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Taiwan (tīˈwänˈ), Portuguese Formosa, officially Republic of China, island nation (2015 est. pop. 23,486,000), 13,885 sq mi (35,961 sq km), in the Pacific Ocean, separated from the mainland of S China by the 100-mi-wide (161-km) Taiwan Strait. Together with many nearby islets, including the Pescadores and the island groups of Quemoy and Matsu, it forms the seat of the Republic of China. The provisional capital is Taipei; Nanjing, on mainland China, is regarded as the official capital of the republic.

Land and People

The heavily forested hills and mountains of central and E Taiwan reach their summit at Yushan (13,113 ft/3,997 m high); there are about 70 peaks exceeding 10,000 ft (3,048 m). This mountainous area produces some minerals, chiefly gold, silver, copper, and coal, but its main resources are forest products, including valuable hardwoods and natural camphor. Petroleum and natural gas have also been found. The broad coastal plain in the west supports most of the island's population and is the chief agricultural zone. Typhoons are common. Taiwan has a semitropical climate and rainfall ranging from moderate to heavy. In addition to Taipei, other major cities include New Taipei City, Kaohsiung, Tainan, Taichung, and Keelung.

The overwhelming majority of the people are Chinese; they generally speak the Mandarin, Fujian (Amoy), or Hakka dialects. There are also a small number of Kiaoshan (Malayan) aborigines living in the mountainous interior. Most Taiwanese practice a traditional mixture of Buddhism and Taoism; there is a small Christian minority.


The island produces abundant food crops, although in recent years agricultural production has decreased due to rising costs and increased competition. Rice is the chief crop, followed by sugarcane, corn, fruits and vegetables, tea, and sweet potatoes, Pigs, chickens, and cows are raised and the island has a sizable fishing fleet. Industry, once concerned mainly with rice and sugar milling, has diversified to include a variety of light and heavy manufactures, significant telecommunications and other high-technology businesses, and an important service sector. Manufacturing accounts for 25% of Taiwan's gross domestic product, with service industries generating much of the rest.

There is food processing, petroleum refining, and the manufacture of electronics, armaments, chemicals, textiles, iron and steel, machinery, vehicles, consumer products, and pharmaceuticals. Most industries are privately run, but the government operates those considered essential to national defense, such as steel and electricity. Railroad and bus lines are also government operated. Taiwan trades chiefly with China, Japan, the United States, and Hong Kong. Major exports are computers, electrical and electronic equipment, metals, textiles, plastic and rubber products, and chemicals; imports include machinery, electrical equipment, minerals, and precision instruments.


Taiwan's national government is based on the constitution of 1946 (effective 1947, amended numerous times), which was drawn up to govern the whole of China; when the Nationalist government moved to Taiwan in 1949, most countries still recognized it as the government of all China, and it technically continues to adhere to that claim.

The president is the head of state; the president is popularly elected for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The government is made up of five branches; the office of the president is separate from these branches. The Executive Yuan is similar to a cabinet and is headed by the premier (who is the president of the Executive Yuan); the premier is appointed by Taiwan's president. The 113 members of the Legislative Yuan are elected (73 directly, 34 proportionally, and 6 by aboriginal inhabitants) for three-year terms. The Judicial Yuan is appointed by the president and serves as the highest judicial authority; the Control Yuan is in charge of censorship and such political matters as censure and impeachment; and the Examination Yuan supervises examinations for government positions. The dominant political party was long the conservative Kuomintang (KMT; the Nationalist party); the Democratic Progressive party, formed in 1986, is the other main party. Administratively, Taiwan is divided into 6 special municipalities, 3 cities, and 13 counties. There are also two provinces, Taiwan and Fujian, but their administration has been incorporated into the central government.


Early History through World War II

There is evidence of inhabitation dating back roughly 20,000 years, possibly by now-extinct Negritos (see Pygmy). The origins of Taiwan's Austronesian aborigines, who may have arrived c.8,000 years ago, are a matter of debate. Some believe that these early inhabitants migrated from the Malay Archipelago, while others assert that they came from what is now SE China. The earliest Chinese settlements on Taiwan began in the 7th cent., chiefly from the mainland provinces of Fujian and Guangdong. The island was reached in 1590 by the Portuguese, who named it Formosa [=beautiful]. In 1624 the Dutch founded forts in the south at present Tainan, while the Spanish established bases in the north. The Dutch, however, succeeded in expelling the Spaniards in 1641 and assumed control of the entire island. They in turn were forced to abandon Taiwan in 1662, when Koxinga, a general of the Ming dynasty of China who had to flee from the Manchus, seized the island and established an independent kingdom. In 1683 the island fell to the Manchus. Chinese immigration increased, and the aboriginal population was gradually pushed into the interior.

