175 Terrific Facts About Taiwan

Fun and interesting Taiwan facts

Huanyin lai dao Taiwan! (that means “Welcome to Taiwan!”) Taiwan is famous for its night markets, pearl milk tea, unique political status, and Taipei 101.

Find out what else Ilha Formosa, the “Beautiful Island”, is known for with these fun and interesting Taiwan facts!

General Taiwan Facts

  • Taiwan is officially called the “Republic of China” (ROC) and has a complicated relationship with China, aka the People’s Republic of China (PRC) (see the politics section below for facts about Taiwan’s status as a country), with China claiming that Taiwan is one of its provinces.
  • Taiwan is considered culturally part of Northeast Asia but geographically part of Southeast Asia.
  • The Tropic of Cancer runs through Taiwan, so its southern end is considered tropical, while its northern end is considered subtropical.
  • The main island of Taiwan is located, at its closest point, 128 km (80 mi) off the coast of Fujian province in southern China, a stretch of water called the Taiwan Strait. Its east coast faces the Pacific Ocean.
  • The Japanese island closest to Taiwan, Yonaguni island in the Yaeyama Islands chain, is only 108 km (67 mi) off the east coast of Taiwan.  
  • Besides the main island of Taiwan, the country also has 166 smaller islands. The Penghu archipelago alone has around 90 islands. Here are the 10 most popular offshore islands in Taiwan.
  • One island in Taiwan’s Kinmen archipelago is only 5 km (3 mi) off the coast of China, near the city of Xiamen, while one of the Matsu Islands is only 15 km (9 mi) off the coast of China. You can see China from either island.
Kinmen bridge at sunset, with skyscrapers of Xiamen in background
A bridge between islands in Taiwan’s Kinmen, with China’s Xiamen city visible in the background
  • Taiwan is 36,197 km2 (13,976 mi2), putting it between Bhutan and Guinea-Bissau in terms of size, or roughly the same size as the US state of Indiana.
  • Taiwan could fit into Canada 275 times or into China 265 times.
  • The population of Taiwan is 23.9 million. The population has been rising for many years, but is expected to start falling dramatically soon due to its declining birth rate and ageing population.
  • Taiwan’s population is the 57th largest in the world, between that or Niger and Mali. It has a similar population size to the US state of Florida.
  • Taiwan is one of the top-20 most crowded countries in the world, with 659 people per km2 (1707 per mi2).
  • The capital city of Taiwan is Taipei City. With 2.5 million people, it is the 4th largest city in the country by population and has a similar population to Vancouver, Canada.
People crossing the road at an intersection in Taipei
A popular intersection in Taipei City, the capital of Taiwan
  • New Taipei City is the country’s most populous city. Formerly called “Taipei county”, it acquired city status in 2010 and totally surrounds Taipei City.
  • Kaohsiung and Taichung cities also have more people than Taipei city, but only because they include huge areas that used to be called ‘Kaohsiung county’ and ‘Taichung county’.
  • If Taipei’s entire metropolitan area is considered, including Taipei City, New Taipei City, and Keelung, which is also called ‘Greater Taipei’ or the ‘Taipei-Keelung Metropolitan Area‘, it is the most populous metropolitan area in Taiwan, with a total of 7 million people. Its population is similar to that of Hong Kong or Madrid, Spain.
