Geographical Location, Climate, and Environment
Taiwan is an island country of 36,000 square kilometers, located in the Western
Pacific. It has a main island and many offshore islands. Its land area is less than half the size of Tasmania. Taiwan sits between Japan and the Philippines, the Tropic of Cancer crossing its southern half. Two-thirds of it is mountain forest.
Taiwan’s tallest mountain, Yu Shan (Jade Mountain), is almost 4,000 metres high. The western third of the island, consisting of plains,
basins, hills, and plateaus, is home to over 20 million. The capital city, Taipei, sits in northern Taiwan, Railroads, highspeed rail, and highways connect urban and rural areas, with mass rapid transit systems (MRT) between major cities. There are nine national parks in Taiwan.
Because of its location in the Ring of Fire, Taiwan experiences approximately 1,000 earthquakes each year, seldom leading to serious damage. They have brought about a valuable underground resource: geothermally heated groundwater. Hot and cold springs are found throughout Taiwan.
Taiwan lies where tropical and subtropical monsoon regions meet. Summer temperatures, May to October, reach 38oC. Typhoon rains lead to devastating mudslides in mountain areas, During December to February, the country is prone to droughts with temperatures below10oC. The climate varies from plains to high mountains – torrid, subtropical, temperate and frigid zones.
Forests hold over 250,000 species of trees: 3.8% of world species. Taiwan black bears, Taiwan serows, leopard cats, Formosan barbets, Taiwan blue pheasants, Mikado pheasants, Taiwan blue magpies, Formosan landlocked salmons, Taiwan broad-tailed
swallowtail butterflies, Formosa lilies, Taiwan pleione, and Formosan Lady’s Slipper are
all endemic. Some are endangered.
With a population of 23.6 million, Taiwan is a densely populated multi-ethnic country with the majority of descendants of immigrants from China during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The Austronesians have lived there for at least 6,000 years. Because of colonization, the plains indigenes who reside in northern and western Taiwan have been assimilated.
The 16 officially recognized indigenous groups amount to 570,000 people, or just 2% of the total population. The largest indigenous group of 220,000 people are the Amis. The Minnan people and the Hakka who emigrated from the southeastern coast of
the Qing Empire in the 17th century make up the majority of the population. Following WWII others from across China migrated. Mandarin is the most common language.
During his rule Chiang limited freedom, democracy, and human rights. The government finally lifted martial law in 1987 and moved towards true freedom and democracy. A constitutional amendment in 1991 ended KMT authoritarian rule. The first presidential election was in 1966. In 2016 Tsai Ing-wen was elected the first female president. She was re-elected in 2020. Her government has increasingly focused on basic human rights.
Ancient ruins in eastern Taiwan date back 50,000 years. The earliest human fossil found is that of Tso-chen Man dated 20,000 years ago. In the 16th century a Portuguese commercial ship sailed past. In their excitement sailors exclaimed, “Ilha Formosa”: ‘beautiful island.’ To this day Formosa is its favorite name. The Dutch landed on southern Taiwan in 1624. Shortly afterwards, the Spanish occupied northern Taiwan. The two competed in commerce and colonization.
A Ming dynasty loyalist Cheng Cheng-Kung [Koxinga] drove off the Dutch in 1662. He founded the Tungning Kingdom. That regime lasted for two decades until Qings took over.
In 1895 the Qing Empire ceded to Japan. Japan set up systems for water, electricity, public roads, and railroads and introduced western education. Life significantly improved. But the Japanese adopted national assimilation and the Taiwanese were discriminated against. Nevertheless, the Catholic and Presbyterian Churches were allowed to continue their ministry. With Japanese immigration, other Christian denominations came to Taiwan.
Japanese rule ended in 1945. Taiwan came under the control of the Republic of China (“ROC”). Society fell into conflict and unrest, which led to the February 28, 1947, clash with ROC officials and military personnel.
Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Chinese nationalist party (the Kuomintang, or KMT) and the ROC government lost the civil war in China to the Chinese
Communist Party and fled to Taiwan in 1949 with 1 million Chinese nationals. The postwar depression and influx of immigrants led to unrest. The Chiang regime imposed martial law that lasted 38 years. During that period the economy thrived, earning it a place among the “Four Asian Tigers.” In exchange for
economic development, Taiwan sacrificed civil freedom, democracy, human rights, and
environmental protection. In 1971 the UN recognized the People’s Republic of China as “the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations.” Since then, the ROC government has been unofficially referred to as the Taiwanese government. Only 15
nations maintain diplomatic ties with the Taiwanese government.
With constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion, the diversity in religion ranks second in the world. Taiwanese follow Buddhism (19.9%), Taoism (16.6%),
Protestantism (5%), Catholicism (1.5%), Islam (0.2%). All religions coexist and are involved in public welfare. While Christianity is a minority religion, through its social welfare ministries, it has taken care of many marginalized groups including women in hardship, the homeless, migrant workers, and fishermen, and has contributed significantly to societal development, education, and medical care.
Religions of the indigenes and immigrants differ from that of the mainstream population. However, rapid conversion of indigenes to Christianity began in the 1960s until now over 60% are Christian. Due to
persecution by the Chinese Communist Party in the 1950s, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists and Lutherans in China fled to Taiwan. During the 1960s the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan initiated the Doubling Movement, aiming to double the number of believers within the decade. The National Council of Churches in Taiwan (“NCCT”) was formed in 1963.
Taiwanese increasingly place value on healthcare. Average life expectancy reached 80.7 years in 2018, with men living for 77.5 years and women 84 years. National Health Insurance was established in 1995.
Everyone, including foreign nationals who have legal work permits, must participate.
Taiwan adopted modern western compulsory education at the turn of the 20th century.
Since compulsory nine-year education in 1968, all children between the ages of 7 and 15
must attend school. The literacy rate of those over 15 reached 99% in 2019. That year
compulsory education was extended to 12 years. Vocational education provides quality
manpower for Taiwan’s economic development and contributes to social progress and
prosperity. Those with higher education make up 45% of the general population. English
is mandatory as a second language Enforcement of Mandarin-Chinese education during the early years of KMT rule led to devaluation of ethnic languages. Most of the younger generation are unable to communicate in their mother tongue. Since 2001 elementary schools have made mother languages mandatory, and students study their own language.
The service industry is the largest in Taiwan’s workforce. In 2020 the GDP was worth over US$6690 billion with average income per capita US$24,471. Taiwan’s currency is the New Taiwan dollar. About 90% of its energy and raw material supplies relies on imports, while electronic equipment is its primary export. Its agricultural products are mainly flowers, and fruit. Taiwan relies heavily on migrant workers mainly from Southeast Asia. For too long Taiwan ignored environmental issues as industrial factories replaced forestlands and polluted air and water. Taiwan now has the second highest recycle rate in the world. On average, each resident produces 0.4 kg of trash each day, much lower than the global average of 1.2 kg.
The most important holidays in Taiwan are Spring Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, and Moon Festival.
On Lunar New Year’s Day (Spring Festival) people visit relatives and friends and congratulate one another for having lived through another year. The elderly give red envelopes with money to the young as a form of a blessing. On the second day of the New Year a woman’s married family returns to her maiden family to spend time together. Some people visit temples while Christians attend Lunar New Year worship services.
To celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival, the Taiwanese eat zongzi (rice dumplings) and compete in dragon boat races. At the Moon Festival, people eat mooncakes and pomelos while enjoying the sight of the mid-Autumn bright full moon.
The lives of indigenous people in Taiwan are intertwined with nature. The Bununs and Atayals who make their living in the mountains, the Amis who live by the waters, and the Tao islanders have all developed very different hunting or fishing cultures. They have striven to preserve their cultures by celebrating seasonal festivals, including the Harvest Festival, the Inholawan
Festival, the Maljeveq Festival, and the Mangamangayau life ritual and Mapabosbos life ritual. With over 60% of the indigenous population Christian, the churches in tribal villages combine traditional culture with Christian faith.
Taiwanese are warm natured. People often greet each other by asking, “Have you eaten
yet?” Friendly hospitality is characteristic of Taiwan. Night markets are very popular
selling assorted snacks & frozen desserts, clothing to daily necessities. Bubble tea,
originally from Central Taiwan, has gained favour around the world. Taiwan’s Oolong tea
is widely popular. Drinking tea with family and friends is considered a great pleasure.
Health enthusiasts are often seen jogging, practicing tai chi or Baduanjin qigong at parks. Karaoke is popular among people of all ages.