The island that is now known as Taiwan was initially inhabited by Austronesian people, the same people that belong to ethnic groups in countries in Oceania and Southeast Asia, such as New Zealand, Hawaii, Indonesia, Malaysia, East Timor, Brunei, Polynesia, Micronesia, the Philippines and Madagascar. During this time, before the 16th century, the island was still called by the aborigines as Pakan.
The Portuguese explorers who first saw the island around 1590 gave it the name Ilha Formosa or Beautiful Island. The name was later shortened to Formosa and became the name of the island for over four hundred years. When the Dutch traders came in 1624, only the aborigines were living on the island and when they made a map, present day Taiwan was not part of China since there were no sign of Chinese occupation or evidence of administrative jurisdiction over the island. The Dutch established a trading post on the southwestern peninsula of the island. They named the peninsula Tayouan, meaning terrace bay and their trading post was named Zeelandia after a Dutch province. Then they proceeded to bring in Chinese workers from the Pescadores and Fujian to tend to the rice fields and sugar plantations that they have established.
From its humble beginnings, and suffering some internal strife through its history, Taiwan rose to become an industrialized and developed nation after the Second World War and now one of the Four Asian Tigers together with Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea.
In this Country Profile
While it still craves official recognition from the international community as an independent nation, Taiwan has created a miracle by turning the country into an economic giant in East Asia. It became highly industrialized and developed advanced technology and offered its services to the world. Manufacturing became one of its most major income generators, manufacturing many of the world’s products in its factories and creating their own for export. At the end of 2007, Taiwan is fifth in the world in terms of foreign reserves. It has become a foreign investor in several countries in the region, including in mainland China. Taiwan’s conservative approach when it comes to financial dealings shielded the country from the suffering badly during the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997. Some bad debts in the country’s banking system and the global downturn of the economy caused Taiwan to suffer a recession in 2001. But Taiwan has bounced back and in 2010, its economy is once again rosy.
Taiwan marked its economic success with the construction of one of the tallest buildings in the world, Taipei 101, which was the world’s tallest from 2004 up to 2010. It has 101 floors above ground and five floors under the ground. It is an iconic symbol of Taiwan and a symbol of advanced technology, traditional design and modern architecture and engineering. It is designed to withstand strong winds, typhoons and earthquakes that plague the country annually.
Biotechnology, nanotechnology, bicycles, network and communication, computers, smartphones, semiconductors and shipping are just some of the industries that keep the economy of Taiwan moving upward.
:: Background of Taiwan ::
Taiwan can be still be considered a young country as its history only spans about 400 years. The Dutch and Spanish traders and explorers established separate trading posts in the island of Taiwan. The Dutch came earlier in 1624 and the Spanish occupied the northern part two years later and conducted business until 1642. Their occupation of some parts of the island was shorter than that of the Dutch, since the Dutch colonizers were ousted by the Chinese from Southern Fujian only in 1662. The Chinese military force was led by Zheng Chenggong or Koxinga. However in the mainland the Ming Dynasty had already fallen and Koxinga established a kingdom he called Tungning in Taiwan, patterning it after the Mings. His dynasty lasted from 1662 up to 1683 and during his reign he and his successors continued to launch raids on the mainland in an attempt to capture it.
The might of the Qing Dynasty proved too powerful for the descendants of Koxinga and their dynasty fell in 1683, and Taiwan became a Fujian prefecture under the Qing’s rule. In 1885, the island’s status was elevated by the Qing to a province, with Taipei as its capital.
The Tokugawa Shogunate of Japan under Toyotomi Hideyoshi wanted to extend their influence overseas and had been interested in Taiwan as early as 1592. Their first attempt to take it in 1616 failed. Aborigines in Taiwan beheaded crewmembers of a shipwrecked vessel from Okinawa in 1871. This led to tensions between Japan and China. Japan twice requested China for compensation claiming that four of the victims were Japanese citizens and both requests were rejected by China. On the first occasion China stated that the incident was an internal affair. For the second request China claimed that they do not have jurisdiction over the aborigines. The enraged Japanese government sent troops to invade Taiwan in 1874 that left many casualties on both sides.
The First Sino-Japanese War occurred in 1894 and lasted for about a year where the Qing Dynasty saw defeat and ceded Penghu and Taiwan to Japan for full sovereignty. Japan gave the residents who wanted to return to the mainland two years to do so but not many did. Pro-Qing officials even attempted to resist being under Japanese rule in May 25, 1895 but their resistance proved futile and they were subdued by October of the same year.
