Taiwan varies from gently rolling plains in the West to towering, forested mountain ranges in the East. In the South, the island runs through the Tropic of Cancer, and receives almost daily rainfall during the summer. In the North, the island experiences a calmer subtropical climate. Taiwan is an island of variety, where one can climb both mountains and skyscrapers. The region’s modern economy and long history offers visitors a vast selection of historical and entertainment destinations throughout the island.
In 1544, the crew of a passing Portuguese ship named Taiwan Ilha Formosa, which means “Beautiful Island”. However, the Portuguese were not the first to come across this beautiful island. There is evidence of human settlement on the island as early as 30,000 years ago, though the origins and eventual fate of these peoples remains unknown. The ancestors of the modern aboriginal groups are believed to have come to the island from Polynesia some 4,000 years ago. The various tribes of the island eventually developed a supra-tribal alliance, forming the Kingdom of Middag by the middle of the 16th century. They enjoyed a generally agreeable, if not occasionally violent, relationship with Dutch settlers, who had established a colony on the island in 1624.
While there is still debate over when the first Han Chinese came to Taiwan, they did not come in great numbers until the late 16th century. Amongst the increasing flow of Han Chinese was a group of Ming loyalists fleeing the army of the new Qing dynasty. This group formed the Kingdom of Tungning and shortly came into direct hostilities with the Dutch and Middag, whose resources and land they were encroaching upon. However, this period of open strife was short lived, as the island was annexed by the Qing dynasty in 1683. Large numbers of Han Chinese were then migrated to the island as part of a colonization effort by the Qing government to help sinicize the aboriginal population. However, the mix of Han colonists, hostile indigenous tribes, and rampant piracy made administration of the island very difficult. After the Qing defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War, the island was formally ceded to the Empire of Japan. Taiwan remained under Japanese rule until their loss at the end of World War II, at which time sovereignty of the island was transferred to the Republic of China.
In 1949, during the Chinese Civil War, the ROC government retreated from mainland China to the island of Taiwan, and the political status of the island has remained unchanged ever since. While hostilities have cooled over the past century, the ROC and PRC continue to both claim sovereignty over China and Taiwan. The ROC enforced strict rule under martial law through most of the Cold War, but in the mid-1980s the government began a series of reforms towards democracy and liberalization that have changed the island drastically.
Rapid industrialization has transformed Taiwan from a largely rural Japanese colony to one of the most advanced economies in the world. Rated as one of the Four Asian Tigers, Taiwan’s advanced technology sector plays a key role in the world economy. Though the majority of Taiwan’s population is Han Chinese, the influence of the many different peoples and cultures that have inhabited the island can be felt in the culture and features of this first world economy.