Taiwan to 1945

1.1  Taiwan up to 1945

Han Chinese immigration to Taiwan began in the 1600s.  Prior to that, the island was populated by a variety of non-Han peoples who today are collectively labeled Aborigines.  Much of the first 300 years of Taiwan’s Han history involves of Han-Aboriginal conflicts that usually ended with Aborigines being pushed back off the western plains and back into the foothills of the Central Mountain Range.  Today, about 1.5-3.0% of the population is Aboriginal, depending on how loose your definition is.

In the early 1600s, both the Netherlands and Spain established footholds on Taiwan.  The Spaniards had a very weak garrison in the north that lasted only a few years.  In 1624, the Dutch established a much stronger colony in the south, based on modern Tainan, and they encouraged Chinese immigration in order to build up their colony.  The Dutch colony eventually was overthrown by Ming Dynasty loyalists.  In China, the Ming Dynasty was in the midst of collapsing under the pressure of Manchurian armies, who would soon establish the Qing Dynasty.  One Ming general, a former pirate known to Western history as Koxinga 鄭成功, needed a new place to base his navy because his old base in China was coming under pressure.  Koxinga defeated the Dutch in 1662 and set up his own regime.  Formally, he pretended that his regime represented a continuation of the legitimate Ming Dynasty.  In practice, he ran an independent kingdom.  Koxinga’s regime lasted until 1683, when a Qing admiral finally forced it to surrender.  After a contentious debate in the Qing Court, Taiwan was formally incorporated into the Qing Empire.

Over the next 200 years, immigration from China continued and the population moved north and west from the Dutch settlement in southwestern Taiwan.  For most of this period, Taiwan was viewed by Chinese as a wild and dangerous frontier.  This view was not entirely unjustified.  There were frequent uprisings and the Qing administrators tended to let the local powerful families run things as they pleased, intervening only when overall Qing power was threatened.  Toward the end of the 1800s, Taiwan had become a much more orderly society, and its leading families began to regularly produce members who could pass the imperial exams.  Taiwan was administered as part of Fujian Province until 1887, when it was finally upgraded to a full province of China.  However, this status was fated to last for only eight years.

The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5 did not really concern Taiwan.  It was fought mostly on and around the Korean Peninsula, and the victorious Japanese wanted control of Korea and/or Manchuria.  However, European powers intervened to prevent this, and the Japanese settled for Taiwan as a consolation prize.  China ceded Taiwan to Japan in the Treaty of Shiminoseki.  There was some resistance to the Japanese troops when they arrived to take possession of Taiwan.  A Chinese official even declared an independent Republic of Taiwan, that was supposed to reunify with China as soon as possible.  However, the Qing court disavowed all efforts to resist the Japanese and ordered its officials to cooperate and return to China.  The fledgling republic collapsed after a few days, along with most armed resistance.  There was sporadic resistance for the next decade, but Japanese rule was never seriously threatened.

Taiwan was a Japanese colony from 1895 to 1945.  Since Taiwan was Japan’s first colony and Japan wanted very much to be viewed by western powers as an equal, the Japanese were generally conscientious in developing their new colony.  Taiwanese people were, of course, exploited for their labor and not accorded full rights.  However, the Japanese also invested heavily in Taiwan, setting up modern education, health, transportation, and legal systems, as well developing a more efficient agricultural sector, especially in rice, tea, and sugar.

During the Japanese era, there was a Taiwanese political movement aimed at self-rule within the Japanese empire.  However, this movement was suppressed in the 1930s, as all democratic impulses in Japan came under pressure.  The Japanese era ended because Japan lost World War II, not because a nativist movement forced the Japanese out, as was the case in many other colonies around the world after the war.

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