indigenous population then totalled 335,603 persons, among them 180,990 mountain dwellers and 154,613 plains dwellers. (Source: ROC Yearbook 1990-91, p. 26-27)
Note: Amis was spelled "Ami" in the ROC/Taiwan Yearbooks from the 1986 edition up to the 2003 edition. Amis people call themselves "Pangcah" (bangcha 邦查).
Seven groups won recognition since the year 2001 (see the following chronology):
Except for the Kavalan, the members of the newly recognized groups had been listed under other indigenous groups before their recognition—the Hla'alua, Kanakanavu and Thao under the Tsou; the Sediq and Truku under the Atayal; and the Sakizaya under the Amis. Please note that several groups of Plains Aborigines like the Ketagalan (kaidagelan zu 凱達格蘭族), the Siraya (xilaya zu 西拉雅族), the Babuza (babusa zu 巴布薩族), the Makatao (makadao zu 馬卡道族), the Pazeh (bazehai zu 巴則海族) and others continue fighting for official recognition.
During a one-day hearing held at the Constitutional Court on June 28, 2022, CIP Minister Icyang Parod expressed opposition to granting the Siraya and other Pingpu tribes constitutionally-protected Indigenous status, citing "big differences" between the recognized indigenous people and the Pingpu people regarding the degree of assimilation into Han society and warning that if Pingpu tribes were given Indigenous status, the rights of the indigenous peoples would be greatly affected. On Oct. 28, 2022 the Constitutional Court ruled that legal provisions invoked to reject applications by members of an indigenous Pingpu tribe for formal Indigenous status were unconstitutional, and it ordered new rules to be drafted to address the issue, including amendments to the Status Act for Indigenous Peoples (yuanzhumin shenfenfa 原住民身分法).
The CIP website lists 55 indigenous communities (yuanxiang 原鄉) in 12 Taiwanese cities and counties, 30 of which belong to the category of Mountain Aborigines communities (shandixiang 山地鄉/Ⓜ), 25 to the category of Plains Aborigines communities (pingdixiang 平地鄉/Ⓟ)—Chiayi County: 1 Ⓜ; Hsinchu County: 2 Ⓜ, 1 Ⓟ; Hualien County: 3 Ⓜ, 10 Ⓟ; Kaohsiung City: 3 Ⓜ; Miaoli County: 1 Ⓜ, 2 Ⓟ; Nantou County: 2 Ⓜ, 1 Ⓟ; New Taipei City: 1 Ⓜ; Pingtung County: 8 Ⓜ, 1 Ⓟ; Taichung City: 1 Ⓜ; Taitung County: 5 Ⓜ, 10 Ⓟ; Taoyuan City: 1 Ⓜ; and Yilan County: 2 Ⓜ. In the following list, a ⒰ represents an urban township (zhen 鎮), an ⒭ represents a rural township (xiang 鄉).
• 55 indigenous communities with their 3-digit postal codes and area
(Source for the area figures: Chinese Wikipedia)
More information about the ROC postal codes can be found here.
The following maps show the distribution of the 55 indigenous communities (highlighted with torquoise colour) in 12 cities/counties on Taiwan proper.
Taiwan proper—posted here for orientation purposes, indigenous areas highlighted
in grey (left), all 55 indigenous communities (right)
New Taipei City (left), Taoyuan City (middle), Hsinchu County (right)
Miaoli County (left), Taichung City (right)
Nantou County (left), Chiayi County (middle), Kaohsiung City (right)
Pingtung County (far left), Yilan County (second left), Hualien County (second right), Taitung County (far right)
Please note that the ROC’s cities of Taipei, Keelung, Hsinchu, Chiayi and Tainan as well as the counties of Changhua, Yunlin, Penghu, Kinmen and Lienchiang (Matsu) have not designated any indigenous communities.