  • Just under 30% of Taiwan’s population lives in the Greater Taipei Area.
  • Mandarin is the main language of government, education, and television in Taiwan.
View of Taipei 101 and Taipei City at night
Taipei City
  • 80% of the people also speak the Taiwanese language (also called Hokkien, Minnan, Taiyu, or Holo). The language originates in the Minnan area of Fujian province in China.
  • The country has four official languages: Taiwanese, Mandarin, Hakka, and the Formosan languages (Taiwanese aboriginal languages) collectively.
  • If you ride the Taipei MRT, you will hear announcements in five languages: Taiwanese, Mandarin, Hakka, English, and Japanese.
  • Taiwan was a Japanese colony for 50 years (1895 to 1945). The Japanese built train lines, universities, hospitals, Shinto shrines, and hot spring resorts across the country. Some Japanese words remain in use in Taiwan today.  
  • The Taiwanese government currently recognizes 16 aboriginal tribes in Taiwan, while the Chinese government classifies these tribes collectively as “Gaoshan” (“high mountain”) and considers them 1 of the 56 ethnic minorities of China.
Two aboriginal women in traditional costumes in Taiwan
Taiwanese aboriginals
  • There are around 569,000 Taiwanese aboriginals, or 2.38% of the population. They have been in Taiwan for 6500 years and are Austronesian, the most widespread language family in the world, stretching 14,000 km (8700 mi) from Madagascar to Easter Island. It is believed that the entire Austronesian group originated in Taiwan.
  • When Portuguese sailors first spotted the island, they named it “Ilha Formosa” or “Beautiful Island”. The name stuck for a long time, and many Taiwanese things are still called “Formosan” today.
  • Tourism slogans for Taiwan have included “Taiwan. Touch Your Heart” and “Taiwan. The Heart of Asia”. Some unofficial slogans are “Taiwan #1!” and “Taiwan Can Help”.
  • The name “Taiwan” probably comes from the Taivoan aboriginal tribe and their settlement “Taiouwang”, near Tainan, the original capital of Taiwan, where many Han, Dutch, and Portuguese settlers first arrived.
  • Today, Taiwan has cities called “Taipei” (臺北 or Tai North), Tainan (臺南 or Tai South), Taitung (臺東 or Tai East), Taixi (臺西 or Tai West) and Taichung (臺中 or Tai Middle).
The flag of Taiwan
The official flag of Taiwan
  • Taiwan still uses traditional Mandarin characters, as opposed to the simplified characters adopted by China in 1949.
  • Most Taiwanese use a phonetic alphabet called zhuyin fuhao or colloquially “Bopomofo” for typing Mandarin characters, as opposed to the Latin alphabet pinyin system mainly used in China.
  • Because Taiwan has adopted several different systems over the years for transliterating Mandarin words, its place names have various possible spellings. For example, Taipei can be Taibei or Taipeh, Taichung also appears as Taizhong, and Kaohsiung can also be spelled Gaoxiong.
  • The flag of Taiwan, also called the “Blue Sky, White Sun, and Wholly Red Earth (青天白日滿地紅)”, features a white sun with 12 rays on a blue canton in the top-left corner of a red background. It was first used as the flag of the Navy of China, then adopted by the Republic of China in 1928.
  • People from Taiwan are called “Taiwanese”, or in Mandarin 台灣人 (Taiwan people).

