Taiwan Timeline

The history of Taiwan is a subject of continuing research and debate both inside Taiwan and across the world. Below is a curated overview of key historical moments and developments in Taiwan’s history. We hope this will give visitors a structure which they can flesh out with further reading and study, or a basic framework to position Taiwan’s history in both a regional and wider global context. 

Scroll down to reveal the timeline …

0CE~1624 CE

Taiwan Before Colonisation

It is now known from archaeological studies that Taiwan has been inhabited for many thousands of years. The indigenous peoples of Taiwan are thought to be part of a wider language group stretching from Sri Lanka to Easter Island and New Zealand. Before the arrival of settlers, Taiwan featured at least twenty known indigenous groups spread across the archipelago nation's islands, with regular trade with the Asian mainland, mainly in Jade. Up to 1624, there had been little permanent settlement of visitors to Taiwan. Sixteen of the surviving indigenous tribes and communities are officially recognised today.

1624~1683

The European Colonial Era

In 1624 the Dutch established a profitable colony in southwestern Taiwan to conduct trade with China and exploit the island’s natural resources. Over the next thirty-eight years the Dutch expanded their area of control, both through alliances with and war against Indigenous groups, and by ousting the Spanish from their own short-lived colony in the north. The Dutch facilitated the first large-scale migration of Chinese settlers to Taiwan, but relations were often fraught and marked by violence and rebellion. In 1662 the Dutch were expelled by the Ming loyalist general Koxinga, whose descendants ruled over part of Taiwan until they were in turn defeated by admiral Shi Lang of the Qing dynasty in 1683.

1683~1895

The Qing Colonial Era

From 1683 to 1895, the Qing Dynasty ruled and administered Taiwan, without effective continuous control over the central mountains and the east coast. Indeed, the southern peninsular of Taiwan island was independently administered by an informal union of eight indigenous groups until at least the late 1800s. A 'revolt every 3 years and a rebellion every 5' marked Taiwan as a troublesome and barely understood fringe of the known world to the Qing. A line of Hakka settlements at the foot of the central mountain range's western flank was considered a de facto border, that trespassers violated at risk to their lives. It is during this time that restrictions on Qing settlement of Taiwan were eventually lifted and the population, and their economies began to grow in size. Taiwan was a key trading port for a variety of goods such as sugar, camphor, deer skin, jade, timber and later opium. By the late 1800s the Qing Dynasty attempted to modernise Taiwan with Governor Liu Ming-quan overseeing the construction of the nation's first telegraph system and functional railway for passengers and goods. A number of important bridges and irrigation channels were also built during this time. In May 1895 Qing officials fled the island and a Republic of Formosa was briefly proclaimed. This ended in October, when the Japanese entered Taiwan. When the Qing Dynasty sued for peace with Japan they ceded sovereignty of Taiwan in perpetuity to the Japanese with the 1895 Treaty Of Shimonoseki.

1895~1952

The Japanese Colonial Era

The Japanese Colonial Era was one of rapid development, industrialisation, and modernisation. It was also, for the indigenous peoples, a time of sporadic fierce resistance, slaughter in warfare, and forms of cultural genocide. The first to control the entire island, the Japanese built a 'model colony' on Taiwan, putting in place both the physical and bureaucratic infrastructure necessary to centralise control and plan production. Despite brutal efforts to impose their language and culture, the Taiwanese maintained their own identities and cultures. Taking advantage of healthcare, education, electrification, and faster transport they developed a growing civic society which articulated a collective desire for greater autonomy and democracy. WWII broke out and Taiwan was forced to play a role for the Japanese Empire. In 1945, on the request of the Allied forces the Japanese transferred temporary administration of Taiwan to General Chiang Kai-shek who appointed Chen-yi as 'provincial' Governor. In 1951 the San Francisco Peace Treaty agreed that the sovereignty of Taiwan was yet to be determined and was not transferred to any other State. No other UN treaty or resolution since then has superseded or redefined the status of Taiwan's sovereignty.

1945~1991

2-28, Martial Law, White Terror, & One Party Dictatorship

Owing to sharp contrasts between the perceived efficiency of Japanese colonial rule and the ROC's chaotic administration, Taiwanese quickly became disillusioned with the new governing authorities. What had at first been regarded as a liberation from stifling Japanese technocracy, cultural suppression, and resource exploitation, turned into anger as the economy crashed and law and order broke down. On the 28th of February 1947 the death of a street trader sparked a widespread protest at the corruption and violence of officials under Governor Chen Yi's administration. Chiang Kai-shek sent troops to Taiwan to quell what he determined to be a communist rebellion. Thousands were killed. In 1949, having fled to Taiwan, Chiang imposed martial law and the period of White Terror began, in which all signs of dissent were brutally suppressed, political prisoners routinely tortured, and many murdered, and it was illegal to express opposition, or form any other political parties. It is estimated tens of thousands of Taiwanese suffered repression and violence during this time. Taiwan remained a one-party state until opposition parties were finally allowed in 1987.

1949 ~ 1996

The ROC Colonial Era

Having lost control of China to the Chinese Communist Party, in 1949 Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and remaining armed forces fled to Taiwan where they set to reconstituting the Republic Of China on Taiwan. Chiang brought with him almost two million refugees, ranging from an educated bureaucratic and political elite, to rich industrialists, to barely clothed soldiers, and he set about retrofitting the Japanese infrastructure into a project that tried to erase the Japanese influence, reify China's claim to Taiwan, and organise the nation's people and its resources for a war to reclaim China' from the CCP. The United Nations continued to recognise the ROC on Taiwan and the US provided military support in its defence against the PRC in the 1950s and later. Taiwanese were taught they were now and always had been Chinese. Languages other than Mandarin were banned. It would be 1996 before Taiwanese could directly elect their own President, and another four years before a transition of power to a party which criticised and rejected the colonial nature of the ROC's existence on Taiwan.

1960s~1990s

Economic Growth

With a great deal of aid from the United States, and following significant reforms to use and ownership of land, Taiwan's economy was able, during the latter part of the 1960s through to the early 90s, to grow on a par with regional economies such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea, entitling it as one of the four Asian Tigers. Taiwan industrialised and became a key exporter of electronics, plastics, and later computer chips. This came at a cost both to the environment and the health of Taiwanese. Taiwan saw a rise in population, living standards, and domestic consumption, and until the ROC left the United Nations, Taiwanese played a recognised role on the world stage.

1972

Leaving The United Nations

Following Nixon's detente with Mao's Peoples Republic Of China in 1972, Chiang Kai-shek ordered the representatives of the Republic of China to vacate their seat at the United Nations ahead of a General Assembly vote to seat the representatives of the PRC in their stead. This was a defining moment for many Taiwanese, and arguably one of the most important catalysts for calls for democratisation. Chiang would live for another three years before his death in 1975. His son Chiang Ching-kuo then assumed power, ensuring continuity for a notionally democratic state that was in practice an effective one party dynastic dictatorship. Outside of the UN, the ROC struggled to retain diplomatic allies as a succession of nations switched recognition to the PRC. Chiang refused dual recognition and demanded that the ROC be considered the legitimate Government of the whole of the territory now governed under the PRC. In 1979, the US switched recognition to the PRC confirming for many Taiwanese that retaking China was now impossible. That realisation went hand in hand with a collapse in public patience for the end of a Martial Law whose purpose was now regarded as redundant, immoral, and illegitimate.

1960's~2003

Protest And Democratisation

Although all forms of protest and dissent against the KMT's Party-State were outlawed or brutally suppressed during the White Terror, eventually voices began to find ways to oppose through seemingly non-political issues such as environmental and womens' rights. After Chiang Kai-shek died, the US put gradually increasing pressure on his successor to democratise the country. Domestically, two major incidents of civil disobedience in Zhongli and Kaohsiung made Taiwanese realise the first cracks in the dictatorship were emerging. Events such as the mysterious death of Chen Wen-cheng (1981) added to mounting international and domestic pressure on President Chiang Ching-kuo to end Martial Law. A key moment in the beginning of the end was the legalisation of opposition parties in 1987. Chiang died a year later, and Taiwanese native Lee Deng-hui won the Presidency, setting in motion the path to democracy.