Altogether, the 55 indigenous communities cover an area of 19,223.3976 km², which is 53.566 percent of Taiwan proper’s total area (all cities and counties of Taiwan proper combined have an area of 35,886.8685 km²). The two offshore islands of Taitung county (Lanyu Township 蘭嶼鄉 and Ludao Township 綠島鄉) are included in this calculation. The percentage of the area indigenous communities cover in their respective city/county is listed in the table below.
Overall demographic development
The table below shows population data of Taiwan's indigenous peoples as provided in the ROC Yearbooks/Taiwan Yearbooks published by the central government, the column marked "%" referring to the percentage of Aborigines in Taiwan's total population at the time. Please note that before the 2013 edition, disclosure of precise figures for the total population of the ROC was the exception; and older editions of those Yearbooks up to the early 1980s did not contain any details about Taiwan's aborigines at all.
The following table contains figures provided by the MOI's Department of Household Registration Affairs and shows the number of all indigenous residents in the Taiwan area in relation to the total population.
Statistics about Taiwan's indigenous population compiled by the ROC MOI usually also contain a category with the denomination "undeclared" (shangwei shenbao 尚未申報), referring to persons who are listed as aborigines but do not belong to a specific indigenous group for various reasons—the two parents might not belong to the same indigenous group, or the person might belong to an indigenous group that has not been officially recognized by the ROC government, among others. The table below shows detailed figures for all categories since 2014.
Revitalization of Aboriginal languages
The ROC government actively promotes the development of indigenous languages. After the Indigenous Languages Development Act (yuanzhu minzu yuyan fazhanfa 原住民族語言發展法) was promulgated on June 14, 2017, the Foundation for the Research and Development of Indigenous Languages (yuanzhumin yuyan yanjiu fazhan jijinhui 原住民語言研究發展基金會) was established on Feb. 22, 2020.
The numerous indigenous languages in the Taiwan area belong mostly to the category of Austronesian languages and can be subdivided in several groups—a selection is listed below.
Please note that Yami (Dawu yu 達悟語) is a Malayo-Polynesian language and belongs to the Batanic languages found in the northern Philippines.
The map on the right shows the distribution of Formosan languages before Chinese colonization.
Source: Wikimedia ©
The "Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger", published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), established six degrees of endangerment that 'may be distinguished with regard to intergenerational transmission' (see table below).
According to above definition applied by UNESCO, Taiwan's indigenous languages can be categorized as follows:
One rare example of a case where linguistic research is still possible despite the language in question being extinct is the Siraya language. In the 17th century, Dutch missionaries created bible translations with Dutch and Siraya parallel texts still extant.
Taiwan's colonization—implications, impact and consequences
● Different civilizatory concept
The process that led from Taiwan being dominated by Austronesian peoples before the 17th century to today's society consisting of ca. 95 percent ethnic Han must be categorized as de-indigenization. That development was initiated by the Dutch, pushed forward forcefully by ethnic Han (mostly Holo and Hakka), and its execution was by and large completed at the end of Japanese rule.
Ironically, the term "sinification" is often used in today's Taiwan by descendants of those who were responsible for robbing Taiwan's indigenous peoples of their land and pursuing their general marginalization, and it has become a political buzzword in the antagonism between green camp and blue camp to describe the rapprochement of Taiwan to China/the PRC, thus distracting from the truth that Taiwan's indigenous peoples were the real victims in this historic clash of cultures and struggle of civilizations. Accordingly, the term "de-sinification" usually is not meant in a sense of restoring the dominance of Austronesian peoples and their ownership of land on the island but instead referring to the goal of replacing Mandarin as Taiwan's official language with Holo. (See also the paragraph "Languages in modern Taiwan".)
Different civilizatory concept
In terms of what Western scholars today know about Aboriginal societies, a social hierarchy with a leadership recruited from nobility seems to have been common. Concerning statehood and administrative structure, there is no evidence that would clearly confirm the existence of Western-style political systems with a distinct bureaucracy in Taiwan's indigenous societies. Available sources also give no indication that there were formal representatives authorized by aboriginal leaderships to handle foreign relations, and no institutionalized historiography was in place, in part due to the lack of written script.
