Four moments in history that made Taiwan what it is today
Warning! Before you read this article, you should know that it was written by a history major. I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes or asking the dreaded question “what are you going to do with a history degree?” However, I would not exchange my degree for anything in the world.
I chose to study history because I have always loved stories. Stories help us comprehend moral dilemmas and understand why things are the way that they are. To me, history is just a big puzzle – once you understand how one part fits together, the whole picture starts to make more sense.
Taiwan may not be a place that many young Australians know that much about. They might know the basics, but the substance of the state is still somewhat a mystery. It would be a mistake for them not learn about Taiwan as it is increasingly become an economic powerhouse. It is ranked as the 15th largest economy in the world and is increasingly growing as a centre for production and innovation. Taiwan has a bright future as one of the globe top contenders and will be a source of wealth and employment for many in the Asia pacific region.
So, with that in mind, here’s a brief overview of the moments that made Taiwan what it is today.
1. A country with a strong connection to China
The first Taiwanese actually descended from China. Taiwan’s aborigines migrated from Mainland of China over 4,000 years ago. Since then, generations of Chinese have come at various intervals. At around 200 B.C.E. many Chinese migrated to Taiwan after Emperor Wu proclaimed it to be a barbaric land and decided to make it a part of his empire. In the 1600s, political opponents of the Manchu empire fled to Taiwan. Then in 1885, Taiwan officially became a part of the Qing Dynasty and Taipei was established as its capital.
Though China and Taiwan have distinct cultural identities, they retain more than a few similarities. Most notably, the Taiwanese speaks the traditional form of Mandarin, with a few linguistic differences. Additionally, precepts of Chinese confucianism still persist in Taiwan, with values such as respect for elders and a dedication to work ethic being fundamental to their way of life.
2. European and Japanese Influence
Though known by several other Asian empires from early on, Taiwan went undiscovered by Europeans until 1544. When the Portuguese first visited Taiwan they named it Ilha Formosa, meaning “beautiful island.” Soon after, the Spanish and Dutch established important colonies there exposing Taiwan to Western commerce and customs.
Japan has had their influence on the country too. The Japanese Empire invaded and occupied Taiwan in 1874. They would not relinquish their control until 1945. By that time, the Taiwanese had absorbed many of their customs, with many practising Shinto.
The Dutch, Spanish and Japanese all played pivotal roles in transforming Taiwanese society. By the 1800, the European powers had transformed Taiwan from a patchwork of local cultures into a cohesive burgeoning cultural and economic power. This was strengthened and entrenched under Japanese rule. Taiwan is now known as a formidable economy, producer and trading partner-- the beginnings of this can be traced back to these earlier influences.
3. The February 28 Incident
In the late 1940s, Taiwan came under the control of the Chinese Nationalist Party. Under Nationalists rule, Taiwan was exposed to strict regulations on local economy. This resulted in a flourishing black market that the Nationalists took severe measures to quell. On February 27, 1948 a woman was beaten by agents of the Tobacco Monopoly Bureau whilst trying to arrest her for illegally selling cigarettes. Several people passing by attempted to intervene leading to a scuffle in which one person was killed by the agents.
The next day, 2000 people marched on the Bureau headquarters demanding that the agents involved be brought to justice. Without warning, officers from the Governor-General's office fired upon the crowd resulting in several casualties. This led to an even harsher crackdown by the Nationalists, which caused the deaths of as many as 28,000 Taiwanese.
Martial law was implemented as a result of this incident did not lift until 1987. During this time, the people of Taiwan called for democratic elections and greater personal freedom. The February 28 incident endures in the national memory as a moment in which the Taiwanese took a stand for their freedom. The day is now commemorated in both Taiwan and China.
During the 1980’s, the Nationalists began to loosen their control on Taiwan. The Taiwanese people pushed heavily for the right to elect their government and Taiwan was able to have its first democratic election in 1996. Since then, Taiwan has had six democratic elections, which thoroughly changed the national outlook and political scope of the state.
As of 2016, Taiwan has been under the presidency of its first female President, Tsai Ing-wen. In a mark of how far the country has come in 21 years, she proclaimed, “the greatness of this country lies in how every single person can exercise their right to be him or herself.”
I’m sure that when you thought of Taiwan, a few things popped instantly to mind. Bubble tea, amazing food and vibrant cities are all part of Taiwan’s national identity. However, there is so much more to any story than what you might see on the surface. All millennials should aspire to be global citizens, and
the true meaning of that is to be engaged knowledgeable. It is important for us to seek to understand cultures that we may only have a superficial knowledge of.
If you would like to learn about Taiwan first hand, click here: