History of Taiwan

A timeline of Taiwan’s long history of its struggles and achievements, its oppression and resurgence. A video provides a primer on Taiwan’s history.


While Taiwan’s story goes back hundreds of centuries, its recorded history is generally accepted as beginning around 400 years ago. Throughout its history, Taiwan (formerly known as Formosa) has gone through colonialism, occupation, and relocation of 1.2 million people from China. It has also established itself as a leader in the electronics industry and a vanguard for political and social reform.

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A Quick Video Guide

Source: 臺灣吧 – Taiwan Bar

Year of the Republic: 民國 (Mínguó)

Ever wondered why Taiwan has a different convention for the calendar year? When it’s the year 2019, it’s the year 108 in Taiwan. There is historical aspect to this convention. In keeping with history, the practice of denoting the year of the current regime was continued when the Republic of China was created in 1912. That year was designated as year 1 of the Minguo calendar. As a rule, to find out the Minguo year, subtract 1911 from the Gregorian year. For example, the Gregorian year of 2019, subtracted by 1911, equals 108 of the Minguo year.

The original intention of the Minguo calendar was to follow the imperial practice of naming the years according to the number of years the Emperor had reigned, which was a universally recognizable event in China. Following the establishment of the Republic, hence the lack of an Emperor, it was then decided [by Dr. Sun Yat-sen] to use the year of the establishment of the current regime.



Fact Focus:

  • Dutch and Spanish settlers established bases in Taiwan in the early 17th century.
  • Around 1.2 million people relocated from China to Taiwan along with the Republic of China (Taiwan) government in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

The ROC was founded in 1912 in China. At that time, Taiwan was under Japanese colonial rule as a result of the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki, by which the Qing ceded Taiwan to Japan.

The ROC government began exercising jurisdiction over Taiwan in 1945 after Japan surrendered at the end of World War II.

The ROC government relocated to Taiwan in 1949 while fighting a civil war with the Chinese Communist Party.

Since then, the ROC has continued to exercise effective jurisdiction over the main island of Taiwan and a number of outlying islands, leaving Taiwan and China each under the rule of a different government. The authorities in Beijing have never exercised sovereignty over Taiwan or other islands administered by the ROC.


The following timeline focuses on Taiwan’s recorded history dating from about 400 years ago, although it has been home to Malayo-Polynesian peoples for many millenniums.


It is commonly believed that European sailors passing Taiwan record the island’s name as Ilha Formosa, or beautiful island. Taiwan continues to experience visits by small numbers of Chinese merchants, fishermen and pirates.


The Dutch East India Company establishes a base in southwestern Taiwan, initiating a transformation in aboriginal grain production practices and employing Chinese laborers to work on its rice and sugar plantations.


Spanish adventurers establish bases in northern Taiwan, but are ousted by the Dutch in 1642.


Fleeing the Manchurian conquest of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Ming loyalists under Zheng Cheng-gong, or Koxinga, drive out the Dutch from Taiwan and establish authority over the island.

History of Taiwan
Source: Wiki Commons (Statue of Koxinga in Tainan)


Qing dynasty (1644-1912) forces take control of Taiwan’s western and northern coastal areas.


Taiwan is declared a province of the Qing Empire.


Following defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), the Qing government signs the Treaty of Shimonoseki, by which it cedes sovereignty over Taiwan to Japan, which rules the island until 1945.


Chinese revolutionaries overthrow the Qing Empire and establish the ROC.


During World War II, ROC leader Chiang Kai-shek meets with U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Cairo. After the conclusion of the conference, the Cairo Declaration is released, stating that “…Formosa [Taiwan], and the Pescadores [the Penghu Islands], shall be restored to the Republic of China…”


The ROC, U.K. and U.S. jointly issue the Potsdam Declaration, calling for Japan’s unconditional surrender and the carrying-out of the Cairo Declaration.

After World War II, ROC government representatives accept the surrender of Japanese forces in Taiwan. The Chief Executive of Taiwan Province Chen Yi sends a memorandum to the Japanese governor-general of Taiwan, stating that “As the Chief Executive of Taiwan Province of the ROC, …I restore all legal territory, people, administration, political, economic, and cultural facilities and assets of Taiwan [including the Penghu Islands].”


The ROC Constitution is promulgated Jan. 1 and is scheduled to take effect Dec. 25. In March and the following months, ROC troops dispatched from China suppress a large-scale uprising of Taiwan residents sparked by the February 28 Incident.