Some sources do mention an entity which the Dutch called "Kingdom of Middag", in Chinese dadu wangguo 大肚王國. A founding date or a line of successive rulers have not been recorded, but it apparently existed while the Dutch were active in Taiwan, and it is said to have perished after a (historically undisputed) massive aboriginal uprising against Qing rule that took place in the area of Taichung's Dajia 大甲 and was put down in 1732. The territory of the kingdom was approximately in the area of today's Taichung city and the northern part of Changhua county (see grey area in the Wikipedia-based Map 4). It is assumed that its ethnic composition consisted of the Taiwanese aboriginal peoples of Papora (paipula zu 拍瀑拉族), Babuza (babusa zu 巴布薩族), Pazeh (Bazehai zu 巴則海族), Hoanya (hongya zu 洪雅族), and Taokas (daokasi zu 道卡斯族).
Please note that information in connection with the Kingdom of Middag cannot be verified beyond doubt, hence reservations about its accuracy and reliability are justified.
Centuries of land grab
Taiwan's colonization by the Dutch, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese eventually saw Taiwan's indigenous peoples thoroughly marginalized, a process that for the most part took its course roughly in the two and a half centuries following the end of Dutch rule. Advancing Han Chinese settlers forced the indigenous population from their settlement areas, and in the plains the aborigines faced loss of land, assimilation and outright violence. The fabric of traditional societies and tribal order was torn apart, and Taiwan's first inhabitants became dispossessed, displaced and foreigners in their own country. Adding insult to injury, members of the indigenous peoples were categorized in a derogatory fashion as 'barbarous' or 'savages' (fan 番); the offensive term "huan-a" (fanzai 番仔)—a racist slur in the Holo dialect used mostly against aborigines—is also still quite common.
In the end, the results of this development were disastrous for the indigenous peoples. In today's Taiwan, aborigines make up less than 3 percent of the population, they have been ousted from their main original settlement areas and are mostly confined to remote mountain regions (the plains tribes have even by and large disappeared altogether), their languages are severely endangered or, as in the cases of most Pingpu languages, already extinct, and Taiwan's mainstream culture is overwhelmingly dominated by the Han Chinese. Furthermore, the average life expectancy for members of the indigenous tribes in general is 8 to 9 years lower than for Taiwanese inhabitants of Chinese descent, the aboriginal unemployment rate is higher on average, and they often face prejudice, stereotypes, discrimination and cultural arrogance from non-aborigines.
One issue which is continuously brought up by indigenous activists is the question of their "traditional areas" (chuantong lingyu 傳統領域). According to existing rules and regulations—the Guidelines for Demarcating Aboriginal Land or Tribal Areas (yuanzhu minzu tudi huo buluo fanwei tudi huashe banfa 原住民族土地或部落範圍土地劃設辦法) and others—traditional areas do explicitly not include private land, and groups like the Aboriginal Transitional Justice Classroom (yuanzhumin zhuanxing zhengyi xiaojiaoshi 原住民轉型正義小教室, abbrev. yuanzhuan xiaojiaoshi 原轉小教室) and the Taiwan Indigenous Peoples' Policies Association (Taiwan yuanzhu minzu zhengce xiehui 台灣原住民族政策協會) argue that restricting their land rights to traditional territories on public land and excluding private land amounts to an acknowledgement that the past behaviour and policies which led to the theft of Aboriginal land were legitimate, and the eventual result would be the final and complete loss of original lands. The Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP) has so far ruled out adjustments to delineation guidelines for traditional Aboriginal areas.