Japan, attracted by the island's strategic and economic importance, acquired Taiwan by the Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895) after the First Sino-Japanese War. Japan exploited the island for the benefit of the Japanese home economy and tried to establish Japanese as the language of the island. The island was scarcely used, however, for Japanese colonization. Under Japan, Taiwan's economy was modernized and industrialized, railroads were built, and the large cities expanded. During World War II, Taiwan was heavily bombed by U.S. planes. In accordance with the Cairo declaration of 1943 and the Potsdam Conference of 1945, Taiwan was returned to China as a province after the war.

Nationalist Rule

Resentment of Nationalist Chinese rule sparked an uprising in 1947 that was brutally suppressed by Nationalist troops; as many as 28,000 Taiwanese may have been killed. In 1949, as the Chinese Communists gained complete control of the mainland, the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek and the remnants of his army took refuge on the island. The Chinese Communists planned an invasion of Taiwan in 1950, but it was thwarted when President Truman ordered the U.S. 7th Fleet to patrol Taiwan Strait. Japan renounced all claims to Taiwan and the Pescadores in the peace treaty of 1951, but Taiwan's territorial status remained a major issue among the great powers. In 1953, President Eisenhower announced the lifting of the blockade of Taiwan by the U.S. navy. In 1955, following repeated attacks by the People's Republic of China against the Nationalist-held island groups of Quemoy and Matsu, the United States entered into a mutual security treaty with the Nationalists in which the U.S. promised to defend Taiwan from outside attack.

In 1958 there was continuous, intensive shelling of Quemoy and Matsu, and an invasion was again threatened. China reiterated its demands to the island, but the United States reasserted its determination to defend Taiwan, although it stressed that there was no commitment to help the Nationalist government return to the mainland. By the spring of 1959 bombardment of the islands had diminished, but no agreement had been reached. At that time, the Nationalist army was trained and equipped by the United States and there was also a sizable navy and modern air force. In support of Chiang's repeated declaration to free China from the Communists, Taiwan long served as a base for espionage and guerrilla forays into the Chinese mainland and for reconnaissance flights over China.

Internally, the Nationalist government implemented land reforms, which improved the lot of the peasants by allowing tenants to purchase their own land; much of it was bought by the government from big landlords and sold to tenant farmers under lenient terms. With U.S. economic aid, Taiwan enjoyed spectacular economic growth after 1950. The aid program was so successful that it became superfluous and was terminated after 1965. Chiang Kai-shek, elected to his fifth six-year term as president in 1972, was criticized for dictatorial methods. Between a native Taiwanese movement for independence and the continuing threat from China, the position of the Nationalist government was far from secure in the 1960s and 70s. Chiang died in 1975 and was replaced as president in 1978 by his son, Chiang Ching-kuo.

China's seat in the United Nations was taken away from the Republic of China and given to the People's Republic in 1971. Taiwan's international position continued to weaken in the early 1970s as the United States sought to improve relations with the People's Republic of China and as more large countries, such as Canada and Japan, moved to recognize the mainland government. The United States established formal diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China on Jan. 1, 1979, which necessitated the cutting of its defense ties with Taiwan. To compensate, the United States passed (1979) the Taiwan Relations Act, which allows for the sale of defensive arms to Taiwan. Taiwan was also expelled (1980) from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in favor of the People's Republic of China. (The country does, however, belong to the World Trade Organization and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.) Official social and economic contact is maintained with the United States through the American Institute on Taiwan and the Coordination Council for North American Affairs. By the late 2010s, less than 20 nations had diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Contemporary Taiwan

The process of liberalization and democratization increased in Taiwan throughout the 1980s. The government's new openness included the recognition of some of its past actions, such as the Nationalist government's massacre of thousands of native Taiwanese in 1947. Although friction has lessened between the island Chinese, who make up about 85% of the population, and those who came from the mainland, it has remained a problem. Martial law, in effect since 1949, was lifted in 1987 and many jailed political dissidents were released. Opposition parties were legalized in Jan., 1989. Relations with mainland China were eased somewhat during the 1980s so that Taiwanese were allowed to visit after 1987, but the crackdown at Tiananmen Square in 1989 fanned Taiwanese mistrust of the mainland.