Interesting Facts about Taiwan Places

  • Yonghe District in New Taipei City is one of the most crowded urban centers in the world, with 38,000 people per km2 (98,420 per mi2). For reference, Manila, Philippines, the most crowded city in the world, has 43,062 people per km2 (111,532 per mi2).
  • Taiwan has well over 10,000 convenience stores. Only South Korea has a higher concentration of convenience stores than Taiwan.
A 7-11 in a busy night market in Taipei, Taiwan
The ever-present 7-11 in Taiwan
  • Taipei 101 in Taipei City was the tallest building in the world from 2004 until it was surpassed by Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2009. It is 101 floors tall and stands 508.2 m (1667 ft).
  • Taipei 101 remains the tallest “green” building in the world and has the world’s fastest elevator, which travels 61 km/hr 38 mph.
  • Taipei 101 also has the world’s largest damper, a 738-ton steel ball that hangs inside the building like a pendulum and prevents the building from falling over from wind or earthquakes.
Steam coming up from a mountain in Yangmingshan National Park, Taiwan
Volcanic fumaroles in Yangmingshan National Park, Taipei City
  • Yangmingshan National Park in Taipei City is home to a dormant volcano, though some studies indicate that it is actually active. Its last eruption was 700,000 years ago.
  • Taiwan’s Jade Mountain (玉山 or Yushan) is 176 meters taller than Mount Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan.
  • In 2011, Jade Mountain was one of the finalists for the New 7 Wonders of the Natural World, losing out to places like the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil, Halong Bay in Vietnam, and Table Mountain in South Africa.
  • Taiwan has the highest number and density of high mountains of any island in the world. It has 268 peaks over 3000 m (9800 ft).
  • Taiwan sits on the Ring of Fire and also has one of the highest densities of hot springs in the world.
A colorfully painted house in Rainbow Village, Taiwan
Rainbow Village
  • When Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan (see politics and history sections below), hundreds of thousands of KMT soldiers came with him. Many of the dormitories and “military dependents villages” they were placed in are today tourist attractions in Taiwan, housing artist studios, cafes, hotels, and so on.
  • One such home is now called Rainbow Village. The elderly former soldier painted its walls in psychedelic colors to prevent it from being bulldozed and now it is a tourist attraction. “Rainbow Grandpa” is still alive and turned 100 years old in 2023.
  • Cat Cafés were invented in Taiwan. The first one is still running, called Kitten Coffee Garden, in Taipei.
  • Taiwan also has an entire village dedicated to (and filled with) cats, called Houtong Cat Village. It all started with a few rescue cats and then became a tourist attraction.
  • There are also capybara cafes in Taiwan.
  • Taiwan also has a poop-themed restaurant chain called Modern Toilet.
Two kids touching ice cream that looks like poo in a squat toilet in Modern Toilet Restaurant in Taiwan
Poo-themed restaurant in Taiwan
  • Taiwan has a “Grand Canyon” of its own, called Taroko Gorge. 212 people died while constructing the road through the gorge, and today the gorge’s top attraction is a beautiful shrine dedicated to those people, called Eternal Spring Shrine.
  • Sun Moon Lake, another of Taiwan’s top attractions, is home to the Thao people. With less than 1000 remaining members, they are one of the smallest of the country’s 16 recognized tribes.
  • Green Island off the coast of Taitung has one of only three salt water hot springs in the world (the other two are in Kyushu, Japan and Sicily, Italy). Taiwan also has mud hot springs, which are said to be good for the skin.
  • The Tao people of Orchid Island are Taiwan’s most isolated aboriginal tribe. They are known for their handmade canoes, flying fish festival, underground homes, and white loin cloths worn during celebrations.
Some hand-made white and red canoes with tribal designs on a rocky beach on Orchid Island, Taiwan
Tao canoes on Taiwan’s Orchid Island
  • Kinmen Island off the coast of China is known for its distilled sorghum liquor called Kaoliang, which is 58% alcohol and extremely popular across the country.
  • In 2022, the world’s tallest Matsu statue was unveiled in the Penghu archipelago. It stands 48 m (157 ft). Matsu is the goddess of fishermen and the sea.
  • Every year, one of the world’s largest pilgrimages takes place in Central Taiwan on Matsu’s birthday.
  • Taiwan was once known for its salt industry, but the industry died after cheaper salt from elsewhere flooded in. Today, a mountain of salt is a tourist attraction at Cigu in Tainan.
A large wooden boat being burned as part of a Taiwanese festival
Boat burning festival in Donggang, southern Taiwan
  • One of the world’s most dangerous festivals, called the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival, takes place in Tainan every year. It involves the firing of thousands of bottle rockets into crowds of people for hours on end. The festival started as a way to ward off evil spirits causing a cholera epidemic.
  • The fireworks festival happens on the same day is the Lantern Festival, when thousands of “sky lanterns” are released to the sky in intervals at small villages in New Taipei City.
  • Once every three years, locals in Donggang, Pingtung burn an entire wooden boat throughout the night. The festival dates back over 1000 years in China and is also done to ward off disease.
  • During the Mid-Autumn Festival, or Moon Festival, people across the country have barbecues on the street in front of their homes, which is unique to Taiwan.
  • Every year, millions of purple crow butterflies flutter into a valley in Maolin, Kaohsiung.

