Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

Articles About Taiwan

I'm taking a day off to work around the house today. General cleaning, reorganizing and a little redecorating. So, I'm going to point you to an article by an artist named Ian Douglas who lives in Bangkok. I interviewed him for ThingsAsian a couple of years ago. Nice fellow and very talented. After visiting Taiwan, he wrote an article for ThingsAsian about his experiences. It's called Once 'Round the Little Dragon.

Dawn Stanton wrote another good article about Taiwan for ThingsAsian titled Your First Trip to Taiwan: A Suggested Itinerary.

A keyword search for "Taiwan" on ThingsAsian will yield a total of 96 articles about or mentioning Taiwan. So why not go exploring!

The History and Culture of Taiwan

The island of Taiwan is located about 120 miles off the southeastern coast of Mainland China. Formerly known by its Portuguese name, Ilha Formosa, which means "beautiful island," Taiwan is surrounded by the Taiwan Strait to the west, the East China Sea to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the east, the Luzon Strait to the south and the South China Sea to the southwest.

Most of Taiwan's population lives on low-lying plains toward the west side of the island, while more than half of the landscape is mountainous, with five distinct ranges extending from its northern to the southern tip. Taiwan's tallest peak is Yu Shan at 12,966 feet (3952 meters). Taiwan has a tropical marine climate, with a monsoon season from June to August. The weather is cloudy throughout much of the year, with frequent typhoons and earthquakes.

The island of Taiwan is divided into 15 counties, with five provincial cities and two municipalities, Taipei and Kaohsiung. The Pescadore Islands are also included in the territory of Taiwan. The Province of Taiwan is administered by the government of the Republic of China (ROC). The name "Taiwan" is usually refers to the Republic of China, while the word "China" is used to refer to the People's Republic of ChinaTaipei, Taiwan's largest city is the provisional capital of the Republic of China, however, the central village of Zhongxing is the official capital of Taiwan province.The Republic of China also claims control of the Kinmen, Matsu, Green and Orchid islands, as well as many smaller islands in the South China Sea, including the Spratly and Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by several other countries. .


The culture of Taiwan is a combination Chinese, Western and indigenous influences. Although the majority of the population speaks Mandarin, 70 percent also speak Taiwanese. A group of about 10 percent, known as the Hakka, have their own language, along with several smaller aboriginal groups who also have their own language as well. Additionally, due to the Japanese occupation of Taiwan from 1895 to 1945, many people, especially the elderly, are fluent in Japanese. Nevertheless, Mandarin is the language taught in schools.


The majority of the Taiwainese people practice Buddhism and Taoism, with strong influences by Confucianism as well. However, Taiwan also has its own indigenous religion steeped in ancient folklore. Christianity is present on the island, with the largest influence being Presbyterian.


The arts of Taiwan feature both ancient folk traditions, as well as fine arts which have been influenced by modern Asian and western styles. The the National Palace Museum is Taiwan's most notable collection, which was brought to Taiwan by the Nationalist Party under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949. The collection features more than a half-million treasures, only onepercent of which is on display at any given time, including Chinese jade, porcelain, bronze, painting and calligraphy.

Traditional Garments

There are three main traditional Chinese garments: the pien-fu, the ch'ang-p'ao, and the shen-i. The pien-fu is a two-piece ceremonial garment, consisting of a knee-length tunic, and an ankle-length skirt. The floor-length robe called ch'ang-p'ao, is worn by both men and women. The shen-i, also worn by both men and women, is a two-part garment, consisting of a roomy, deeply folded tunic and skirt, similar in style to the pien-fu; but joined together to form a single robe. The shen-i is the most commonly worn garment, especially by government officials, scholars, the military, and by commoners on special occasions. Becuase of their simple design and tendency toward darker colors, these garments are often embellished with embroidered borders, sashes and epaulettes.

Today in Taiwan, men may be seen wearing modernized versions of the traditional Chinese long gown on formal occasions, while women often wear the ch'i-p'ao. Taiwan's silk making, spinning, and weaving industries flourish, and many of Taiwan's modern fashions incorporate the elements and motifs of traditional Chinese garments, including dragons, trigrams, lions, guardian deities.


The history of Taiwan dates back approximately 50,000 years, and the migration to Taiwan from the Chinese mainland by Han Chinese may have begun as early as 500 A.D. Little is known of Taiwan's original inhabitants, however, archaeologial evidence of jadeware, and corded pottery shows evidence of several distinct cultures. The indigenous people still in existence in modern Taiwan are classified among the Austronesian ethno-linguistic group, which also includes those of Madagascar, the Easter Islands and New Zealand.

The first record of European settlement in Taiwan is that of Dutch traders, who established a post on the island in 1624 to facilitate trade with Japan and China. In 1626, the Spanish established another settlement at Santissima Trinidad on the northwest coast of Taiwan near Keelung, until they were driven out by the Dutch in 1642. Thereafter, Taiwan was controlled by the Dutch East India Company, which set up schools, missionaries and a system of taxation. The Dutch also exploited the huge herds of deer that roamed the island, the hides of which they sold to the Japanese for making samurai armor. When the deer population began to dwindle, rice and sugar cane were also farmed for export to Asia.

