Taiwan officially the Republic of China is a sovereign state in East Asia. The Republic of China, originally based in mainland China, now governs the island of Taiwan, which constitutes more than 99% of its territory, as well as Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu, and other minor islands, following its loss of the mainland China territory in 1949 in the Chinese Civil War. This remaining area is also constitutionally called the “Free area of the Republic of China” which is not ruled by the Communist Party of China in Beijing.
Neighboring states include the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to the west (mainland China), Japan to the east and northeast, and the Philippines to the south. Taiwan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with a population density of 649 people per km2 in October 2015. Taipei is the seat of the central government, and together with the surrounding cities of New Taipei and Keelung forms the largest metropolitan area on the island.
The island of Taiwan (formerly known as “Formosa”) was mainly inhabited by Taiwanese aborigines until the Dutch and Spanish settlement during the Age of Discovery in the 17th century, when Han Chinese began immigrating to the island. In 1662, the pro-Ming loyalist Koxingaexpelled the Dutch and established the first Han Chinese polity on the island, the Kingdom of Tungning. The Qing dynasty of China later defeated the kingdom and annexed Taiwan. By the time Taiwan was ceded to Japan in 1895, the majority of Taiwan’s inhabitants were Han Chinese either by ancestry or by assimilation. The Republic of China (ROC) was established in mainland China in 1912. After Japan’s surrender in 1945, the ROC gained control of Taiwan. During the Chinese Civil War, the Communist Party of China took full control of mainland China and founded the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. ROC loyalists fled to Taiwan and re-established the national government there, claiming to be the legitimate government of all of China. Effective ROC jurisdiction was actually now limited to Taiwan and its surrounding islands, with the main island making up 99% of its de facto territory. The ROC continued to represent China at the United Nations until 1971, when the PRC assumed China’s seat via Resolution 2758. The ROC lost UN membership. International recognition of the ROC gradually eroded as most countries switched their ‘China’ recognition to the PRC. 21 UN member states and the Holy See currently maintain official diplomatic relations with the ROC. Numerous other states maintain unofficial ties through representative offices via institutions that function as DE facto embassies and consulates.
In the 1980s and early 1990s Taiwanese society transformed itself from a military dictatorship employing one-party rule to a multi-party democracy with universal suffrage.
Today Taiwan maintains an advanced industrial economy as a result of rapid economic growth and industrialization in the late twentieth century. Taiwan is one of the Four Asian Tigers and a member of the WTO and APEC. The 21st-largest economy in the world, its high-tech industry plays a key role in the global economy. Taiwan is ranked highly in terms of freedom of the press, health care, public education, economic freedom, and human development.
The complications of Taiwan’s history since 1945 have bequeathed a number of unresolved issues to its citizens. Outstanding among these are the exact nature of Taiwanese national identity, the ambiguous international status of Taiwan, and the difficulty of maintaining relations with the PRC across the Taiwan Strait. Within Taiwanese society these issues generate debate among political parties and candidates. Though the ROC renounced in 1992 the conquest of PRC-controlled territories as a national goal, the constitution still gives legal support to a claim of sovereignty over all of China’s pre-1949 territories, including Outer Mongolia and the entirety of the present PRC. In practical terms, settlement of questions such as whether the ROC identifies more as “Taiwan” or “China”, and what the exact nature of its identity is relative to the PRC (whether international or domestic), rests with the political coalition most recently elected. Meanwhile, the PRC continues to assert that it represents the sole legal government of “China” and that Taiwan represents China’s 23rd province. The stance denies Taiwan recognition as a sovereign state. The PRC has threatened the use of military force as a response to any formal declaration by Taiwan of national independence or to any decision by PRC leaders that peaceful annexation of Taiwan is no longer possible.
Taiwan was joined to the Asian mainland in the Late Pleistocene, until sea levels rose about 10,000 years ago. Fragmentary human remains have been found on the island, dated 20,000 to 30,000 years ago, as well as later artifacts of a Paleolithic culture.