In this context it should be noted that the demand of some indigenous activists for the return of their ancestral land is often misunderstood. For them the issue is not about expropriating owners of private land. In Taiwan, privately owned land still falls under the jurisdiction of the ROC, so real estate property is subject to certain restrictions by law—for example, developers often need government approval for their projects, e. g. regarding environmental impact, then protection of historical monuments or objects of cultural significance has to be considered and so on. Indigenous people do not want privately-owned land to be taken from the current owners and handed to them, instead they want a say in how their traditional lands are used, much as the national government currently has the right to do over private property. Relevant regulations would remain in place for returned land, and private landowners just would have to consult with both the ROC government and a local indigenous council before proceeding with projects that would require official approval.
Meanwhile, social changes in Taiwan which accompanied the democratization and political liberalization after the lifting of martial law in 1987 also brought about a shift in attitudes and policies toward the indigenous peoples.
A recent public statement by current ROC President Tsai Ing-wen is of far greater significance. As first head of state in ROC history she issued a formal apology on behalf of the government to Taiwan's indigenous peoples on Aug. 1, 2016—a day that had been declared "Indigenous People's Day" (Taiwan yuanzhu minzuri 台灣原住民族日) in remembrance of Aug. 1, 1994. In her speech during the apology ceremony which was held at the Presidential Palace in Taipei, Tsai Ing-wen addressed several of the challenges Taiwan's indigenous peoples are confronted with today. She acknowledged that the indigenous peoples had been subject to four centuries of pain and unfair treatment, and she defined the status of indigenous peoples as Taiwan's 'original owners' (yuanzhu minzu shi Taiwan "yuanlaide zhuren" de diwei 原住民族是台灣「原來的主人」的地位).
One particular issue mentioned by President Tsai that exemplifies the conflict between modern society and traditional tribal culture is the question of hunting rights. While tribal leaders maintain that hunting is a tradition for indigenous people and should not be equated with poaching, the indigenous peoples' right to hunt sometimes collides with ROC laws like the Wildlife Conservation Act (yesheng dongwu baoyufa 野生動物保育法), the Controlling Guns, Ammunition and Knives Act (qiangpao danyao daoxie guanzhi tiaoli 槍砲彈藥刀械管制條例) and the National Park Law (guojia gongyuanfa 國家公園法). In general, hunting has been banned in the ROC and is subject to penalty. Although special provisions are regulating the indigenous peoples' right to hunt, aboriginal hunters are sometimes still arrested when legally hunting on designated lands.
President Tsai's formal apology to the indigenous peoples is part of her greater initiative to promote and implement transitional justice (zhuanxing zhengyi 轉型正義), a concept seeking to redress legacies of human rights abuses. Since 1987 Taiwan/the ROC has made impressive progress in the period of political transition from the authoritarian, dictatorial regime to democracy, but a lot has yet to be done to address past human rights violations and move forward on the path towards reconciliation.
No turning back?
Although Tsai Ing-wen's historical, unprecedented apology was a noble gesture suggesting good intentions and bearing great importance for improving the status of and respect for the indigenous peoples, nobody should have illusions about a turning-back of the wheels of history. There is no indication that the results of colonization will be reversed since they are in fact largely irreversible.
That being said, certainly more needs to be done in Taiwan in order to strengthen minority protection. The Indigenous Peoples Basic Law should be enforced more strictly, and there is definitely room for progress in areas like preservation of the languages and cultures of Taiwan's earliest inhabitants. Relevant measures should be welcomed and supported.
In Taiwan, the term "colonization" is not exclusively used to describe the developments concerning the marginalization of the indigenous peoples by immigrating Han Chinese (Holos, Hakka) since the 17th century. Sometimes the term is also applied in the context of Taiwan being under ROC control since 1945, especially by individuals in the pan-green camp who claim that ROC rule over Taiwan was illegal under international law since the ROC never formally received sovereignty over Taiwan after WWII. (More details regarding this point can be found under the headline "Legal aspects of Taiwan in the ROC" of the section Taiwan Province on the page "Local administration".)
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