While Taiwan became a very important post during the Second World War, it actually began to have industrial prosperity under the Japanese rule. Transportation networks and railroad systems were built; public school system was instituted and extensive sanitation system was put in place. Agriculture (rice and sugar cane) production increased and Taiwan became the seventh in the world in sugar production by 1939. The people were taught in Japanese and were required to assimilate the Japanese culture. The locals, both the Taiwanese and the aborigines though were still treated as second- and third-class citizens and many rebelled. In the 51 years of ruling over Taiwan, the Japanese launched 160 battles to quell violence and eventually destroyed the aboriginal tribes in Taiwan.
Taiwan was given back to China when Japan lost in the Second World War. The island then came under the military rule of General Chen Yi. It was a reign that was marred by political and social instabilities and led to many clashes, including conflicts between the Taiwanese and those that came from the mainland. This period was labeled as White Terror where close to 30,000 locals were executed by the military, particularly those suspected of opposing the ruling Kuomintang Party from the mainland. Meanwhile the Communist Party was gaining a foothold in the mainland and eventually drove the Kuomintang Party, led by President Chiang Kai Shek to retreat to Taiwan, establishing their seat of government in Taipei. Taiwan was under martial law for 38 years.
Under the Kuomintang Party, mainland China was called Republic of China. When the Communist Party became victorious in the mainland, they established a new government and named it the People’s Republic of China (PRC) while the Kuomintangs retained the name Republic of China (ROC) and gave it to Taiwan. While the People’s Republic of China claimed that Taiwan and the rest of its territories belong to the mainland, it had never exercised direct jurisdiction or control over Taiwan and its territories since the PRC’s establishment.
Taiwan’s ascendancy as a highly industrialized and prosperous country started during the 1960s and the 1970s. The country’s progress continued leading to the progressive economy the country is enjoying today. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party approved a resolution on September 30, 2007 to use Taiwan as the country’s name, enact a new constitution and assert the country’s identity as separate from China.
:: Geography of Taiwan ::
Taiwan is strategically located, as it lies adjacent to the Luzon and Taiwan Straits. Taiwan Strait is a shorter shipping route to reach the important ports in East Asia, such as the ports on North and South Korea, Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Mongolia, Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China. Luzon Strait on the other hand is a body of water that connects the Philippine Sea to the South China Sea and a very important shipping and communication waterway. It is an important route for the ships from the Americas to reach the East Asian ports. Major submarine communication cables pass through this strait to provide telephony and data services to Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, People’s Republic of China and Japan.
The island nation of Taiwan is located in East Asia and bordered by groups of islands along the East China Sea, which surrounds the northern part of the island nation. The South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait border the western part of Taiwan, while the Luzon Strait surrounds its southern part. The Philippine Sea covers the eastern side of the island. It lies north of the Philippines, separated from the Philippine Batanes group of islands by the Bashi Channel.
Taiwan is situated right in the middle of the Tropic of Cancer. As such its geographical coordinates are 23° 46’ 00” North latitude and 121° 0’ 00” East longitude.
The island nation covers a total size of 35,980 square kilometers, including the group of islands belonging to Penghu or the Pescadores, Kinmen or Quemoy and Matsu. The total land area of Taiwan is 32,260 square kilometers and a surface water area of 3,720 square kilometers. Comparatively, Taiwan is about the same size as Holland or just a bit smaller than the combined areas of Delaware and Maryland. The main island is 144 kilometers wide and 394 kilometers long.
As an archipelago, Taiwan does not have any land boundaries. Several smaller islands on the South China Sea comprise the whole territory of Taiwan while some other islands are under its administration. The Philippine Sea, the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea as well as the Luzon Strait and East China Sea surround Taiwan.
Being an island, Taiwan is surrounded by water, giving it a long coastline that measures 1,566.3 kilometers.
Taiwan’s exclusive economic zone extends outward for 200 nautical miles. It also has a territorial sea claim of 12 nautical miles.
