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Basic facts about Taiwan

Updated: Jul 28,2020 10:24 AM    Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council PRC

Taiwan has been an inalienable part of China’s sacred territory since ancient times. Due to the Chinese Civil War (1945-49) and the interference of external forces, the two sides of the Taiwan Straits have been in a state of long-term political confrontation since 1949. Although Taiwan hasn’t reunited with China’s mainland, China’s sovereignty and territory have never been divided, and the fact that the two sides across the Taiwan Straits belong to one and the same China has never been changed.

Geographical situation

China’s Taiwan refers to Taiwan province (including Taiwan Island, Orchid Island, Green Island, Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islands, and the Penghu Islands) and Fujian province’s Jinmen, Mazu, Wuqiu and other islands, with a total land area of 36,000 square kilometers. The administrative divisions of Taiwan region include six municipalities directly under Taiwan authority -- Taipei, New Taipei, Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung; three cities -- Keelung, Hsinchu, Chiayi and 13 counties -- Hsinchu, Miaoli, Changhua, Nantou, Yunlin, Chiayi, Pingtung, Taitung, Hualien, Yilan, Penghu, Jinmen, and Lienchiang (Mazu).

In ancient times, Taiwan was connected to the mainland. Because of the rising sea level and geological changes, the connected land was submerged, forming the Taiwan Straits and Taiwan Island. The Taiwan Straits runs from the East China Sea in the north to the South China Sea in the south. It is more than 1,300 kilometers long, 200 kilometers at its widest point and 130 kilometers at its narrowest point. Taiwan Island is China's largest island, located on the continental shelf of its southeast coast. Across the Taiwan Straits to the west lies East China’s Fujian province. Two-thirds of Taiwan Island is made up of mountains and hills, with mountains in the east, foothills in the middle, and plains in the west. There are five major mountain ranges, four major plains and three major basins on Taiwan Island, namely the Central Mountain Range, Xueshan Range, Yushan Range, Alishan Range and Coastal Range; the Yilan Plain, Chianan Plain, Pingtung Plain and Taitung Longitudinal Valley Plain; the Taipei Basin, Taichung Basin and Puli Basin. The main rivers in Taiwan are the Zhuoshui River, Gaoping River, Tamsui River, Dajia River and Zengwun River.

Taiwan lies across the temperate zone and tropical zone. The Tropic of Cancer passes through the middle of the island, giving the north a subtropical climate and the south a tropical climate. It is warm in winter and hot in summer, and rainfall is abundant. Taiwan is often affected by typhoons.

Taiwan Island is known as “a natural botanical garden” with more than 10,000 species of plants, among which precious forest trees such as indigenous cypress, camphor tree, and nanmu are world-famous. It has more than 25,000 species of animals and is most famous for butterflies, with more than 400 kinds. It is called the “butterfly kingdom”.

Rice, sugar and tea, the top three famous traditional products in Taiwan, are known as the “three treasures of Taiwan”. Taiwan's main cash crops are sugar cane, tea, peanuts, sesame, tobacco, shiso, lemongrass, areca nuts and flowers, among others. There are also many kinds of fruits, and the most common are banana, pineapple, citrus, longan, wax apple, guava and mango. Taiwan is located at the confluence of cold and warm currents. And the total coastline of Taiwan Island and the Penghu Islands is about 1,520 kilometers. It is advanced in marine fisheries and aquaculture.

2. Historical overview

Originating from the ancient Yue people, Taiwan’s indigenous people directly or indirectly migrated from China’s mainland. Taiwan's written history dates back to 230 AD. During the Three Kingdoms, Sun Quan, emperor of Kingdom Wu, sent over 10,000 soldiers and officers to Taiwan (then called Yizhou), and Shen Ying, from Wu, left the earliest description of Taiwan in his Seaboard Geographic Gazetteer. The government of the Sui Dynasty (581-618) dispatched troops three times to Taiwan (then called Liuqiu).