Chiang Ching-kuo died in 1988 and was replaced by Lee Teng-hui, a Taiwan native, who was reelected by the national assembly in 1990. In 1991, Lee ended emergency rule, and all the members of the national assembly, many of whom were mainland delegates originally elected in 1947, stepped down. In elections for a new national assembly, the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), which continued to promise unification with the mainland, held on to a majority, but the Democratic Progressive party, strongly advocating an independent “Republic of Taiwan,” won nearly a third of the seats; the KMT retained its hold on the legislature throughout the 1990s.

In 1995 and 1996, Beijing conducted missile tests and ultimately military exercises near Taiwan in an effort to inhibit Taiwanese moves toward democracy and independence. In 1996, President Lee, who was opposed by the Beijing government, won a landslide victory in Taiwan's first-ever direct elections for president. A major earthquake hit central Taiwan in Sept., 1999, killing more than 2,000 people and causing massive infrastructure damage.

In the 2000 Taiwanese presidential election, a KMT split resulted in the election of the opposition candidate, Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive party (DPP); the KMT retained control of the legislature. Chen did not move officially to alter Taiwan's status. In Oct., 2000, Chen cancelled a half-built nuclear power plant, creating a political crisis with the KMT-dominated legislature, which accused him of exceeding his powers; the crisis ended when Chen reversed himself in Feb., 2001. Limited direct travel and trade with China was permitted by Taiwan from Matsu and Quemoy beginning in Jan., 2001, and in November restrictions on Taiwanese investment in China were lifted. In the December legislative elections the DPP won the largest bloc of seats for the first time, but a bare majority of the seats were won by KMT and its offshoot, the People First party.

In late 2003 Taiwan passed a law permitting the holding of referendums; the move was stridently criticized by China, which believed the law would be used to obtain a vote for independence, and also criticized by the United States, which regarded such a vote as unnecessarily provocative. Chen won reelection in Mar., 2004, narrowly defeating KMT candidate Lien Chan in a two-person race. In the last days of the campaign Chen was wounded in an apparent assassination attempt; the opposition accused him of staging the shooting in an effort to win votes. The narrow victory also led to opposition calls for a recount, but the election was ultimately upheld after challenges in the courts.

Chen's victory led to DPP hopes for gains in the legislative elections in Dec., 2004, but the party failed to win a majority. The vote was seen as a defeat for Chen, who resigned as DPP chairman. China's adoption (Mar., 2005) of an antisecession law, which called for the use of force if peaceful means failed to achieve reunification with Taiwan, sparked protests in Taiwan.

In April and May China hosted Taiwanese opposition leaders in an attempt to undermine President Chen, but elections for a constitutional assembly in mid-May resulted in a plurality for the DPP. In Dec., 2005, however, the DPP did poorly in local elections. Chen's announcement in Feb., 2006, that the National Unification Council, a largely symbolic body on unification with the mainland, would cease to function brought a sharp response from China, which regarded the action as a possible move toward independence.

Revelations in May that the president's son-in-law was under investigation for insider trading—he was indicted for insider trading in July and convicted in December—led Chen to cede control of the cabinet to the premier. It also resulted in a recall move (June) against the president in the legislature, but the opposition measure failed to win the required two-thirds majority. In September there were a series of demonstrations against the president and in support of a second recall move; the move failed in October. In Nov., 2006, prosecutors charged Chen's wife with corruption over the handling of secret state funds and said that Chen himself would have been indicted but was protected by his presidential immunity. Chen denied the charges, but it led the opposition to mount a third recall move in the legislature, which also failed (Nov., 2006).

In the local elections in Dec., 2006, the DPP did better than expected, as its supporters did not abandon the party despite the scandals involving Chen. A major undersea earthquake S of Taiwan during the same month damaged a number of telecommunications cables and disrupted international communications among a number of E and SE Asian nations. The Jan., 2008, legislative elections resulted in a landslide victory for the KMT, which won more than two thirds of the seats, and the KMT candidate for president, Ma Ying-jeou, subsequently (March) easily defeated the DPP candidate.

The vice president–elect met in April with China's president; the highest level official contact between Taiwan and China since 1949, it was seen as sign of better relations between the two. In Nov., 2008, Taiwan and China signed agreements that led to improved trade and transportation between them; additional accords have since been agreed, with a landmark bilateral trade pact that removed tariffs on many products signed in June, 2010. Former President Chen and his wife, among others, were indicted on corruption charges in Dec., 2008; they were convicted in 2009 and on other charges in 2010 and 2011.

