Skip to content

A Brief History of Taiwan - Part 1



There is strong evidence to suggest that Taiwan was settled by humans around 30,000 – 40,000 years ago. These early humans most likely migrated to Taiwan during the Late Pleistocene era, when sea levels were so low that Taiwan was connected to mainland China. Artefacts of several Paleolithic cultures have been found across Taiwan, such as the pebbled tools at four caves near Changbin and Eluanbi. References in Chinese records and Taiwanese oral traditions also provide evidence to pygmy tribes living on the island at some point in history.

Terra Incognita


Around 6,000 years ago, farmers from mainland China migrated to Taiwan and are the ancestors of the Taiwanese indigenous tribes living in Taiwan today. The first references to Taiwan in Chinese court documents are from 239CE when a 10,000-man expedition was sent to the island to explore the Terra Incognita. The nearby Penghu islands in the Taiwan Strait were settled by Chinese fisherman during the 13th century, but due to the hostility of the aboriginal tribes, who coveted Chinese heads as a sign of manhood and qualification for marriage, few dared to settle on Taiwan itself.


Europeans Arrive


In 1517 a Portuguese ship sailed past Taiwan and noted the words “Ilha Formosa”, meaning beautiful island. However, the Portuguese did not claim Taiwan, instead it was the Dutch who first established a trading post on the island after the Chinese permitted them to do so in exchange for leaving the Penghu islands untouched. In 1626, the Spanish then decided they did not want to miss out and attacked the island, taking control of the city of Chi-lung. However, just 16 years later, Dutch forces expelled the Spanish, quashed a Chinese rebellion, and established control of the entire island. Taiwan was henceforth a Dutch colony governed by the Dutch East India Company.

Qing Rule


Dutch control did not last long. After the successful rebellion of the Manchu, who established the famed Qing dynasty, the pirate warlord Zheng Zhilong, now in the service of the Qing, set his sights on Taiwan. Zheng laid siege upon the Dutch stronghold of Zeelandia and successfully drove out the Dutch from the entire island. Taiwan was the first such instance of the liberation of a western colony. Zheng, now viewed as a hero of Taiwanese history, was excellent at managing Taiwan’s rapid growth during this period. He established a system of counties, encouraged Chinese immigration and promoted commerce and free trade.


The Japanese


Trouble began brewing between the Chinese and Japanese in 1872 when the crew of a Japanese shipwreck were executed at the hands of an aboriginal tribe. After being told by the Qing emperor that the tribes were out of his control, Japan decided to invade. A treaty between the Japanese and the Qing was agreed, but shortly after China and Japan went to war directly over their conflicting interests in Korea. Japan was victorious and took control of Taiwan under the Treaty of Shimonoseki.

In part 2 of this series, we will explore the history of Taiwan during WWII, the subsequent rule of China, the Chinese civil war, and Taiwan in the modern era.

Subscribe to our newsletter via the form below to stay updated.