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    TAIWAN'S HISTORY: AN OVERVIEW

1400 to 1700 European Colonization

Originally, Taiwan was settled by people of Malay-Polynesian descent, who initially inhabited the low-lying coastal plains. They called their island Pakan. Beginning in the 14th century and continuing into the 18th century, large numbers of Chinese settlers from the Hoklo speaking province of Fukien and Hakka speaking province of Kwangtung arrived on Taiwan. Although "Han" Chinese, their purpose for emigrating was not for the territorial expansion of China but to flee local living conditions and taxes. They found a beautiful island inhabited by tribes of Malayo-Polynesian people (aborigines.) The beauty of the island was coined by the Portuguese with the phrase "Isla Formosa" (beautiful island) upon their arrival in the 16th century. Thus began a period of European struggle for colonial control of Taiwan between the Portuguese, the Dutch and the Spanish. The Dutch would win out and establish a colony in 1624. In 1662, after having fled to Taiwan earlier from the establishment of the Manchurian dynasty in 1644, Cheng Cheng-kung (Koxinga) expelled the Dutch from Taiwan and vowing to recapture the mainland.

1700 to 1895: "Every three years an uprising..."

During the next two hundred years, Chinese rule of Taiwan was marginal. Taiwan continued to run its own affairs and only minimal numbers of Chinese officials "governed" the island. In fact, there were numerous rebellions against the corrupt Chinese officials, which led to the phrase, "Every three years an uprising, every five years a rebellion." China gave Taiwan provincial status in 1887. Only eight years later, in 1895, as a consequence of its defeat in the Sino-Japanese War, China ceded Taiwan to Japan "in perpetuity" as outlined in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. China was more than willing to give up Taiwan. Some Chinese officials even went so far as to express their relief at no longer having to police the "land of the brown robbers."
 
 

1895 to 1945: Japanese Colonization

Taiwanese opponents to Japanese rule proclaimed the "Republic of Formosa" in May of 1895. But the Japanese military quickly overpowered the movement. The roots of independence were planted and talk of independence was secretly carried out by the Taiwanese political and intellectual elite. During the Japanese colonization, tremendous economic progress was made as Taiwan underwent rapid industrialization to feed the Japanese war machine.

In China, the ending of dynastic rule and the establishment of the Republic of China (ROC) in 1911 led to a civil war from the 1927 to 1949 between the Kuomintang (KMT) Nationalists under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese Communists under Mao Tse-tung. Although the two sides fought together for a short time to expel the Japanese from China, they resumed fighting in 1945. Interestingly enough, during this time both Chinese leaders supported the independence of Taiwan. Chiang proclaimed in 1938, "We must restore the independence and freedom of the brethren in Korea and Taiwan." Mao stated, "We will extend [the Korean people] our enthusiastic help in their struggle for independence. The same thing applies to Formosa." The same thing applies to Formosa." World War II would have a tremendous impact on Taiwan. Fearful that Chiang would sign a non-aggression pact with the Japanese, the Allies promised to restore Taiwan to China in Cairo in 1943. The Allies continued to support the increasingly corrupt KMT regime only because of their anti-Communist position.

1945 to 1949: KMT "Administrative Control"

When the Japanese surrendered to the Allies in 1945 to retain good relations with China, the Allies granted Chiang and his KMT regime temporary administrative control of Taiwan as a trustee on behalf of the Allied powers. Unfortunately for the people of Taiwan, this turned into a permanent situation. Chiang used Taiwan as a base to conduct his war against the Communists. The KMT imposed its dictatorial rule on the people of Taiwan, leading to widespread discontent among the Taiwanese people. In Taipei on February 28, 1947, military police pistol-whipped an old woman alleged to be selling contraband cigarettes. Her death sparked island-wide revolts and protests. The KMT suppressed the rebellion by executing over 20,000 Taiwanese people and wiping out a generation of political and academic elite - thus beginning an era the people of Taiwan would call, "The White Terror."

By 1949, the KMT was forced to flee completely from China and transfer its headquarters to Taiwan, where it vowed to "recover the mainland." Mao established the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the same year, and joined Chiang in claiming to be the legitimate ruler of China and Taiwan.

1949 to 1970s: Taiwan under Martial Law

Since the Nationalists only comprised approximately 15% of the population of Taiwan, they ruled Taiwan with an iron fist. Restrictions were imposed on civil and political rights through 38 years of martial law (the longest in world history). Human rights abuse was common during this period, and over 100,000 Taiwanese were imprisoned, blacklisted, and executed for their real or perceived dissenting political opinions.  The Allies were willing to overlook the abuse by the Chiang regime because of Taiwan's anti-Communist geo-strategic importance.