In Aug., 2009, a typhoon caused significant destruction in S Taiwan and killed more than 600 persons; the government's poor handling of the disaster led to the resignation of the premier. Ma was reelected in Jan., 2012; in the legislative elections, the KMT retained a sizably reduced majority of the seats. In Feb., 2014, Taiwan and China held their highest level government talks since 1949, but the following month Taiwanese students protesting against the pending ratification of a 2013 trade deal with China occupied the parliament building.

KMT losses in the Nov., 2014, local elections were generally regarded as a rejection of Ma's push for closer ties with China. A year later, however, Ma met with President Xi of China in Singapore. The 2016 elections were a major victory for the opposition DPP. Its presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen, was easily elected, becoming Taiwan's first woman president, and for the first time the DPP won control of the legislature. KMT losses were again seen as partly due to Taiwanese concerns about Ma's policies toward China. Relations with China under Tsai, however, were tense, and in the Nov., 2018, local elections KMT won significant victories. In Jan., 2020, however, Tsai was reelected as Taiwanese voters reacted to Chinese pressure on Taiwan and events in Hong Kong. Taiwan's response in 2020 to the COVID-19, which began early and relied on contact tracing, targeted screening and testing, and face masks, resulted in very few locally transmitted cases.


See G. W. Barclay, Colonial Development and Population in Taiwan (1954, repr. 1972); H. Chiu, ed., China and the Question of Taiwan (1973); R. Storey, Taiwan (1987); K. T. Li, The Evolution of Policy Behind Taiwan's Development Success (1988); J. W. Davidson, The Island of Formosa: Past and Present (1989); W. B. Bader and J. T. Bergner, ed., The Taiwan Relations Act: A Decade of Implementation (1989).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(or Formosa), an island in the Pacific Ocean, off the eastern coast of mainland China, from which it is separated by the Formosa Strait, or Taiwan Strait. Area, about 36,000 sq km. Population, 15.6 million (end of 1973).

Together with the Pescadores Islands (P’enghu), Taiwan makes up Taiwan Province of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The island extends north to south for 394 km and has a maximum width of 140 km. The coast is mildly indented; the eastern coast is often steep and the western coast slopes gently. The Central Range (or Taiwan Mountains), with elevations to 3,997 m, stretches along the entire island. There is a group of extinct volcanoes in the north, and a coastal plain in the west. Earthquakes are frequent. The island has deposits of anthracite (at Hsinchu), natural gas (at Niushan), petroleum, and gold.

Taiwan has a subtropical climate in the north and a tropical monsoon climate in the south. The January temperature is 15°–20°C and the July temperature is 25°–30°C. Annual precipitation is 1,500–2,500 mm on the plains and more than 5,000 mm in some mountain areas; precipitation is highest in the summer. Typhoons are frequent in August and September. Taiwan has mountain-type rivers with a high water level, which are rich sources of hydroelectric power; they are extensively used for irrigation.

More than two-thirds of the island is covered by forests, growing mainly on red earths and brown forest soils. The forests are distinguished by a great variety of species; there are more than 3,000 species, of which more than 1,500 are endemic. On the lower slopes are evergreen rain forests of screw pine, palm, bamboo, and liana, and the zone above has broad-leaved deciduous and mixed forests of camphor tree, cypress, spruce, fir, tree fern, and trees of the genus Pseudotsuga. Above 3,300 m, forests give way to rhododendron shrubs and high-mountain meadows. The coastal plains are dominated by rice paddies, sweet-potato fields, and sugarcane and pineapple plantations. Mangrove forests grow in some areas along the coast.


Economy. Taiwan has an industrial-agrarian economy. Natural gas is extracted on a small scale, as is anthracite (3.3 million tons). Output of electric power is 19.8 billion kilowatt-hours (1973). The manufacturing industry is based mainly on local agricultural raw materials and imported semifinished products and fuel. The main branches in terms of value of production are the textile industry, radio electronics (mainly assembly), shipbuilding, the food industry (mainly sugar refining; 900,000 tons in 1974), the chemical and petrochemical industry (fertilizer production exceeds 1.4 million tons), petroleum refining (more than 10 million tons), the cement industry (6 million tons of cement), the wood-products industry, steel production (more than 1 million tons), and aluminum production (35,000 tons in 1973). The main industrial centers are Taipei and its outer port, Chilung (Keelung), Kaohsiung, and T’aichung. Logging is also prominent, and Taiwan is the world’s largest producer and exporter of camphor.