Facts about Taiwanese Politics, Society, and Economy

  • Taiwan’s status as a country is a hotly debated subject. China claims that Taiwan is one of its provinces, bullies it from joining international organizations, and forces it to call itself “Chinese Taipei” in the Olympics.
  • Taiwan has its own president/government, currency, passport, flag, military, institutions, culture, and history, and most Taiwanese strongly do not want to be a part of China, as indicated by opinion polls.
Flag of Chinese Taipei
The “Chinese Taipei” flag that Taiwan is forced to use in the Olympics.
  • In countries that don’t officially recognize Taiwan, the Taiwan embassy there is usually called the “Taipei Representative Office”, “Taipei Economic and Cultural Office,” or something along those lines, but they serve the same essential functions as an embassy.
  • How many countries are there in the world? There are 193 UN members, plus most lists add the two observer states (Vatican and Palestine) for a total of 195, and only some lists include Palestine and Taiwan, for a total of 197.
  • Taiwan passport holders are granted visa-free status, landing visas, or e-visas in 175 countries and territories.
  • Confusingly, Taiwan’s official name is “Republic of China” (ROC). This is because the Kuomintang party, the founders of the Republic of China, fled China after they lost the Chinese Civil War in 1949 and occupied Taiwan, where the ROC lives on to this day.
  • This is why, also confusingly, “China Airlines” is from Taiwan, while Air China is from China. At the time that China Airlines was established (1953), America and the UN still recognized the ROC based on Taiwan as the legitimate government of China.
The front cover of a Taiwan passport
The new Taiwan passport, which as of 2021, says TAIWAN in larger font than “Republic of China” because the old one caused too much confusion
  • In 2018, China got its panties in a knot over companies listing Taiwan as “Taiwan” on their websites. So now, many international companies list Taiwan as “Taiwan, Province of China” or “Taiwan, China” on their websites.
  • In 2021, Malaysian/Australian duo Namewee and Kimberley Chen released a viral hit “Fragile” about China’s tendency to so offended about anything to do with Taiwan, among other issues.
  • Taiwan uses its own calendar, also called the Republic of China calendar or Minguo Calendar. Year 1 on this calendar is 1912, the year when the Republic of China was established. So to find the current year, you have to subtract 1911 (thus 2023 = year 112 in Taiwan).
  • The Lunar Calendar is used alongside the solar calendar in Taiwan. The Lunar Calendar is mainly used for determining the dates of traditional festivals, including Lunar New Year, the biggest holiday of the year.
  • The Kuomintang (KMT or blue party) remains one of the two leading parties in Taiwan and is one of the wealthiest political parties in the world. The KMT generally promotes closer ties with China.
  • Taiwan’s current president, Tsai Ing-wen, belongs to the opposing party, the Democratic People’s Party (DPP or green), which considers Taiwan independent and advocates for maintaining the status quo, or current relationship with China.
A close up of a computer chip that says Taiwan on it
A made-in-Taiwan computer chip
  • The birth rate in Taiwan has been dropping almost every year for the last century. In 1950, the birthrate was 48 births per 1000 people. Today, it is 8 births per 1000 people.
  • Taiwan was considered one of the Four Asian Tigers (along with South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore). These were countries that underwent rapid industrialization from the 1960s to 1990s.
  • In the 1980s, the “Made in Taiwan” label on a wide range of small products was so common that it became iconic. In the 1990s, Taiwan’s focus switched to laptops and computer chips.
  • Taiwan currently makes 65% of the world’s semiconductors and 90% of its advanced computer chips.
  • Taiwanese companies you may have heard of include Asus, Acer and HTC (electronics), Eva Airlines (the one with the Hello Kitty airplanes), Giant and Merida (bicycles), and Gogoro (electric scooters).
A rainbow pride flag painted on a street with the word "Taipei" at the top
Pride flag in Taipei
  • Taiwan has the 20th largest economy in the world, similar to that of Turkey or Switzerland.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine, including acupuncture, is still very common in Taiwan, as are various types of fortune telling.
  • There are a large number of superstitions in Taiwan, including not giving certain gifts because they sound like unlucky words, fear of places believed to be inhabited by ghosts, and various restrictions associated with Ghost Month (the eighth lunar month).
  • Taiwan has the largest Pride Parades in Asia and was the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage.
  • Taiwan is rated highest in Asia in the Freedom Index.  

