to 1700 European Colonization
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
to 1895: "Every three years an uprising..."
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."
to 1945: Japanese Colonization
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.
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.
to 1949: KMT "Administrative Control"
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."
the KMT was forced to flee completely from China and
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.
to 1970s: Taiwan under Martial Law
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.
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.
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.
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
to 1980: Loss of International Recognition
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.
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.
Direct Presidential Elections
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.