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History of Taiwan

The aboriginal people of Taiwan are ethnically similar to the people of Malaysia and the south Pacific and they remained fairly isolated on Taiwan until the 1600s. Although the world was aware of the island of Taiwan, there was little to no interest in colonizing or trading with the island for centuries.

In the 1600s the Han Chinese began arriving on Taiwan, but didn't arrive in large numbers at first. For the most part, the Chinese and aboriginals intermarried and over time Chinese slowly overcame the aboriginal languages and customs. Also in the 1600s the Dutch arrived in order to safeguard their trading routes in the Far East. They established some outposts and introduced missionaries, but never truly altered the culture or ventured inland. What the Dutch did do was emphasize the importance of the island's location.

In the mid-1600s with the collapse of the Ming Dynasty in mainland China, much of the government fled to Taiwan to find refuge. This pushed the Dutch out and began a stronger Chinese influence. The new government in China was the Qings and they sought both the Ming leadership and further control so took much of Taiwan in the late 1600s. Even at this time though, most of the island was aboriginal, with only the coastal areas being dominated by ethnic Chinese. Due to the Qing discouraging emigration to Taiwan, this aboriginal domination on Taiwan continued.

The 1800s saw many changes to Taiwan as Qing central control faltered and domestic groups began fighting for power. This instability and the importance of trading routes led to attacks by the French, British, and Japanese, before China's Qing Dynasty clamped down on controlling the island in the late 1800s.

Just after solidifying control over Taiwan, the Chinese entered a war with the Japanese and transferred control over Taiwan to the Japanese. Taiwan remained under Japan's control through World War II (WWII). During this time some Taiwanese groups fought this rule and the Wushe Uprising in the 1930s best represented this fight. The aboriginals that led this resistance lost decidedly, but it symbolized that power remained out of the hands of the still large majority of people, the aboriginals

Despite protests, the Japanese extended healthcare, communication, and infrastructure in Taiwan and these changes were well received. Before WWII, war broke out between China and Japan and the Taiwanese were divided on which side to support then and during WWII.

At the conclusion of WWII, the Japanese gave Taiwan to China, but China remained in the middle of a civil war. A couple years later, as the Chinese communists proved victorious in mainland China, the defeated nationalists retreated to Taiwan, much like Ming leadership did centuries earlier.

This wave of Chinese immigrants forever altered the aboriginal way of life as the Chinese came in large numbers and intermarried locals. While most Taiwanese claim to be ethnic Chinese, most are actually a combination of Chinese and aboriginal as pure aboriginals primarily live in the mountains.

After the late 1940s, with this immigration, the political situation in Taiwan became a strong leadership with power held firmly at the top. Despite this, much of the world recognized Taiwan, officially called the "Republic of China" as the legitimate ruling government of China and they held a seat on the United Nations (UN) for years. This changed in 1971 with the UN's recognition of the Democratic People's Republic of China (mainland China) and offering the two a joint seat to represent China, an offer that Taiwan refused to accept.

The 1980s were better for Taiwan as the government focused on internal issues and improved the people's rights, allowed greater political freedoms, and expanded rights to the small minority of aboriginals. In 1996 Taiwan had its first democratic election and the ruling nationalist party lost power. Since that time, focus has remained domestic and the country continues to improve, particularly in terms of economic growth.

This page was last updated: July, 2012