The history of Taiwan–1. Introduction

Posted: 2013 年 10 月 06 日 in The history of Taiwan
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With a purpose of increasing mutual understanding and respect between the East and the West, this section is dedicated to sinology, a study of Chinese/Taiwanese history, language, customs and politics. Most materials in this series of articles come from Prof. Hung-mou Li of National Kaohsiung Normal University in Taiwan. Much to his credit, tons of priceless sinology materials are kept well and taught systematically.

The history of Taiwan will be presented in 10 consecutive posts:

  1. Introduction

  2. Aborigines and Hakkas

  3. Pirates, traders, and foreign invaders

  4. Koxinga

  5. War with the West

  6. Tokyo’s triumph

  7. The generalissimo

  8. Exodus to Taiwan

  9. The generaliissimo’s passing

  10. Growth despite setbacks



“Isla formosa. Isla formosa!” Portuguese sailors used to shout with admiration from the decks of their ships as they sailed past Taiwan, en route to Japan, during the 16th century. The island thus became known to the West by the Portuguese word formosa, “beautiful.” And like many a beautiful woman, Taiwan history has been both tranquil and tempestuous, peaceful and passionate, scandalous and dramatic.

 This enchantress of the East China Sea has lured successive  waves of Chinese immigrants from the mainland, explorers and exploiters from the West, and aggressive imperialists from Japan. All desired to possess her, and her diary of intrigue reveals that each in turn did. But of all her suitors, China proved to be the best match for the feisty, fecund island. The marriage of China’s highly sophisticated, aesthetically oriented culture with Taiwan’s bountiful beauty and rich natural endowments has produced one of the most dynamic lands in the Far East. China’s ancient heritage and the island’s native charms, like yin and yang, are the inseparable elements that define Taiwan.

Very little is known about Taiwan’s earliest history. Radiocarbon dating of primitive utensils found in caves ahs indicated prehistoric man first appeared on the island at least 10,000 years ago. Archaeologists believe Taiwan’s links with mainland China may be just as old. They have identified four stages of prehistoric tool development that match those of the mainland, plus two later stages indicating that prehistoric Southeast Asian culture somehow spread to the southern and eastern coasts of the island. The early aborigines, whose descendants now form a colorful part fo Taiwan’s cultural spectrum, are believed to have come from malaysian and ancient southern Chinese Miao stock.

Isla Formosa! Taiwan will touch your heart!

China’s Early Courtship

The most ancient Chinese historical record refering to Taiwan indicates that the island was called the “land of Yangchow”(瀛洲) before the rise of the Han Dynasty in 206 B.C. There even may have been an attempt at that time to explore the island, according to the record, the Shih Chi (史記) complied by Ssu-ma Ch’ien (司馬遷), it called Taiwan “Yichow” (夷洲). The earliest attempt to establish a Chinese claim to Taiwan apparently occured in 239 A.D. when the Kingdom of Wu sent a 10,000-man expeditionary force, according to the San Kuo Chi(三國志), the History of the Three Kingdoms.

About 1430, the famous eunuch magistrate and navigator from the Ming Court, Cheng Ho(鄭和), reported his “discovery” of the island to the emperor of China. The name went down in the record books as Taiwan(臺灣), which means “terraced bay.” But an imeprial prohibition on emigration prevented the Ming empire’s populate from emigrating to Taiwan or anyplace else.


History is a little bit heavy here. Actually, modern Taiwan can be seen as a melting pot of eastern and western cultures because it underwent rules of China, Portuguese, Spain, the Netherlands, and Japan. Despite the fact that Taiwan relies heavily on the U.S.A. and China economically and politically. It is an independent democratic country for sure because of its own land, people, government, and sovereignty.

You may learn more about Taiwan from the following interesting videos.

Ten facts about Taiwan

Taiwan–the top ten most interesting things

  1. patty0821 說道:

    E~xcellent ! This is worth sharing with Houg-mou’s students as well as many more who love Taiwan. It will surely reminds them of his inspiring classes and their passion for this island. I think this is going to be a very valuable online learning resource. Bravo!


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