A country (not recognized by most other countries and not a member of the UN) comprising a large island and several much smaller ones off the south‐east coast of China.
The main island is almost 370 km (230 miles) long from north to south and 130 km (81 miles) wide from west to east. High mountains running most of its length, richly forested with camphor, oak, cypress, and cedar, drop steeply eastward to the Pacific Ocean.
Taiwan is a newly industrialized country with very high growth rates based on exports of manufactured goods, particularly to the USA. Textiles, electronic goods, and information technology are the principal exports. Agriculture, with sugar cane and rice as the main crops, is of little importance. Taiwan's economic success has been achieved at the cost of considerable environmental degradation.
Portuguese explorers called it Formosa (‘the Beautiful Island’). Sparsely populated by a non‐Chinese people, it was long a Chinese and Japanese pirate base. In the 17th century the Dutch (1624) and the Spaniards (1626) established trading posts, the Dutch driving out the Spaniards in 1642. With the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644 opponents of the Qing started to settle on the island and in 1661 ‘Koxinga’ (Zheng Chenggong), a Ming patriot, expelled the Dutch. It was conquered by the Qing in 1683 and for the first time became part of China. Fighting continued between its original inhabitants and the Chinese settlers into the 19th century. Taiwan was occupied by Japan as a result of the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895 and remained under Japanese control until the end of World War II. The island was occupied by the Chinese forces of Chiang Kai‐shek in September 1945, but Taiwanese resentment at the administration of Chiang's governor Chen Yi produced a revolt which had to be put down by force of arms. When the Chinese Civil War began to turn against the Kuomintang in 1948, arrangements were made to transfer Chiang's government to Taiwan, a move completed in the following year, and by 1950 almost two million refugees from the mainland had also arrived on the island. Supported militarily by the USA, Taiwan maintained its independence from communist China, as the Republic of China, and, until expelled in 1971, sat as the sole representative of China in the United Nations. Chiang Kai‐shek remained its President until his death in 1975, and was succeeded by his son, Chiang Ching‐kuo. He died in 1988 and was succeeded by President Lee Teng‐hui. Since the 1950s Taiwan has undergone dramatic industrialization, becoming one of the world's major industrial nations. In 1986 the creation of new political parties was legalized, but with strict regulations governing their policies. Martial law, in force since 1949, was replaced in 1987 by the slightly less severe National Security law. Pro‐democracy demonstrations during the late 1980s and early 1990s led to further political reforms. The first full multiparty elections since 1949 were held in 1992 and were won by the Kuomintang. The Kuomintang has consistently opposed full independence for Taiwan and sought reunification with the mainland, but only if the mainland regime rejects communism. Negotiations between the two countries have been sporadic and generally unproductive, but in 1991 Taiwan officially ended its state of war with communist China. In 1993 a formal structure for further negotiations on economic and social issues was agreed but relations have remained tense. In 1996 Taiwan's first democratic presidential elections were won by the incumbent, Lee Teng‐Hui. However, the Kuomintang's dominance ended in 2000 with the election of Chen Shui‐bian, leader of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, as President. He was narrowly re‐elected in 2004.