Facts about Taiwanese Food

  • Pearl milk tea (boba or bubble tea) was invented in Taiwan. The most commonly cited story (there are a few) is that it was invented during a meeting at a dessert shop in Taiwan, when a staff member decided to dump his jelly dessert into his iced tea. The original shop, Chun Shui Tang, is still open today and has branches across the island.
  • Taiwan is famous for its night markets. Taipei City alone has more than 20 major ones, and the largest ones have hundreds of food stalls.
A hand holding up a transparent plastic cup of pearl milk tea
Pearl milk tea was invented in Taiwan
  • Some of Taiwan’s most famous foods today have origins in Fujian province and other parts of China but have been modified in Taiwan. These include beef noodles (brought over by KMT solders), oyster omelets, stinky tofu, gua bao (“Taiwanese hamburgers”), pig’s blood cake, green onion cakes, and more.
  • Taiwan’s most famous restaurant chain, Din Tai Fung, specializes at Shanghai-style xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings.
  • Shenkeng district in New Taipei City has a whole street dedicated to stinky tofu, the country’s most infamous dish.
  • Taiwan also has its own unique creations, such as bawan (“Taiwanese meatballs”), peanut brittle cilantro ice cream wraps, sticky rice pudding, coffin bread, and various aboriginal foods.
  • Japanese food, including sushi, sashimi, and ramen, is extremely popular and common Taiwan, in part because Taiwan was colonized by Japan for 50 years. In the Taiwanese language, people say the Japanese word “kanpai” for “cheers”.
Rows of gelatinous bawan meatballs with red meat centers in Taiwan
Bawan, or “Taiwanese meatballs”
  • Taiwan produces some of the world’s best and most expensive oolong tea. The most prized varieties are ones grown at high altitudes. The thin air is said to produce a higher concentration of flavor in the leaves. Alishan High Mountain Oolong Tea is the most famous one.
  • Taiwan is known to produce good whiskey. Kavalan distillery in Yilan has won multiple awards. Kavalan’s parent company also owns the coffee chain Mr. Brown, so you can find various whiskey drinks in their cafés.
  • The government-owned Taiwan Beer company had a total monopoly on beer in the country until 2002. It remains the country’s top-selling beer by a long shot.
  • Betel nut, a fruit of the areca palm tree, is chewed as a mild stimulant in Taiwan, favored by taxi and truck drivers. It stains their mouth red and is often sold from highway stands staffed by young women in bikinis.  
  • In 2018, Michelin published its first even Taipei Michelin Guide. In 2020, it also added Taichung, followed by Tainan and Kaohsiung in 2022. The guide’s Bib Gourmand section includes numerous night market stalls.
Some whiskey equipment at Kavalal distillery in Taiwan
Kavalan, an award-winning whisky distillery in Taiwan
  • So far, only one Taiwanese restaurant has received 3 stars: Le Palais restaurant in Palais de Chine hotel, Taipei.
  • In recent years, Taiwanese food has been gaining international recognition as a distinct cuisine, rather than being lumped in with Chinese food, with Taiwanese restaurants abroad becoming all the rage.