More than 8,000 years ago, Austronesians first settled on Taiwan. The languages of their descendants, who are known as the Taiwanese aborigines nowadays, belong to the Austronesian language family, which also includes the Malayo-Polynesian languages spanning a huge area, including the entire Maritime Southeast Asia (i.e., Tagalog of the Philippines, Malay and Indonesian of Malaysia and Indonesia, or the Javanese of Java), thePacific and Indian Ocean: westernmost to the Malagasies of Madagascar and easternmost to the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island. The aboriginal languages on Taiwan show much greater diversity than the rest of Austronesian put together, leading linguists to propose Taiwan as the Urheimat of the family, from which seafaring peoples dispersed across Southeast Asia and the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Han Chinese began settling in the Penghu islands in the 13th century, but Taiwan’s hostile tribes and its lack of trade resources valued in that era rendered it unattractive to all but “occasional adventurers or fishermen engaging in barter” until the 16th century.
The island of Taiwan lies in a complex tectonic area between the Yangtze Plate to the west and north, the Okinawa Plate on the north-east, and the Philippine Mobile Belt on the east and south. The upper part of the crust on the island is primarily made up of a series of terranes, mostly old island arcs which have been forced together by the collision of the forerunners of the Eurasian Plate and the Philippine Sea Plate. These have been further uplifted as a result of the detachment of a portion of the Eurasian Plate as it was subducted beneath remnants of the Philippine Sea Plate, a process which left the crust under Taiwan more buoyant.
The east and south of Taiwan are a complex system of belts formed by, and part of the zone of, active collision between the North Luzon Trough portion of the Luzon Volcanic Arc and South China, where accreted portions of the Luzon Arc and Luzon forearc form the eastern Coastal Range and parallel inland Longitudinal Valley of Taiwan respectively.
The major seismic faults in Taiwan correspond to the various suture zones between the various terranes. These have produced major quakes throughout the history of the island. On 21 September 1999, a 7.3 quake known as the “921 earthquake” killed more than 2,400 people. Theseismic hazard map for Taiwan by the USGS shows 9/10 of the island as the highest rating (most hazardous).
Mandarin is the official national language and is spoken by the vast majority of the population of Taiwan. It has been the primary language of instruction in schools since the end of Japanese rule. As in Hong Kong and Macau, Traditional Chinese is used as the writing system in Taiwan.
The 70% of the population belonging to the Hoklo ethnic group speak Taiwanese Hokkien (a variant of the Min Nan speech of Fujian province) as their mother tongue, in addition to Mandarin, and many others have some degree of understanding. The Hakka ethnic group (15% of the population) use Hakka Chinese. Most waishengren. speak primarily Mandarin. Although Mandarin is the language of instruction in schools and dominates television and radio, non-Mandarin Chinese varieties have undergone a revival in public life in Taiwan, particularly since restrictions on their use were lifted in the 1990s.
Taiwan’s indigenous languages, the Formosan languages, do not belong to the Chinese or Sino-Tibetan language family, but rather to theAustronesian language family. Their use among Taiwan’s aboriginal minority groups has been in decline as usage of Mandarin has risen. Of the 14 extant languages, five are considered moribund.
The Constitution of the Republic of China protects people’s freedom of religion and the practices of belief. There are approximately 18,718,600 religious followers in Taiwan as of 2005 (81.3% of total population) and 14–18% are non-religious. According to the 2005 census, of the 26 religions recognized by the ROC government, the five largest are: Buddhism (8,086,000 or 35.1%), Taoism (7,600,000 or 33%), Yiguandao (810,000 or 3.5%), Protestantism (605,000 or 2.6%), and Roman Catholicism (298,000 or 1.3%).
The CIA World Facebook reports that over 93% of Taiwanese are adherents of a combination of thepolytheistic ancient Chinese religion, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism; 4.5% are adherents ofChristianity, which includes Protestants, Catholics, and other, non-denominational, Christian groups; and less than 2.5% are adherents of other religions. Taiwanese aborigines comprise a notable subgroup among professing Christians: “…over 64% identify as Christian… Church buildings are the most obvious markers of Aboriginal villages, distinguishing them from Taiwanese or Hakka villages.”
Confucianism is a philosophy that deals with secular moral ethics, and serves as the foundation of both Chinese and Taiwanese culture. The majority of Taiwanese people usually combine the secular moral teachings of Confucianism with whatever religions they are affiliated with.
As of 2009, there were 14,993 temples in Taiwan, approximately one place of worship per 1,500 residents. 9,202 of those temples were dedicated to Taoism. In 2008, Taiwan had 3,262 Churches, an increase of 145.
The cultures of Taiwan are a hybrid blend of various sources, incorporating elements of traditional Chinese culture, attributable to the historical and ancestry origin of the majority of its current residents, Japanese culture, traditional Confucianist beliefs, and increasingly Western values.
After their move to Taiwan, the Kuomintang imposed an official interpretation of traditional Chinese culture over Taiwan. The government launched a program promoting Chinese calligraphy, traditional Chinese painting, folk art, and Chinese opera.
The status of Taiwanese culture is debated. It is disputed whether Taiwanese culture is a regional form of Chinese culture or a distinct culture. Reflecting the continuing controversy surrounding thepolitical status of Taiwan, politics continues to play a role in the conception and development of a Taiwanese cultural identity, especially in the prior dominant frame of a Taiwanese and Chinese dualism. In recent years, the concept of Taiwanese multiculturalism has been proposed as a relatively apolitical alternative view, which has allowed for the inclusion of mainlanders and other minority groups into the continuing re-definition of Taiwanese culture as collectively held systems of meaning and customary patterns of thought and behavior shared by the people of Taiwan. Identity politics, along with the over one hundred years of political separation from mainland China, has led to distinct traditions in many areas, including cuisine and music.
One of Taiwan’s greatest attractions is the National Palace Museum, which houses more than 650,000 pieces of Chinese bronze, jade, calligraphy, painting, and porcelain and is considered one of the greatest collections of Chinese art and objects in the world. The KMT moved this collection from the Forbidden City in Beijing in 1933 and part of the collection was eventually transported to Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War. The collection, estimated to be one-tenth of China’s cultural treasures, is so extensive that only 1% is on display at any time. The PRC had said that the collection was stolen and has called for its return, but the ROC has long defended its control of the collection as a necessary act to protect the pieces from destruction, especially during the Cultural Revolution. Relations regarding this treasure have warmed recently; Beijing Palace Museum Curator Zheng Xinmiao said that artifacts in both Chinese and Taiwanese museums are “China’s cultural heritage jointly owned by people across the Taiwan Strait.
The classical music culture in Taiwan is highly developed and features artists such as violinist Cho-Liang Lin, pianist Ching-Yun Hu, and the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society Artist Director Wu Han. Karaoke, drawn from contemporary Japanese culture, is extremely popular in Taiwan, where it is known as KTV. KTV businesses operate in a hotel-like style, renting out small rooms and ballrooms varying on the number of guests in a group. Many KTV establishments partner with restaurants and buffets to form all-encompassing elaborate evening affairs for families, friends, or businessmen. Tour buses that travel around Taiwan have several TV’s, equipped not for watching movies, but primarily for singing Karaoke. The entertainment counterpart of a KTV is an MTV, being found much less frequently out of the city. There, movies out on DVD can be selected and played in a private theater room. However, MTV, more so than KTV, has a growing reputation for being a place that young couples will go to be alone and intimate.
Taiwan has a high density of 24-hour convenience stores, which, in addition to the usual services, provide services on behalf of financial institutions or government agencies such as collection of parking fees, utility bills, traffic violation fines, and credit card payments. They also provide a service for mailing packages.
Taiwanese culture has also influenced other cultures. Bubble tea and milk tea are available in Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Europe, and North America. Taiwan television shows are popular in Singapore, Malaysia, and other Asian countries. Taiwanese films have won various international awards at film festivals around the world. Ang Lee, a Taiwanese director, has directed critically acclaimed films such as: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Eat Drink Man Woman; Sense and Sensibility; Brokeback Mountain; Life of Pi; and Lust, Caution. Other famous Taiwanese directors include Tsai Ming-Liang, Edward Yang, and Hou Hsiao-hsien.
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