Before I talk about culture, food,and places in Taiwan, I thought writing about the history of Taiwan will help everyone to understand Taiwan’s people, culture, and how it became what it is today. (Caution: Contains history, personal accounts)
Taiwan is one of the most controversial country/or land in the world (depending on which political view you side with). Even today, many public figures around the world are still hesitating to call Taiwan as a country, fearing they would displease China (China = People’s Republic of China). Taiwan, known as Republic of China (without the “People”), though has its own President and has been holding free elections.The confusion of identity and the controversy came from the complicated history Taiwan has experienced.
Taiwan, known as Formosa, was first discovered by Portuguese in the mid 1500s. Formosa meant “Beautiful Island.” The Dutch came to Formosa in the 1600s and made it a colony. Spanish soon followed. It was around this period the Taiwan Aboriginals had first first interaction with people from another country, and many even rumored to be descendents of Aboriginal and European mixed blood.
In the mid 1600s, Chinese naval forces invaded Formosa, and drove the Spanish out of the island. Formosa was then ruled by Ming Dynasty to later Qing Dynasty by the Chinese Emperor/Empress. During this period, although both dynasties sent some officials and people from Fujian province to settle in Taiwan, the island was not of any political importance and often left alone to govern itself. It was not till when Qing Dynasty lost the Sino-Japanese War that Qing Dynasty signed Taiwan away to Japan. That was a cheap price to pay for the war by Qing Dynasty since Taiwan was hard to govern in the first place due to the overseas location.
From late 1800s till 1940s, Japan built schools, hospitals, roads, government buildings…etc in Taiwan. Japan was trying hard to “civilize” Taiwanese and the Taiwan Aboriginals by making people adopting Japanese names, Japanese language, and Japanese clothing. Many Taiwan aboriginals, especially mountain tribes, resisted such efforts, and suffered much casualty. Lowland Taiwanese people though (mostly lowland tribes and Fujian settlers), for the first time was able to go to school, get a proper education, and some even became the first doctors and nurses of Taiwan. Such mixed results and feelings reflected on my grandparents. While my grandparents are thankful for the education (my grandmother became a teacher and my grandfather worked in the office of Taiwan’s largest Sugar Cane Company), they vividly remembered how in schools Taiwanese and Japanese students have separate bathrooms, separate classrooms, and treatment by the teachers.
When World War II ended and Japanese lost its own part of the war, Taiwan was given to the Nationalist Party (who was fighting with the Communist Party) in China by USA. When the Nationalist (KMT) Party of China began losing the war to the Communist Party in China, they retreated to Taiwan. The Nationalist Party (KMT) secretly shipped lots of national treasures and Chinese artifacts to Taiwan to preserve the culture, brought over books in Mandarin (Traditional Chinese), and began building its own empire in Taiwan.
Taiwanese people at first welcomed KMT Party, thinking finally they are out of Japan’s colonization. Yet cheers of celebration soon turned into cries of pain and anger. (Following not in textbook) My grandparents told me when Chang Kai-Shek and Nationalist Party/KMT landed in Taiwan, they began arresting the educated scholars, teachers, students and doctors. Then the people arrested were shipped to a secret location, and many were never seen again. The few that returned suffered malnutrition, beaten badly, with bruises everywhere. The KMT army would go into people’s homes and search for well-educated people to arrest, valuable belongings to take away, and also women to rape. I read books published with personal accounts that mothers would cover their daughters in dusts and hid them under the bed or in the chimney to avoid being found by the army. That, was 228 Incident and White Terror. The motive was to wipe all the educated people, so it would be easier for the new government to implement new education system and rules. The KMT party also prohibited people speaking in Taiwanese (local dialect) and Aboriginal/tribal languages at school and public places.
It was only in the 1980s that Taiwan tastes the beginning of its political freedom after Chang Kai-Shek’s death. The opposition party Democratic Progressive Party was formed, and then KMT Party appointed Lee Teng Hui, a Taiwanese who was educated in the USA, to be the President of Taiwan. During Lee Teng Hui’s years of governing, he initiated free elections all over Taiwan, and he himself was re-elected by the people for another term. The rest runs its course to modern day Taiwan.
Unfortunately, Taiwan’s history is not taught in its own schools in detail. It was only within these 5 years that some textbooks would even mention the name of 228 Incident. I learned about Taiwan’s history by reading on my own, asking my grandparents, and taking a Taiwan Literature class at an university in America.
Taiwanese: Mostly referred to as early Fujian settlers or other mixed blood population who were already in Taiwan before and during Ming/and Qing Dynasty. All Taiwanese older people can speak Japanese fluently, and often accustomed to Japanese culture because they lived through the Japanese occupation era. Taiwanese people also has their own dialect that is passed down orally, and still can be heard everywhere today.
Taiwan Aboriginals: There are about 14 known tribal groups of Aboriginals who lived in Taiwan even before the Dutch first spotted Taiwan in the 1500s. Many older aboriginals can speak their own tribal languages, English, and Japanese very well due to early interactions with European missionaries and Japanese settlers.
Hakka: Mostly referred by the locals as the Chinese people who came with the KMT/Nationalist Party to Taiwan in the 1940s. Most of the Hakka people do not know Taiwanese dialect and Japanese language. Older Hakka generation often has worked in the military and/or in the Nationalist/KMT Party as high level officials.