1996, 2000

The First Presidential Election, The First Change Of Ruling Party

Shortly after Lee became President, he faced his first major protest later dubbed the White Lilies. Students gathered at a memorial square built to honour Chiang Kai-shek and demanded sweeping democratic reforms. Lee managed to balance the demands and fears of both the students and the old guard of the KMT. He did not suppress the newly formed Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), instead he facilitated a series of constitutional reforms, including allowing Taiwanese to directly elect their own President and abolishing or freezing institutions and elements of the Constitution no longer utile to Taiwan's political reality. Dubbed 'Mr Democracy' Lee was the first to describe relations between the ROC and PRC as 'Special State To State'. In 2000, Taiwan saw its first successful democratic transition of power as Chen Shui-bian became the DPP's first elected President. He began proudly promoting Taiwan as a sovereign democratic nation in its own right for the first time.

2008~Now

Wild Strawberries, Sunflowers, Anti-Media Monopolisation : Democracy In Action

In 2008, the KMT regained power under President Ma Ying-jeou. Ma took a much more conciliatory tone towards the PRC and sought to centre the ROC in Taiwanese imaginations as a Chinese polity awaiting reunification. Ma relied heavily on an interpretation of the 1992 meeting in Singapore between PRC & ROC as a basis for a working and stable relationship with China. This was then referred to as the ‘1992 Consensus’. Suspicion of, and dissatisfaction with, Ma's radical detente in relations with China quickly coalesced into open confrontation. In 2009 students self styled as 'wild strawberries' protested over police repression during a historic visit by a Chinese official. In 2014 students known as the 'Sunflower Movement' occupied the Legislature for three weeks, effectively stopping the KMT's attempts to pass legislation allowing Chinese firms a much greater presence in Taiwanese markets. Protests have also been held to oppose media monopolisation by pro-Chinese magnates, a planned new nuclear power station, and changes to Taiwan's marriage laws. Today Taiwanese enjoy more freedom to protest than many other democratic countries.

2020~

Covid19, Taiwan, And The WHO

Following two terms of KMT leadership, the DPP regained power in 2016, for the first time winning clear control of both the Legislature and Presidency under Tsai Ing-wen's leadership. Taiwan has made repeated efforts to join the international stage and organisations requiring Statehood but has struggled to expand its presence, given that nations who do reach out are often punished or warned as a result. Taiwan was one of the few nations to take appropriate actions to constrain the spread of Covid in Taiwan and to date, despite a recent outbreak, has suffered far fewer infections and deaths than most other nations in the world. Taiwan was the first nation to warn the WHO that Covid-19 spread between people yet remains unable to participate in the WHO or WHA. This has highlighted for Taiwanese how their visibility on the world stage depends to a large extent on other nations, and their relationships with China.

Taiwan Timeline

0CE~1624 CE | Taiwan Before Colonisation

It is now known from archaeological studies that Taiwan has been inhabited for many thousands of years. The indigenous peoples of Taiwan are thought to be part of a wider language group stretching from Sri Lanka to Easter Island and New Zealand. Before the arrival of settlers, Taiwan featured at least twenty known indigenous groups spread across the archipelago nation's islands, with regular trade with the Asian mainland, mainly in Jade. Up to 1624, there had been little permanent settlement of visitors to Taiwan. Sixteen of the surviving indigenous tribes and communities are officially recognised today.

1624~1683 | The European Colonial Era

In 1624, the Dutch 'discovered' Taiwan (at the time titled 'Formosa' by the Portuguese) and later established the colony of Zeelandia in what is now the port city of Tainan. At the same time, the French and the Spanish attempted to colonise the north of the Island but were eventually repelled. The Sino-Japanese pirate Koxinga evicted the Dutch in January 1662 and ruled until he died in June that year. His son succeeded him, continuing a proxy war for the Ming Dynasty against the Manchus, but himself also fell ill and died in 1681. Two years later Shi Lang invaded and the Qing Colonial Era began.

1683~1895 | The Qing Colonial Era

From 1683 to 1895, the Qing Dynasty ruled and administered Taiwan, without entirely effective control over the central mountains and the east coast. A 'revolt every 3 years and a rebellion every 5' marked Taiwan as a troublesome and barely understood fringe of the known world to the Qing. A line of Hakka settlements at the foot of the central mountain range's western flank was considered a de facto border, that trespassers violated at risk to their lives. It is during this time that restrictions on Qing settlement of Taiwan were eventually lifted and the population, and their economies began to grow in size. Taiwan was a key trading port for a variety of goods such as sugar, camphor, deer skin, jade, timber and later opium. By the late 1800s the Qing Dynasty attempted to modernise Taiwan with Governor Liu Ming-quan overseeing the construction of the nation's first telegraph system and functional railway for passengers and goods. A number of important bridges and irrigation channels were also built during this time. In May 1895 Qing officials fled the island and a Republic of Formosa was briefly proclaimed. This ended in October, when the Japanese entered Taiwan. When the Qing Dynasty sued for peace with Japan they ceded sovereignty of Taiwan in perpetuity to the Japanese with the 1895 Treaty Of Shimonoseki.