About one-quarter of the island is cultivated, mainly the western part. About one-half of the cultivated area is under rice, which is harvested twice a year; the 1973 harvest was 2.3 million tons. Agriculture specializes in the cultivation of sugarcane (7.5 million tons), sweet potato, tea (28,600 tons), and tropical fruits, including pineapples, bananas, and mandarins. The main branch of animal husbandry is swine raising (3.6 million hogs). Fishing is also important.

Historical survey. In antiquity, Taiwan was settled by Kaoshan tribes. The first Chinese military expedition to Taiwan took place in A.D. 230. In the 13th century the island was officially included on the map of the Chinese empire. The first Chinese body of local authority was established there in 1360. Chinese settlers pushed the native Taiwanese into the mountains. Incursions into Taiwan by European colonialists began in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The Portuguese arrived on the island in 1590 and named it Ilha Formosa, or Beautiful Island. The Dutch seized the island in 1624. In 1661–62 they were driven out by Chinese patriotic detachments led by Cheng Ch’eng-kung, who made the island into the base for a 22-year struggle against the Manchu, who had conquered mainland China.

The Manchu dynasty established its rule on Taiwan in 1683. In 1686 the island was made a province of the Manchu empire. After the Opium War of 1856–60, Manchu China was forced to open Taiwanese ports to foreign powers. France tried to seize the island in 1884, during a war with the Chinese. Japan acquired Taiwan and the Pescadores by the Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895), which ended the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95. The population of Taiwan, led by T’ang Ching-sung, put up heroic resistance to the Japanese invaders; in May 1895 the rebels established the “Taiwanese Republic,” which existed for a few months.

On Oct. 25, 1945, after the defeat of Japanese militarism in World War II, Taiwan was returned to China in accordance with the decisions of the Cairo Conference of 1943 and the Potsdam Conference of 1945 and provisions of the instrument of Japanese surrender. After the establishment of the PRC in October 1949, Taiwan became a refuge for the remnants of the Kuomintang group of Chiang Kai-shek and his army, which had been defeated in the civil war by the People’s Liberation Army of China. The so-called National Assembly had been elected on Taiwan as early as 1947, and the legislative yuan (parliament) in 1948; the terms of these bodies were later extended for an indefinite period. The followers of Chiang Kai-shek introduced universal military service on Taiwan and created their own armed forces, which numbered 530,000 in 1975, including 375,000 ground troops in 20 divisions, two brigades, and other units; an air force of 80,000, with more than 400 aircraft; and a navy of 75,000, with 19 destroyers, two submarines, 13 patrol boats, and other vessels; and two divisions of marines. Most of the armament is American.

On Dec. 2, 1954, the government of the USA, which maintained diplomatic, political, and economic relations with the Kuomintang regime on Taiwan, concluded a mutual security treaty with Taiwan, by which it pledged to defend Taiwan and the Pescadores. Until October 1971, Taiwan illegally occupied the seat of the PRC at the United Nations.

In a statement issued in December 1978, concurrently with the American-Chinese communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Chinese People’s Republic, the United States notified Taiwan that diplomatic relations would be discontinued as of Jan. 1, 1979.

V. N. BARYSHNIKOV [25–613–2; updated]

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Official name: Taiwan

Capital city: Taipei

Internet country code: .tw

Flag description: Red with a dark blue rectangle in the upper hoist-side corner bearing a white sun with 12 trian­gular rays

National flower: Plum blossom (prunus mei)

Geographical description: Eastern Asia, islands bordering the East China Sea, Philippine Sea, South China Sea, and Taiwan Strait, north of the Philippines, off the southeast­ern coast of China

Total area: 13,887 sq. mi. (35,967 sq. km.)

Climate: Tropical; marine; rainy season during southwest monsoon (June to August); cloudiness is persistent and extensive all year

Nationality: noun: Taiwan(s); adjective: Taiwan

Population: 22,858,872 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Taiwanese (including Hakka) 84%, mainland Chinese 14%, indigenous 2%

Languages spoken: Mandarin Chinese (official), Taiwanese (Min), Hakka dialects

Religions: mixture of Buddhist and Taoist 93%, Christian 4.5%, other 2.5%

Legal Holidays:

Double Tenth National DayOct 10
New Year's DayJan 1
Peace Memorial DayFeb 28
Tomb Sweeping DayApr 4
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


an island in SE Asia between the East China Sea and the South China Sea, off the SE coast of the People's Republic of China: the principal territory of the Republic of China; claimed by the People's Republic of China since its political separation from mainland China in the late 1940s. Pop.: 22 610 000 (2003 est.)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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