The prevailing weather is Taiwan is classified as tropical and marine, being surrounded by several bodies of water and straddling the Tropic of Cancer. While the nation experiences four seasons, the weather pattern is wet and dry. Two monsoon cycles occur in Taiwan. The northern part experiences very strong typhoons from October to March while the southern part of the country gets monsoon rains during the months of June to October. Clouds, particularly in the mountains are present most of the year. The rest of the year is dry. Winter sets in December and lasts until March, and ushers in spring that lasts from April to May. The last days of May begins the summer season in Taiwan. This lasts until September. Fall arrives in October and continues until November. Winters in Taiwan are considered mild, with the temperature never reaching below the freezing point. However, the dampness in the air coming from the sea generally makes the winter very chilly. Summer is hot and humid and characterized by occasional torrential rains. Spring and fall are the best times to be in Taiwan, when the weather turns balmy, the sky is clear and the daytime and evening temperatures are pleasantly cool.
The island of Taiwan was formed by the movements of two tectonic plates. First is the sliding of the Philippine Plate under the Eurasian Plate in the north. The reverse happened in the south, wherein the Eurasian Plate slid under the Philippine Plate. The pressure the two plates exerted on each other bent and pushed the land upwards and created the rugged terrain of the island. While the Central Mountain Range bisects the island from north to south, there are four other mountain ranges in Taiwan. The mountain ranges are concentrated mostly on the eastern half of the island, occupying two-thirds of the total land area. From the foothills of the mountain ranges, the land forms gently rolling and terraced plains toward the west out to the sea.
The South China Sea is the lowest point in the island of Taiwan. There are over 200 mountains in Taiwan belonging to five mountain ranges, as well as a number of volcanoes. There are 165 mountains that are more than 3,000 meters high in the country. Out of these mountains, the Yu Shan or the Jade Mountain is the highest, rising up to 3,952 meters above sea level.
The country is not geologically rich in natural resources although there are small deposits of gold, coal, copper and natural gas. Asbestos, limestone and marble deposits are also found in the island of Taiwan.
Because two-thirds of the land area of Taiwan is covered by several mountains, 55% of the land is made up of woodlands and forests. Only 24% of the total land area is arable and 5% is covered by permanent pasture. One percent is planted with permanent crops, leaving only 15% of the available land for other uses.
Taiwan lies in the path of the typhoon belt and is frequently visited by severe and devastating storms during the monsoon season that occurs twice in the country. The storms bring torrential rains that cause flooding and mudslides in major parts of the country. Parts of Taiwan also straddle the junction of two tectonic plates, the Eurasian and the Philippine plates. Thus, Taiwan is prone to earthquakes. The last major earthquake to hit the country was in 1999 and the disaster killed over 2,000 residents. While there are a few volcanoes in the island, most of them are considered dormant. However, the Kueishantao Island is still considered active, although the volcano has not erupted for over two centuries. Recent studies done by Taiwan’s Academia Sinica late in 2009 determined that the Datun Mountain near the nation’s capital of Taipei last erupted just 5,000 years ago. This is contrary to the previous records stating that the volcano’s last eruption occurred 200,00 years ago. According to the Global Volcanism Program of the Smithsonian Institute, a volcano that has erupted within the past 10,000 years is still considered an active volcano.
Current Environmental Issues
Due to the sheer number of all types of vehicles in Taiwan the country suffers from air pollution. Its underground waters are also getting polluted from raw sewage and industrial waste emissions and causing contamination of its potable water sources. The country also faces the problem of illegal trading of endangered species and low-level radioactive waste disposal from its nuclear plants.
International Environmental Agreements
Taiwan may be known globally and it has continuously insisted that the country is separate from mainland China. However, its international status remains in limbo. It has yet to gain entry into and receive recognition from the United Nations as a separate and independent country. The People’s Republic of China maintains that Taiwan is a part of the mainland. The dispute renders Taiwan unable to participate in any international environmental agreements at the moment.
:: People of Taiwan ::
While residents of Taiwan used to be designated as “someone who is from Taiwan,” it is more common now to hear them being introduced as Taiwanese or described as Taiwanese, which the residents and people from Taiwan actually prefer.
Taiwan is basically inhabited by different Chinese ethnic groups. The Han Chinese, the world’s largest single ethnic group comprises 98% of the total population of the country. This ethnic group is further subdivided into 70% Hoklo or the Hokkiens who came from Southern Fujian. The Hakka that represents 14% of the total come from Jiangxi, Sichuan, Fujian and Guangdong provinces of the mainland and another 14% are of Waishengren descent. These are people from the mainland that came to Taiwan after the Second World War. Two percent of the total population is composed of Taiwanese aborigines. They are Austronesian people who had been living in the island some 8,000 years prior to the coming of the Han Chinese beginning in the 17th century.