1895~1952 | The Japanese Colonial Era

The Japanese Colonial Era was one of rapid development, industrialisation, and modernisation. It was also, for the indigenous peoples, a time of sporadic fierce resistance, slaughter in warfare, and forms of cultural genocide. The first to control the entire island, the Japanese built a 'model colony' on Taiwan, putting in place both the physical and bureaucratic infrastructure necessary to centralise control and plan production. Despite brutal efforts to impose their language and culture, the Taiwanese maintained their own identities and cultures. Taking advantage of healthcare, education, electrification, and faster transport they developed a growing civic society which articulated a collective desire for greater autonomy and democracy. WWII broke out and Taiwan was forced to play a role for the Japanese Empire. In 1945, on the request of the Allied forces the Japanese transferred temporary administration of Taiwan to General Chiang Kai-shek who appointed Chen-yi as 'provincial' Governor. In 1951 the San Francisco Peace Treaty agreed that the sovereignty of Taiwan was yet to be determined and was not transferred to any other State. No other UN treaty or resolution since then has superseded or redefined the status of Taiwan's sovereignty.

1945~1991 | 2-28, Martial Law, White Terror, & One Party Dictatorship

Owing to sharp contrasts between the perceived efficiency of Japanese colonial rule and the ROC's chaotic administration, Taiwanese quickly became disillusioned with the new governing authorities. What had at first been regarded as a liberation from stifling Japanese technocracy, cultural suppression, and resource exploitation, turned into anger as the economy crashed and law and order broke down. On the 28th of February 1947 the death of a street trader sparked a widespread protest at the corruption and violence of officials under Governor Chen Yi's administration. Chiang Kai-shek sent troops to Taiwan to quell what he determined to be a communist rebellion. Thousands were killed. In 1949, having fled to Taiwan, Chiang imposed martial law and the period of White Terror began, in which all signs of dissent were brutally suppressed, political prisoners routinely tortured, and many murdered, and it was illegal to express opposition, or form any other political parties. It is estimated tens of thousands of Taiwanese suffered repression and violence during this time. Taiwan remained a one-party state until opposition parties were finally allowed in 1987.

1949~1996 | The ROC Colonial Era

Having lost control of China to the Chinese Communist Party, in 1949 Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and remaining armed forces fled to Taiwan where they set to reconstituting the Republic Of China on Taiwan. Chiang brought with him almost two million refugees, ranging from an educated bureaucratic and political elite, to rich industrialists, to barely clothed soldiers, and he set about retrofitting the Japanese infrastructure into a project that tried to erase the Japanese influence, reify China's claim to Taiwan, and organise the nation's people and its resources for a war to reclaim China' from the CCP. The United Nations continued to recognise the ROC on Taiwan and the US provided military support in its defence against the PRC in the 1950s and later. Taiwanese were taught they were now and always had been Chinese. Languages other than Mandarin were banned. It would be 1996 before Taiwanese could directly elect their own President, and another four years before a transition of power to a party which criticised and rejected the colonial nature of the ROC's existence on Taiwan.

1960s~1990s | Economic Growth

With a great deal of aid from the United States, and following significant reforms to use and ownership of land, Taiwan's economy was able, during the latter part of the 1960s through to the early 90s, to grow on a par with regional economies such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea, entitling it as one of the four Asian Tigers. Taiwan industrialised and became a key exporter of electronics, plastics, and later computer chips. This came at a cost both to the environment and the health of Taiwanese. Taiwan saw a rise in population, living standards, and domestic consumption, and until the ROC left the United Nations, Taiwanese played a recognised role on the world stage.