Around 610 AD (during the reign of Emperor Yang of Sui), residents in coastal areas of the mainland began to migrate to Penghu. Later in the middle of the 12th century, the government of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) put Penghu under the administration of Jinjiang county, Quanzhou of Fujian, and sent troops to guard the territory. In 1335 AD, the government of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) officially set Penghu Xunjiansi, an agency of local administration and inspection under Tong’an county (now Xiamen) of Fujian's Quanzhou, to deal with civil affairs in Penghu and Taiwan. During the Song and Yuan dynasties, mainland residents along the coastal areas began to move to Taiwan for land reclamation. The migration’s frequency and scale gradually increased during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

In the mid-late 16th century, the Ming Dynasty restored the once-abolished Penghu Xunjiansi and sent garrisons. And at the end of the Ming Dynasty, the Fujian government and a military and maritime commerce group led by Zheng Zhilong organized large-scale migrations to Taiwan to reclaim and cultivate farmland. At the end of the 17th century, a total of over 100,000 people migrated to Taiwan from mainland coastal areas. Taiwan was then called Dayuan and Taiyuan in the southern Fujian dialect as people from there dominated migration to Taiwan. During the Wanli period (1573-1620) of the Ming Dynasty, official documents began to formally use the name Taiwan.

Spain, the Netherlands and other Western colonial powers started their expansion eastward in the 16th century. In 1624, Dutch colonists invaded and occupied southern Taiwan; in 1626, Spanish colonists invaded northern Taiwan; in 1642, the former took over northern Taiwan from the latter. Later in 1661, Zheng Chenggong (better known as Koxinga in the West), arrived in Taiwan with his troops, and in the next year, expelled Dutch colonists and recaptured Taiwan. Due to such a historic achievement, Zheng was recognized as a national hero and called Kaitai Shengwang.

Zheng died of illness four months after recapturing Taiwan and establishing a governing authority. His son, Zheng Jing, took the reins in Taiwan and died in 1681. In 1683, Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) dispatched troops to Taiwan, forced Zheng Keshuang, son of Zheng Jing, to surrender, and brought Taiwan back under the control of the central government. In 1684, the Qing government established Taiwan prefecture under Fujian province, consisting of three counties, Taiwan, Fengshan, and Zhuluo. Taiwan then entered a new period of further development, with an increasing number of mainland residents from the southeastern coastal areas moving to Taiwan across the sea.

By 1811, the population of Taiwan reached over 1.9 million. In 1874, the Qing government refined the administrative divisions in Taiwan, dividing it into two prefectures, eight counties and four subprefectures. In 1885, the Qing government decided Taiwan was an individual province, when it then became China’s 20th province. The first governor of Taiwan, Liu Mingchuan, actively promoted new policies for self-strengthening, including clearing land taxes, building railways, buying boats and warships, opening schools teaching knowledge of the West and about telegrams, and building post offices and machine factories, which greatly pushed forward Taiwan’s social, economic and cultural development.

In 1894, Japan launched the First Sino-Japanese War, and in April of the next year, it forced the defeated Qing government to sign the unequal Treaty of Shimonoseki and cede Taiwan and the Penghu islands to Japan. Once the information was released, large-scale patriotic activities against ceding Taiwan were held nationwide. Troops and residents in Taiwan showed firm determination and awe-inspiring righteousness to safeguard their homeland. They fought against Japan for more than five months with great courage, forcing Japanese invaders to pay a heavy price for occupying Taiwan.

On Dec 1, 1943, the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and the Republic of China (1912-1949) issued the Cairo Declaration, stipulating, “It is their purpose that … and that all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China.” On July 26, 1945, the three countries signed the Potsdam Declaration (later joined by the Soviet Union), reiterating, “The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine.” On Aug 15, 1945, Japan announced its acceptance of the Potsdam Proclamation and unconditionally surrendered, marking the final victory in the World Anti-Fascist War and Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. On Oct 25, 1945, the surrender acceptance ceremony for the province of Taiwan in the China theater of the Allies was held in Taipei. At the ceremony, the representative of China accepting the surrender announced on behalf of the Chinese government that Taiwan and the Penghu Islands were officially again incorporated into the territory of China, and all land, people and administration were put under Chinese sovereignty from that day. With great joy, Taiwan compatriots celebrated its return to the motherland.