Famous People from Taiwan

  • The descendants of Confucius (who was born 550 years before Jesus!) live in Taiwan today. Kung Tsui-chang is the 79th generation direct descendent of Confucius, and he is a senior advisor to the country’s president, while his son Kung Yu-jen (born 2006) is the 80th.
  • Ang Lee, the director of Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, was born in Taiwan. Parts of Life of Pi were filmed in Taiwan.
A mosaic of famous people from Taiwan
Famous Taiwanese Ang Lee, Tsai Ing-wen, Yo Yo Ma, Wang Chien-ming,
  • Other famous people born in Taiwan include actress Shu Qi, actor/singer Jay Zhou, singers Jolin Tsai and A-Mei, baseball player Wang Chien-ming, and billionaire Terry Gou.
  • The famous cellist Yo Yo Ma was born to Taiwanese parents in Paris, France.
  • Famous bands from Taiwan include Mayday (pop/rock) and Chthonic (heavy metal), whose singer Freddy Lim went on to become a Taiwanese legislator.
  • Tai Tzu-ying has held the world’s #1 title in badminton for longer than any other woman.
  • Although basketball player Jeremy Lin was born in California, he is of Taiwanese descent. When he became hugely popular in the 2011-2012 New York Knicks season, the phenomenon was dubbed “Linsanity”. He was the first player of Taiwanese descent in the NBA.
  • Taiwanese baker Wu Pao-chun won the best bread category in the 2010 Bakery Masters competition in Paris for his litchi and rose bread. Today he runs bakeries across the country.
A white statue of Koxinga riding a horse in a park in Tainan, Taiwan
Statue of Koxinga in Tainan, one of the most important figures in Taiwan’s history
  • The most important figure in Taiwan’s early colonial history was Zheng Chenggong, or “Koxinga”. He was a half-Chinese-half-Japanese pirate and Ming dynasty naval leader born in Japan. He famously expelled the Dutch from Taiwan and established the first Chinese state in Taiwan. He is still revered in Taiwan, especially in Tainan, the original capital.
  • Sun Yat-sen is considered the guofu (founding father) of the Republic of China and was its first leader in China. Although he only visited Taiwan a few times, there is a large memorial hall for him in Taipei. His body is interred at the memorial hall in Nanjing, which was the capital of the ROC when it was based in China.
  • Chiang Kai-shek, the KMT general who occupied Taiwan and became its first president, is interred at Cihu Mausoleum in Taoyuan City. Nearby, over 100 statues of the general, once found across Taiwan, are now on display in a park.
  • CKS Memorial Hall is also one of the most famous landmarks in Taipei, while the Taoyuan International Airport used to be called Chiang Kai-shek International Airport. Today many streets and parks across the country still bear his title (Zhongzheng or 中正).
  • Lee Tung-Hui was the first president of the country to be actually born in Taiwan and the first one who was directly elected.
Several statues of Chiang Kai-shek at Cihu, Taiwan
Statues of Chiang Kai-shek near his mausoleum in Taiwan
  • Chen Shui-bian was the first elected president from a non-KMT party. He is credited with developing a sense of self-identity among Taiwanese, but a year after his term ended, he was sentenced to 19 years of prison for corruption. He was released after 6.
  • The current president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, is the country’s first female president. She is not married and is known to love cats. She has been named one of the world’s most influential people (TIME), most powerful women (Forbes) and the #2 female politician (also Forbes) after Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand.