In 1951, the San Francisco Peace Treaty (SFPT) saw Japan renounce its claims to Taiwan. A beneficiary was never named. The consensus was that the status of Taiwan should be determined by the people of Taiwan. According to one delegate, "the reason behind not specifying the recipient is to afford the opportunity to take into consideration the principle of self-determination and the expressed desire of the inhabitants of Taiwan." The SFPT is the legal basis for Taiwan's self-determination. This dream remains unfulfilled.

To maintain its claims of being the sole government of China, the KMT transferred the political institutions of China to Taiwan. The vast majority of parliamentary seats were filled by officials elected in China in 1947, representing provinces and areas of China. This practice continued until 1991, leading the Economist to name Taiwan's parliament "a parliament pickled in formaldehyde." By rewriting history and controlling the media, the KMT spread its propaganda throughout Taiwan. It discouraged the speaking of Taiwanese to convince the Taiwanese people they were Chinese.

Over the next two decades, Taiwan underwent rapid industrialization as the economy grew at unbelievable rate. However, the economic growth came at the expense of the dignity of the people of Taiwan, and of the island itself. As one legislator stated: "For 40 years the KMT ruled Taiwan as if they were travelers, just passing through." The mentality of seeking to recapture the mainland led to the exploitation of Taiwan's resources and people without any return investment in the domestic infrastructure of Taiwan. The cost of Taiwan's "economic miracle" is evidenced by the environmental pollution of today. At times it is difficult to see Taiwan as the Portuguese did over 300 years ago when giving Taiwan the name "beautiful island."

1970 to 1980: Loss of International Recognition

To "strengthen the authority and prestige of the United Nations" the UN replaced the ROC with the communist regime in Beijing in 1971. US ambassador to the UN, George Bush, proposed that Taiwan sit in the General Assembly and China in the Security Council so that the world body would "reflect ... incontestable reality." To save face, Chiang Kai-shek walked out of the UN and robbed Taiwan's people of the right of representation in the international community.

Throughout the 1970s, country after country broke off diplomatic relations with the ROC and established relations with Beijing. In 1972, Nixon visited China - the first meeting of leaders of China and the US since the establishment of the PRC in 1949. This meeting resulted in the Shanghai Communiqué of 1972 in which "the US acknowledged that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain that there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China." This U.S. shift of recognition from Taipei to Beijing was due to the growing geo-political importance of China as a counter to the Soviet threat. Today, with the Cold War at an end, these geo-political moves have become largely irrelevant. The US recognized Beijing in 1979 and in the same year signed the Taiwan Relations Act to protect Taiwan's safety.

1980s: Political Reform

Throughout the 1980s, protests against the KMT erupted, in spite of martial law. In 1986, despite a ban on opposition parties, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was formed. In 1987, President Chiang Ching-kuo (son of Chiang Kai-shek) lifted martial law. It was replaced by an equally restrictive National Security Law. Speaking out on Taiwan Independence was illegal and there were numerous arrests of non-violent advocates of independence. Upon Chiang Ching-kuo's death in 1988, Lee Teng-hui (a native Taiwanese) was nominated by the KMT as the new president.

1990s: Direct Presidential Elections

Despite the government ban on independence and China's threats "to wash the island in blood" if Taiwan declared independence, Taiwan's independence movement grew. In 1990, the last remaining representatives elected in China in 1947 stepped down. In 1991, the DPP officially incorporated a pro-independence charter in its platform. The following year, the DPP won over one-third of the seats in parliament despite KMT vote buying and control of the media. It led to a massive shake-up among KMT officials. In 1996, Lee Teng-hui was elected as President of Taiwan. Later that year, the Taiwan Independence Party (TAIP) was established. The same year, both the European Parliament and the U. S. House of Representatives passed bills endorsing UN membership for Taiwan. Early 1997, Taiwan's so-called National Development Conference put a freeze on Taiwan's provincial status. President Lee categorized the cross-strait relationship as "Special State to State Relations" in an interview with the German press, highlighting Taiwan and China as two separate countries.

Since 2000: Transfer of Power

In 2000, Taiwan's democratic progress culminated in the election of Chen Shui-bian from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, ending the KMT's half-century rule of Taiwan. The peaceful transfer of power from the KMT to the DPP in 2000 underscored the decades-long persistence and resilience by the people of Taiwan to pursue democracy. Chen won re-election in 2004.  During Chen's tenure from 2000 to 2008, Taiwan held two nation-wide referenda on issues important to the welfare of the people. The KMT regained power in the 2008 presidential election.

 


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