On Oct 1, 1949, the People’s Republic of China was founded. At the end of the same year, the Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan after being defeated. As the Chinese People's Liberation Army was preparing to liberate Taiwan, the Korean War (1950-1953) broke out on June 25, 1950. Exploiting the situation, the US sent troops into the Taiwan Straits to prevent the PLA from liberating Taiwan, and supported the Kuomintang. This is how the Taiwan question came into being.

3. Social structure

By place of ancestry and when their families moved to Taiwan, residents are divided into different ethnic groups.

Taiwan had a population of 23,603,100 with household registration by the end of 2019, which falls into four ethnic groups — Minnan people, Hakka people, waishengren, and ethnic minorities. The first three groups are basically the Han people, accounting for some 97 percent of the total population in Taiwan. Among them, the Minnan and Hakka peoples are collectively called benshengren, as they mostly moved to Taiwan before 1945. Specifically, most Minnan people, nearly 70 percent of Taiwan’s total population, can trace their ancestry to today’s Quanzhou and Zhangzhou in East China’s Fujian province; today’s Longyan city in Fujian province and Meixian district in South China’s Guangdong province are the ancestral homes for the majority of the Hakka people — making up about 15 percent of the total. Waishengren, making up about 12 percent of the total population, refers to people originally coming from provinces of the Chinese mainland and moving to Taiwan after 1945, especially around 1949 by following the Kuomintang, as well as their descendants. Taiwan’s ethnic minorities consist of 16 subgroups making up about 2 percent of its total population. The remaining 1 percent or so of the population are ethnic minorities from the Chinese mainland and foreign spouses.

4. Political system

The current political system in Taiwan primarily exhibits the following characteristics: (1) The leader of the Taiwan authority is directly elected, with greater powers conferred, determining the fundamental policy of the authority, and nominating and appointing heads of its branches.
(2) Party politics. By the end of 2019, Taiwan had 291 different political parties and 45 Taiwan-wide political associations. Major political parties include the Democratic Progressive Party, the Kuomintang, the Taiwan People’s Party, the People First Party, the New Party, the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union, and the New Power Party. The first two are the most influential among them. All these parties compete fiercely in elections for public office.
(3) Local self-government. Local self-government consists of two levels, namely, cities (including municipalities under the direct jurisdiction of the Taiwan authority)/counties and townships, all having the public legal person status as local self-governing bodies. Executive heads of cities/counties and townships are popularly elected, with city/county councils and township civic representative councils supervising local executive agencies.

5. Economic situation

Taiwan has a high per capita GDP, but its internal demand is low, natural resources are relatively scarce, and its scientific and technological foundation is not solid, making it largely rely on overseas markets and technologies. Meanwhile, Taiwan's economic development bears the brunt of political rivalries. Despite rapid economic growth, the fiscal situation is defective due to the economic structure and fiscal and taxation system, with a shrinking tax base, slower tax revenue growth and sharp increase in expenditures, especially in non-productive sectors, such as military affairs, administrative governance, and social security. The imbalance between revenue and expenses results in a bigger deficit, and infrastructure construction and renovation lagging behind.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Taiwan's economic growth rate in 2019 was lower than the world average level (3.4 percent), ranking second among the Four Asian Dragons. Data from Taiwan's Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics shows Taiwan's nominal GDP (at current prices, calculated with expenditure approach) in 2019 was NT$18.9 trillion ($611.255 billion), and per capita GDP (at current prices) is NT$801,000 ($25,900), increasing by 0.45 percent year-on-year in US dollars. IMF estimated Taiwan’s GDP in 2019 ranked 22nd globally, one place lower than last year, and per capita GDP was at 38th place, same as the year before.