Historical Taiwan Facts

  • During the last ice age, there was a land bridge across the Taiwan Strait from China to Taiwan.
  • The earliest human remains in Taiwan go back 20 to 30,000 years ago.
  • The ancestors of Taiwanese aboriginals first came to the island around 4500 BCE.
  • Around 1500 BCE, these Austronesian people rode canoes out from Taiwan and began populating dozens of Pacific Islands, eventually spreading as far as Easter Island in the east and Madagascar to the west.
Some large ancient rock monoliths sticking out of the ground in Tainan
Ancient Taiwanese aboriginal monoliths at Beinan archaeological site, Taitung
  •  Around 1300 CE, the first Han Chinese started visiting Taiwan.
  • In the 1400s, Taiwan’s oldest temple, Tianhou Temple on Penghu island, was first built.
  • In the 1500s, an increasing number of fishermen and traders from Fujian province in China were visiting and settling on the island, and some even learned Formosan aboriginal languages to communicate with them.
  • Portuguese sailors dubbed the island “Ilha Formosa” or “beautiful island” in 1544.
  • When the Dutch arrived in 1623, they found a few thousand Chinese living there.
  • A year later, the Dutch East India Company built Fort Zeelandia (Anping Fort) and Fort Provintia in what is now Tainan, starting their 38-year period of colonial rule on the island.
An old fort built by the Dutch in Taiwan
The Dutch-built Fort Zeelandia in Anping, Tainan city
  • In 1628, the Spanish built forts in Northern Taiwan (Keelung and Tamsui), but the locals and Dutch expelled them by 1642.
  • In 1661, Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga), son of the famous military leader and pirate Zheng Zhi-long, and a loyalist of the Ming dynasty, brought an army to Taiwan and defeated the Dutch. His plan was to use the island as a base for restoring the Ming dynasty in China.
  • In 1683, Zheng Chenggong’s Kingdom of Tungning came to an end when it was annexed by the Qing dynasty. One prince and his five concubines committed suicide on the eve of the invasion in what is now the Grand Matsu Temple in Tainan.
  • The Qing classified Taiwan as “Taiwan prefecture” of Fujian province.
  • For the next 200 years, during the Qing Dynasty, immigration from China to Taiwan increased, with Taiwan’s population reaching 1 million in the late 1700s and 2 million in the early 1800s.
  • In 1864, the British occupied Anping. In 1884, the French captured the port of Keelung during the Sino-French war.
A red fort in Tamsui, Taiwan with Taiwanese flag flying above it
The Spanish Fort Santo Domingo in Tamsui, Northern Taiwan
  • In 1875, the Qing created “Taipeh prefecture” in the north, distinct from the rest of the island (still called Taiwan prefecture). By 1884, the Old City walls and gates of Taipei were constructed. Most of the gates, but not the walls, remain today.
  • In 1887, the Qing elevated Taiwan’s status to a province and the capital was moved from Tainan to Taipei.
  • In 1891 and 1893, roads were completed from Taipei to Keelung and Hsinchu, respectively.
  • During the Sino-Japanese war, for about 5 months in 1895 (May 23 to Oct 21), Taiwan was an independent republic called the Republic of Formosa. Its flag shows a striped tiger on a blue background.
  • On October 21, 1895, Taiwan surrendered to the Japanese, starting a 50-year period of Japanese colonial occupation.
  • During this time, the Japanese established the Bank of Taiwan and Taihoku Imperial University (now NTU, the country’s top university), developed the country’s train system, and built hospitals, roads, bath houses, Shinto shrines, the Presidential Palace, and other infrastructure. Japanese was taught in schools and Classical Chinese was banned.
NIshi Honganji shrine atop a grassy hill in Taipei, Taiwan
Ruins of a Japanese shrine in Taiwan
  • In 1930, the Wushe Incident was the last major rebellion of Taiwanese aboriginals against the Japanese occupiers. It was the inspiration for the 2011 Taiwanese film Seediq Bale.
  • In 1945, with the defeat of Japan in WWII, Taiwan was placed back under administration by the Republic of China.
  • On February 28, 1947, the repressive KMT government massacred thousands of locals in Taiwan. Today it is known as the 228 incident and there’s a large park in Taipei named after it.