1972 | Leaving The United Nations

Following Nixon's detente with Mao's Peoples Republic Of China in 1972, Chiang Kai-shek ordered the representatives of the Republic of China to vacate their seat at the United Nations ahead of a General Assembly vote to seat the representatives of the PRC in their stead. This was a defining moment for many Taiwanese, and arguably one of the most important catalysts for calls for democratisation. Chiang would live for another three years before his death in 1975. His son Chiang Ching-kuo then assumed power, ensuring continuity for a notionally democratic state that was in practice an effective one party dynastic dictatorship. Outside of the UN, the ROC struggled to retain diplomatic allies as a succession of nations switched recognition to the PRC. Chiang refused dual recognition and demanded that the ROC be considered the legitimate Government of the whole of the territory now governed under the PRC. In 1979, the US switched recognition to the PRC confirming for many Taiwanese that retaking China was now impossible. That realisation went hand in hand with a collapse in public patience for the end of a Martial Law whose purpose was now regarded as redundant, immoral, and illegitimate.

1960s~2003 | Protest And Democratisation

Although all forms of protest and dissent against the KMT's Party-State were outlawed or brutally suppressed during the White Terror, eventually voices began to find ways to oppose through seemingly non-political issues such as environmental and womens' rights. After Chiang Kai-shek died, the US put gradually increasing pressure on his successor to democratise the country. Domestically, two major incidents of civil disobedience in Zhongli and Kaohsiung made Taiwanese realise the first cracks in the dictatorship were emerging. Events such as the mysterious death of Chen Wen-cheng (1981) added to mounting international and domestic pressure on President Chiang Ching-kuo to end Martial Law. A key moment in the beginning of the end was the legalisation of opposition parties in 1987. Chiang died a year later, and Taiwanese native Lee Deng-hui won the Presidency, setting in motion the path to democracy.

1996, 2000 | The First Presidential Election, The 1st Change Of Ruling Party

Shortly after Lee became President, he faced his first major protest later dubbed the White Lilies. Students gathered at a memorial square built to honour Chiang Kai-shek and demanded sweeping democratic reforms. Lee managed to balance the demands and fears of both the students and the old guard of the KMT. He did not suppress the newly formed Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), instead he facilitated a series of constitutional reforms, including allowing Taiwanese to directly elect their own President and abolishing or freezing institutions and elements of the Constitution no longer utile to Taiwan's political reality. Dubbed 'Mr Democracy' Lee was the first to describe relations between the ROC and PRC as 'Special State To State'. In 2000, Taiwan saw its first successful democratic transition of power as Chen Shui-bian became the DPP's first elected President. He began proudly promoting Taiwan as a sovereign democratic nation in its own right for the first time.

2008 ~ now | Wild Strawberries, Sunflowers, Anti-media Monopolisation : Democracy In Action

In 2008, the KMT regained power under President Ma Ying-jeou. Ma took a much more conciliatory tone towards the PRC and sought to centre the ROC in Taiwanese imaginations as a Chinese polity awaiting reunification. Ma relied heavily on an interpretation of the 1992 meeting in Singapore between PRC & ROC as a basis for a working and stable relationship with China. This was then referred to as the ‘1992 Consensus’. Suspicion of, and dissatisfaction with, Ma's radical detente in relations with China quickly coalesced into open confrontation. In 2009 students self styled as 'wild strawberries' protested over police repression during a historic visit by a Chinese official. In 2014 students known as the 'Sunflower Movement' occupied the Legislature for three weeks, effectively stopping the KMT's attempts to pass legislation allowing Chinese firms a much greater presence in Taiwanese markets. Protests have also been held to oppose media monopolisation by pro-Chinese magnates, a planned new nuclear power station, and changes to Taiwan's marriage laws. Today Taiwanese enjoy more freedom to protest than many other democratic countries.

2020 ~ | Covid19, Taiwan, And The WHO

Following two terms of KMT leadership, the DPP regained power in 2016, for the first time winning clear control of both the Legislature and Presidency under Tsai Ing-wen's leadership. Taiwan has made repeated efforts to join the international stage and organisations requiring Statehood but has struggled to expand its presence, given that nations who do reach out are often punished or warned as a result. Taiwan was one of the few nations to take appropriate actions to constrain the spread of Covid in Taiwan and to date, despite a recent outbreak, has suffered far fewer infections and deaths than most other nations in the world. Taiwan was the first nation to warn the WHO that Covid-19 spread between people yet remains unable to participate in the WHO or WHA. This has highlighted for Taiwanese how their visibility on the world stage depends to a large extent on other nations, and their relationships with China.

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