The Story of Taiwan
Taiwan is an island of convergence in the Western Pacific. It is this location where the Asian Continent converges with the Pacific, and where Eurasian Plate meets the Philippine Sea Plate. Ships at sea also converge here. Taiwan is an island with many different ecologies, where mountains sit by deep oceans, while cool forests are beside tropical ones. Within half an hour it is possible to move between the mountain, sea, cool and tropical zones. Since antiquity, people of different ethnicities and nationalities have also been attracted to Taiwan, thereby creating a fusion of various languages, cuisines and cultures. Together, these factors represent the island’s diverse natural and cultural landscapes, producing the varied and harmonious story of Taiwan.
The Early Residents
Long before written records appeared, a vibrant culture had already emerged on the island of Taiwan. According to archaeological research and scientific exploration, human activities first appeared in Taiwan some 20~30,000 years ago. From prehistoric relics and utensils unearthed throughout Taiwan, we can further appreciate how our ancestors adapted to the natural environment in Taiwan, and how they developed different cultural characteristics in different regions.
Encounters between Disparate Cultures
Taiwan, located on the shipping line of East Asia, has been a location where merchants from different countries meet and trade since the 16th century, making it a melting pot of many exotic cultures. People from Asia and Europe arrived in Taiwan due to trade, shipping disasters or political problems at home. They came in contact and interacted with local inhabitants, thus enriching the diversity of Taiwanese culture. Notable encounters between different cultures took place in Taiwan with the arrival of Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Spanish and British people on the island.
Chinese Migration to Taiwan
In the 17th century there were still vast expanses of unclaimed land, which were very attractive for people living along the crowded southeast coast of China. However, in 1684 (year 23 of the Kangxi regime), Qing Dynasty incorporated Taiwan into its domain and implemented stringent restrictions that prohibited people in Fujian and Guangdong from immigrating to Taiwan to claim land. Despite these laws, and dangers such as the Black Water Ditch (Taiwan Strait), many people still risked their lives and came to Taiwan in search of a new land to settle on and establish their homes.
Territorial Societies and Plural Cultures
During the Qing Dynasty, a great number of Han Chinese people migrated to Taiwan and formed Han Chinese-dominated communities in many parts of the island. However, due to separation by the east-west rivers, transport between the south and north was very inconvenient.The Han Chinese adopted different land reclamation methods and cultures in response to the varied natural and cultural environments. With regard to the natural environment, the migrants built different kinds of villages based on factors such as terrain and hydrology. As for the cultural environment, different industries and cultures were established depending on indigenous customs and ethnic distribution. Eventually, regional societies with various characteristics were formed throughout southern and northern Taiwan.
Transformations and The New Order
In 1895 (Year 28 of the Meiji regime), Japan began its rule of Taiwan, backed by its military strength. Japan was then copying certain aspects of Europe and America in an effort to modernize after the Meiji Restoration. The new government implemented vastly different policies compared to previous rulers, and even demanded loyalty from the local population. As a result, Taiwanese people experienced a set of unprecedented reforms.On the one hand, they were attracted by modern Western civilization introduced by the Japanese; on the other, they also suffered from prejudice under the colonial administration. The Taiwanese people thus struggled between resisting injustice and embracing the new civilization during the half-century “Japanese era.”
Towards A Diverse, Democratic Society
At the conclusion of WWII, the world entered a new era, and a new chapter was opened in Taiwan with the arrival of the Government of the Republic of China. In order to prevent the Communist Party from entering Taiwan, the Government of the Republic of China implemented long-term martial law and restricted basic human rights, such as freedom of speech. Furthermore, in order to promote Han Chinese culture, the development of domestic culture in Taiwan was strongly discourage. After the war, Taiwan received economic aid from the US to develop its industries, and this coupled with the diligent working spirit of the Taiwanese people, enabled the island to enjoy an economic boom, eventually becoming an important country of OEM (original equipment manufacturers). However, economic growth and the transformation of society also adversely impacted the natural environment. Nonetheless, Taiwanese people are smart and nimble, and when faced with challenges they fearlessly strive forward to reach new heights.
Peering Into A New Century
After viewing the historical changes and transformation of regimes, and seeing the various different groups and cultures that have contributed to the history of Taiwan, we have arrived at a junction between the past, present and future. At this moment, the tale of Taiwan has reached the end of a chapter. How will the story continue? Will it build on the foundations of a multi-ethnic Taiwan, and seek enrichment by continuing to draw on the influences of various cultures? And what will future hope to see? Let us take a look at letters written by the future of Taiwan, its young people, and listen to their hopes and fears with regard to themselves and their country. At the same time, we can also take a moment to contemplate Taiwan's present and future, as well as the chapters of tomorrow that will belong to us exclusively.