6. Cultural development

Born from Chinese culture, Taiwan culture is an important part of Chinese culture and enriches it. Chinese culture, deeply rooted in Taiwan folk, infiltrates every aspect of social life.

Mandarin is generally used in Taiwan. Main dialects include Hokkien and Hakka. Ethnic minorities speak their own language, such as Atayal, Bunun and Yami, but write in Chinese characters.

Taiwan’s folklore customs were mostly brought by immigrants from Fujian and Guangdong during the Ming and Qing dynasties and are still kept today. As a result, “Fujian and Guangdong styles are displayed everywhere and Chinese characteristics are exhibited in everything in Taiwan.” Confucianism is embedded in various aspects of Taiwan social life. Religious activities prevail in Taiwan. Besides Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity, there also are beliefs in Mazu, Guan Gong, Kaizhang Shengwang, Kaitai Shengwang, Baosheng Dadi, and so on.

7. Education

The current education system in Taiwan consists of three major parts: preschool education, school education, and social education. Preschool education, mainly in coordination with family education, is voluntary and involves one to two years of education in health, life, and ethics for children at the eligible age. School education is divided into three periods: compulsory education, secondary education, and higher education. Compulsory education includes primary schools and junior high schools. Secondary education includes general senior secondary schools, skill-based senior secondary schools, comprehensive senior secondary schools, and specialized senior secondary schools. Higher education includes junior colleges, colleges, universities and research institutes. Social education covers a wide range of areas, including supplementary and continuing education, adult education, and social education programs by museums, libraries, science museums, cultural centers, and art galleries. Education in Taiwan is highly popularized, with a complete vocational education system. Private education plays a pivotal role in the whole education system. In the 2019 school year, there were 10,931 schools at all levels in Taiwan, including 6,384 preschools, 2,631 primary schools, 739 junior high schools (called "public high schools" in Taiwan), 513 senior secondary schools, 12 junior colleges, 14 colleges, and 126 universities.

8. Healthcare

Healthcare administration in Taiwan operates on two levels. The health department of the current authority coordinates, plans, supports and manages all medical and health services, while health bureaus in all cities and counties are in charge of local medical and healthcare work. Taiwan's medical system is fairly sound, with enlarged hospitals and prevailing clinics. Small private hospitals are quitting the market, and hospitals are increasingly collectivized. In 2018, there were 22,816 medical institutions in Taiwan, including 478 Western medical hospitals, 11,580 Western medical clinics, 6,836 dental clinics, five traditional Chinese medicine hospitals, and 3,917 traditional Chinese medicine clinics.

Since 1949, the Communist Party of China, the Chinese government, and the Chinese people have endeavored to pursue the historic mission of resolving the Taiwan question and realizing China's complete reunification. We have, keeping in mind the changes over time in the growth of cross-Straits relations, proposed the policy of seeking a peaceful solution to the Taiwan question and the well-conceived concept of “one country, two systems”, and established the fundamental guideline of “peaceful reunification and one country, two systems”. On this basis, we have formulated a fundamental strategy of upholding the principle of “one country, two systems” and promoting national reunification. At the 40th anniversary of the issuance of The Message to Compatriots in Taiwan, General Secretary Xi Jinping delivered a speech -- Working Together to Realize Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation and Advance China’s Peaceful Reunification. The speech has comprehensively expounded on major policies and propositions for promoting China’s reunification in the great national rejuvenation, and thus should be upheld as fundamental rules and a guide to action for Taiwan-related work in the new era.

Our country must be reunified, and will surely be reunified. We Chinese on both sides of the Straits, all of us Chinese at home and abroad, should jointly uphold the national interest, follow the historical trends, and work together for the peaceful development of cross-Straits relations and China’s peaceful reunification.

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