Mandarin Chinese is the official language spoken in Taiwan. It is the language of instruction and used in television and media. However, with the presence of other ethnic Chinese, Hakka and Hokkien are also spoken. A variant of Hokkien or Min An and Mandarin has evolved into Taiwanese, which is also spoken by a large section of the population. The majority of the inhabitants are fluent in both Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese. Some of the older generation who went to school during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan still speaks Japanese.
Majority or 93% of the population follows either the Taoist or the Buddhist faith. With several foreign workers coming to Taiwan for work, there are a number of people who follow different Christian religions, representing about 4.5% of the population while people of other faiths account for another 2.5 percent.
According to the July 2011 estimates, the population of Taiwan has reached 23,071,779. There are 11,612,831 males in Taiwan, a figure that is just slightly higher than the number of females in the country, estimated to be about 11,458,948. The population growth rate in Taiwan is quite low, with the 2011 estimate placing it at only 0.193%. Taiwanese women’s fertility rate is estimated to account for 1.15 children born for every woman past puberty.
The population of Taiwan is rapidly aging, with those people belonging to the 15 – 64 age group accounting for 73.4%, with the figures slightly skewed to the males who number 8,538,881, while the females make up the balance of 8,406,716. The 0 – 14 years old age group has a total of 15.6%, broken into 1,875,359 males and 1,732,007 females. There are 1,198,591 males and 1,320,225 females belonging to the group of people aged 65 years and older, representing 10.9% of the entire population.
July 2011 estimates place the median age for females in Taiwan at 38.3 years, while for the makes it is 36.9 years. For the whole country, the median age is estimated to be 37.6 years.
Birth and Death Rates
For every one thousand residents, there are 8.9 births, as of July 2011. There are an estimated seven deaths for every one thousand members of the population, as of July 2011.
Net Migration Rate
Net migration in the country, according to the 2011 estimates is just around 0.03 migrant(s)/1,000 residents.
The males just slightly edge the females in terms of sex ratio, with an overall mark of 1.02 males for each female in Taiwan according to the estimates done in 2011. At birth the ratio was placed at 1.084 male over female and it was kept at that rate for those under the age of 15. The trend goes down slightly in the 15 to 64 years age group, estimated to be 1.02 male for each female. The ratio goes further down to 0.92 male for each female in the 65 and over age bracket.
Infant Mortality Rate
Infant mortality is quite low in Taiwan. According to the 2011 estimates, there are just about 5.18 deaths for every 1,000 live births around the nation. When segregated into genders, there are more male infant deaths at birth, estimated to be higher than the national average, with 5.46. For the females the data is lower, with only 4.88 infants dying versus 1,000 live births.
Life Expectancy at Birth
The females in Taiwan on the average outlive the men by a few years. The national life expectancy at birth average is 78.32 years. For the females it is estimated to be 81.36 years, whereas the males’ life expectancy average is just 75.5 years.
HIV / AIDS
According to Taiwan’s Center for Disease Control, there have been a total of 21,701 reported cases of HIV infection in country, while reported cases of people living with AIDS has reached 8,250 as of October 2011. Of the total reported cases of people who are HIV-positive, 20,072 are males and 1,629 are females. Those living with AIDS are slightly lower, with about 552 females and 7,698 males. HIV/AIDS account for the death of 3,021 males and 270 women. Prevalence of the disease is very high among people in the early 20s to the late 40s. Thirty percent of the reported cases are drug-using people. Homosexuals account for another thirty-eight percent of the reported cases, while 22 percent are heterosexuals.
Early in the 1950s, less than 60% of the population aged 15 and over can read and write. Massive efforts were done by the government to rectify the problem. The government created a law that mandates children age 6 to 15 to receive compulsory education from elementary to junior high school. After finishing the compulsory education, they will be assigned to different types of educational institutions based on their intellect and career interests. As of the end of 2010, the literacy rate in Taiwan is 98.14%. There are no illiterate Taiwanese in the 15 to 24-year age bracket. Those who cannot read and write in their 60s represent about 13.11% of the current population.
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