A second stronghold built on the island of Taiwan helped strengthen the colonial power of the Dutch. Many towns and villages were destroyed, and aboriginal rebels were severely punished. In 1661, the armada of Zheng Chenggong, a Ming Dynasty loyalist and former pirate, launched a siege on Taiwan to drive the Dutch from their colony at Zeelandia, in hopes of establishing a military base. Zheng, a now a powerful trader in his own right, had been driven from his Chinese stronghold in Amoy when the Manchu advanced on Fujian, and hoped to regain it. And although he succeeded in seizing control of Zeelandia, he was never able to overcome Manchurian General Wu San Gui to re-establish the Ming Dynasty.

Upon the death of Zheng, his grandson surrendered to the Manchu and all his followers were banished from Taiwan to the remotest regions of the Qing empire. By 1682, only 7000 Chinese remained on the island of Taiwan, most of whom had assimilated themselves into the aboriginal population. For more than 200 years thereafter, the Qing Dynasty ruled Taiwan, limiting immigration from Mainland China and overseeing the government of the aboriginal population. Their migration into the moutainous wilderness regions was restricted by a barrier of pits and earthen mounds.

In 1874, an Japanese ship from Okinawa landed at the southern tip of Taiwan, where all the crew members were beheaded by an aboriginal tribe. When no restitution was offered by the Manchu government, Japan launched an assault on Taiwan. Qing Dynasty control of the island was further weakened by the blockade of Keeling harbor by the French over a territorial dispute. Despite attempts to create a greater infrastructure with wilderness outposts and a railroad network, the Sino-Japanese War for control of Taiwan ended in the surrender of the island to the Japanese in 1895.

The years immediately following Japanese occupation of Taiwan were marked by chaos and rebellion of both Taiwanese nationals and aboriginals. Yet, despite attempts to declare itself an independent republic, Taiwan's aristocracy was eventually forced to seek the aid of Japanese forces to restore order. Nonetheless, the aboriginal population continued to rebel until the 1930's. During their rule, the Japanese modernized the island with electricity, and an all-Japanese educational system. And although Taiwan functioned as a Japanese colony, the Taiwanese people were eventually granted increasingly elevated social and political status, until the end of World War II, when Japan was ordered by the Allies to surrender Taiwan to the Republic of China.

Nationalist rule by the Chinese Kuomintang (KMT) administration began in October 1945. The postwar period saw a period of political repression, corruption and civil dissent. To quell the rebellion, in a military attack now known as the "2-28 Incident," the Nationalists massacred 30,000 Taiwanese citizens, and imprisoned thousands of others. Aristocrats and scholars were especially targeted.

Meanwhile, in Mainland China, a civil war had been brewing since the 1930's, with the Communist Party of China led by Mao Zedong rebelling against the ROC government of Chiang Kai-shek. When the Communist Party prevailed in 1949, the war ended, and two million refugees fled to Taiwan. The People's Republic of China was established, and soon thereafter, Chiang Kai-shek had established a provisional ROC capital in Taipei.

However, when Japan surrendered Taiwan after World War II, the wording of the treaty never specified whether Taiwan would be ceded to the Republic of China, or to the People's Republic of China, raising the question as to whether the Republic of China is a legitimate government. The Republic of China maintains that, based on the UN Charter, when Japan surrendered Taiwan in the Treaty of San Francisco in 1951, the sovereignty of Taiwan returned to the people of Taiwan, and it is therefore a legitimate government, while the People's Republic of China argues that the ROC ended in 1949.

After World War II, under the administration of the Kuomintang (KMT) government, all of Taiwan's major corporations and government property was nationalized. The economy that had been created and generated by Japanese rule was awarded to the KMT. In the decade that followed, the KMT implemented an industrial and agricultural reform program that resulted in a huge economic boom, and by the 1970's Taiwan had achieved status among the powerful trade nations known as the East Asian Tigers, and was recognized as the legitimate government of China by the United Nations.

Dispute over Taiwan's sovereignty continued, however, and in 1971, the Beijing government was recognized as China's seat in the United Nations. Although, the ROC had been offered dual reopresentation, Chiang Kai-shek stormed out, demanding his own seat on the UN Security Council. The People's Republic of China refused, and by 1979, the United States had shifted its recognition of China's official government from Taipei to Beijing.

Upon his death in 1975, Chiang Kai-shek was succeeded by his son Chiang Ching-kuo, who instituted a program of change in the Taiwanese goverment. Marital law was lifted, and the DPP opposition party was allowed to compete with the KMT. The Taiwanese people were gradually given more political freedom, and when Chiang Ching-Kuo died in 1988, his successor Lee Teng-hui made inroads toward a democratic government. A central bank was established, media censorship was lifted, the Taiwan Provincial Government was dissolved, and mainland representatives were forced to resign.

Corruption continued under Lee's administration, and in open elections held in 2000, opposition DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian became the President of Taiwan. The political status of Taiwan remains a controversial issue. The People's Republic of China still lays claim to Taiwan as a sovereign territory, and Chen Shui-bian still maintains that the Republic of China is the official government. The people of Taiwan are divided, with many supporting Chinese reunification, while many others still favor independence.