  • When the Republic of China nationalists lost the Chinese Civil War to the Communists in 1949, Chiang Kai-shek and thousands of soldiers fled to Taiwan, from where they hoped to take back the “Mainland”, a goal they’ve never fulfilled.
  • From 1949, the KMT imposed 38 years of Martial Law, a period known as the White Terror.
  • Also in 1949, the KMT also introduced the New Taiwan Dollar.
Looking down into a water fountain in 228 Park in Taipei taiwan
A memorial fountain to the 228 massacre at 228 Peace Memorial Park in Taipei
  • From 1956 to 1960, a road was carved through Taroko Gorge.
  • Taiwan’s population reached 10 million in 1958.
  • In 1964, the Taiwanese language (Hokkien) was banned.
  • From the 1960s, Taiwan’s industries developed rapidly and it became one of the Four Asian Tigers.
  • Simultaneously, the island became extremely polluted, with heaps of trash everywhere.
  • In 1965, the National Palace Museum was opened to house the thousands of artifacts that had been brought over to Taiwan from the original National Palace Museum in Beijing.
Entrance gate to the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan
The National Palace Museum has the largest collection of ancient Chinese artifacts in the world.
  • In 1971, the UN stopped recognizing the ROC and instead starting recognizing the PRC as the official government of China. The US followed suit in 1979.
  • In 1987, Martial Law was lifted in Taiwan.
  • In 1988, Lee Tung-Hui became the first locally born and democratically elected president of Taiwan.
  • In 1995, Lee Ting-Hui publicly apologized on behalf of the KMT for the 228 incident.
  • In 1996, the first line of the Taipei MRT started running, the elevated, driverless Brown Line. The Taipei MRT would eventually be considered one of the best in the world. The Kaohsiung MRT followed in 2008, Taoyuan MRT in 2017, and Taichung MRT in 2021.
  • On September 21, 1999, an earthquake struck in Nantou, killing 2415 people. It was the second deadliest in the country’s history, after a 1935 earthquake that killed over 3000.
Doors and seats inside the Taipei MRT
The Taipei MRT is considered one of the best in the world.
  • In 2000, Chen Shui-bian became the first non-KMT president of Taiwan. Four years later, he would get shot one day before getting re-elected, with some people arguing it was a political stunt.
  • In 2002, Taiwan entered the WTO. The flood of cheap new imports after that resulted in the decline of some industries in Taiwan, including the salt industry.
  • In 2003, 73 people died from SARS in Taiwan.
  • Taipei 101 was erected in 2004, becoming the world’s tallest building until 2009.
  • In 2006, the High Speed Rail (HSR) began running. It is modelled on Japan’s Shinkansen bullet trains.
  • In 2008, the first direct flights between China and Taiwan in 60 years began.
The front of the High Speed Rail train parked in a station in Taiwan
Taiwan’s High Speed Rail (HSR)
  • In 2009, a landslide caused by Typhoon Morakot killed over 400 people in Siaolin, a village in Kaohsiung.
  • In the Sunflower Movement of 2014, hundreds of students took over the country’s Legislative Yuan to protest a Cross-Strait Trade Agreement.
  • In 2016, Tsai Ing-wen became the first female president of Taiwan.
  • In 2019, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.
  • On March 19, 2020, Taiwan closed its borders to tourists, and they would remain shut for 2.5 years, one of the longest entry bans of any country in the world.
Two kids wearing masks and quarantine stickers outside the Taoyuan international airport in Taiwan
Arriving travelers wearing masks and quarantine stickers during the COVID pandemic (these are my kids!)
  • In 2021, Taiwan rolled out new passports that say TAIWAN in large letters (formerly they only said Republic of China, which led to much confusion for Taiwanese when traveling abroad). The new passports still say Republic of China too, but in much smaller letters.
  • In summer of 2022, American politician Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. China reacted by surrounding the island with military ships and conducting military exercises, the tensest moment in many years.
  • On October 13, 2022, tourists were allowed to enter Taiwan again without quarantining.
  • In December 2022, Taiwan finally lifted its outdoor mask mandate, but the indoor one remained.

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