Taiwan's aboriginal peoples, who originated in Austronesia and southern
China, have lived on Taiwan for 12,000 to 15,000 years. Significant migration
to Taiwan from the Chinese mainland began as early as A.D. 500. Dutch traders
first claimed the island in 1624 as a base for Dutch commerce with Japan
and the China coast. Two years later, the Spanish established a settlement
on the northwest coast of Taiwan which they occupied until 1642 when they
were driven out by the Dutch. Dutch colonists administered the island and
its predominantly aboriginal population until 1661. The first major influx
of migrants from the Chinese mainland came during the Dutch period, sparked
by the political and economic chaos on the China coast during the Manchu
invasion and the end of the Ming Dynasty.
In 1664, a Chinese fleet led by the Ming loyalist Cheng Ch'eng-kung
(Zheng Chenggong, known in the West as Koxinga) retreated from the mainland
and occupied Taiwan. Cheng expelled the Dutch and established Taiwan as
a base in his attempt to restore the Ming Dynasty. He died shortly thereafter,
and in 1683 his successors submitted to Manchu (Qing Dynasty) control.
From 1680 the Qing Dynasty ruled Taiwan as a prefecture and in 1875 divided
the island into two prefectures, north and south. In 1887 the island was
made into a separate Chinese province.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, migration from Fujian and Guangdong
provinces steadily increased, and Chinese supplanted aborigines as the
dominant population group. In 1895, a weakened Imperial China ceded Taiwan
to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki following the first Sino-Japanese
During its 50 years (1895-1945) of colonial rule, Japan expended considerable
effort in developing Taiwan's economy. At the same time, Japanese rule
led to the "Japanization" of the island, including compulsory Japanese
education and forcing residents of Taiwan to adopt Japanese names.
At the end of World War II in 1945, Taiwan reverted to Chinese rule.
During the immediate postwar period, the Nationalist Chinese (KMT) administration
on Taiwan was repressive and corrupt, leading to local discontent. Anti-mainlander
violence flared on February 28, 1947, prompted by an incident in which
a cigarette seller was injured and a passerby was shot to death by Nationalist
authorities. The island-wide rioting was brutally put down by Nationalist
Chinese troops, who killed thousands of people. As a result of the February
28 Incident, the native Taiwanese felt a deepseated bitterness to the mainlanders.
Until 1995, the KMT authorities suppressed accounts of this episode in
Taiwan history. In 1995 a monument was dedicated to the victims of the
"2-28 Incident," and for the first time Taiwan's leader, President Lee
Teng-hui, publicly apologized for the Nationalists' brutality.
From the 1930s onward a civil war was underway on the mainland between
Chiang Kai-shek's KMT government and the Chinese Communist Party led by
Mao Zedong. When the civil war ended in 1949, 2 million refugees, predominately
from the Nationalist government, military, and business community, fled
to Taiwan. In October 1949 the People's Republic of China (P.R.C.) was
founded on the mainland by the victorious communists. Chiang Kai-shek established
a "provisional" KMT capital in Taipei in December 1949. During the 1950s,
the KMT authorities implemented a far-reaching and highly successful land
reform program on Taiwan. They redistributed land among small farmers and
compensated large landowners with commodities certificates and stock in
state-owned industries. Although this left some large landowners impoverished,
others turned their compensation into capital and started commercial and
industrial enterprises. These entrepreneurs were to become Taiwan's first
industrial capitalists. Together with refugee businessmen from the mainland,
they managed Taiwan's transition from an agricultural to a commercial,
Taiwan has developed steadily into a major international trading power
with nearly $243 billion in two-way trade (2002). Taiwan's accession to
the World Trade Organization in 2002 has expanded its trade opportunities
and further strengthened its standing in the global economy. Tremendous
prosperity on the island has been accompanied by economic and social stability.
Chiang Kai-shek's successor, his son Chiang Ching-kuo, began to liberalize
Taiwan's political system, a process that continued when President Lee
Teng-hui took office in 1988. The direct election of Lee Teng-hui as president
in 1996 was followed by opposition Democratic Progressive Party candidate
Chen Shui-bian's election victory in March 2000.
In March 2000, Democratic Progressive Party candidate Chen Shui-bian
became the first opposition party candidate to win the presidency. His
victory resulted in the first-ever transition of the presidential office
from one political party to another, validating Taiwan's democratic political
system. This change in the political process is the result of the liberalizing
trend that began in the 1980s under President Chiang Ching-kuo. In 1987,
he lifted the emergency decree, which had been in place since 1948 and
which had granted virtually unlimited powers to the president for use in
the anti-communist campaign. This decree provided the basis for nearly
four decades of martial law under which individuals and groups expressing
dissenting views were dealt with harshly. Expressing views contrary to
the authorities' claim to represent all of China or supporting independent
legal status for Taiwan was treated as sedition. Lee Teng-hui succeeded
Chiang Ching-kuo as president when Chiang died on January 13, 1988. Lee
was elected by the National Assembly to a 6-year term in 1990, marking
the final time a president was elected by the National Assembly. In 1996,
Lee Teng-hui was elected president and Lien Chan vice president in the
first direct election by Taiwan's voters.
Since ending martial law, Taiwan has taken dramatic steps to improve
respect for human rights and create a democratic political system. Almost
all restrictions on the press have ended, restrictions on personal freedoms
have been relaxed, and the prohibition against organizing new political
parties has been lifted.