As full-scale civil war rages in China between the Kuomintang-led ROC government and CCP, the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion are enacted, overriding the ROC Constitution and greatly expanding presidential powers.


The ROC government relocates to Taiwan, followed by 1.2 million people from China.

October 25 sees the Battle of Kuningtou on Kinmen, in which the ROC armed forces defeat the communists on the northwestern coast of the island.

Martial law is declared in Taiwan and continues to be in force until 1987.


The Treaty of Peace is signed between the ROC and Japan at Taipei Guest House, formally ending the state of war between the two parties. It is recognized that under Article 2 of the 1951 San Francisco Treaty, Japan has renounced all rights, titles and claims to Formosa [Taiwan] and the Pescadores [the Penghu Islands] as well as the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands.

All treaties, conventions and agreements concluded before Dec. 9, 1941, between China and Japan have become null and void as a consequence of the war.


The ROC-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty is signed in Washington.


Aug. 23 sees the start of an artillery duel between the ROC garrison on Kinmen and Chinese forces that lasts more than 40 days.


The first Export Processing Zone is established in Kaohsiung City, southern Taiwan. The creation of such zones propels Taiwan toward becoming a developed nation, setting a paradigm for other countries to follow.


The nine-year compulsory education system is launched at a time when fewer than nine countries globally have compulsory education systems of this length or more.


The ROC withdraws from the U.N.


Democracy activists demonstrating in Kaohsiung are arrested and imprisoned following what is known as the Kaohsiung Incident, which eventually leads to the formation and development of the Democratic Progressive Party in 1986.


Martial law, in effect since 1949, ends and bans on the formation of new political parties and news publications are lifted.

Democratization goes into high gear. Cross-strait people-to-people exchanges begin.


The Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion are abolished. From this year through 2005, the ROC Constitution undergoes seven rounds of revision.

Taiwan becomes a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.


Government-authorized representatives from across the Taiwan Strait meet for the first time in Hong Kong, and via subsequent communication and negotiations arrive at various joint acknowledgements and understandings.


The National Health Insurance program begins.


The ROC holds its first-ever direct presidential election, with the KMT’s Lee Teng-hui and running mate Lien Chan garnering 54 percent of the vote.


Chen Shui-bian and Annette Hsiu-lien Lu of the DPP are elected president and vice president, ending the KMT’s more than 50-year rule and marking the first transfer of ROC government executive power in Taiwan between political parties.


Taiwan becomes a member of the World Trade Organization.


The Legislative Yuan passes the Referendum Act, providing a legal basis for citizens to vote directly on issues of local or national importance.


The first national referendum is held in conjunction with the third direct presidential election, in which Chen and Lu are re-elected with a slight majority.


The Legislative Yuan passes a constitutional amendment package, halving the number of its seats from 225 to 113 and introducing the single-district, two-votes system for legislative elections.


Ma Ying-jeou and Vincent C. Siew of the KMT are elected president and vice president of the ROC, garnering 58 percent of the vote and marking the second transfer of ROC government executive power in Taiwan between political parties.


Taiwan attends the World Health Assembly as an observer, marking its first participation in an activity of the U.N. since its withdrawal in 1971.

President Ma signs the instruments of ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.


The ROC inks the Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China to institutionalize economic and trade relations across the Taiwan Strait.


The centennial of the ROC is celebrated in Taiwan.


Incumbent Ma Ying-jeou and his new running mate Wu Den-yih, representing the KMT, win the election for president and vice president with 51.6 percent of the vote.


Taiwan signs an agreement on economic cooperation with New Zealand and an agreement on economic partnership with Singapore.

Taiwan attends the 38th session of the International Civil Aviation Organization Assembly as the guest of the council’s president.


Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi holds a formal meeting with China’s Taiwan Affairs Office director Zhang Zhijun in Nanjing in February, marking the first official contact between the heads of the respective government agencies responsible for cross-strait relations.

A record 11,130 candidates are elected nationwide for nine categories of local government representatives in what are known as the “nine-in-one” local elections.


President Ma and Chinese leader Xi Jinping meet in Singapore in November, marking the first top-level meeting between the two sides in 66 years.

Taiwan signs the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement and submits its instrument of acceptance to the organization.


DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen and academic Chen Chien-jen are elected president and vice president of the ROC.

The DPP gains its first legislative majority after securing 68 of the 113 seats.

President Tsai Ing-wen officially apologizes on behalf of the government to the nation’s indigenous peoples for the pain and mistreatment they endured for centuries.


The Constitutional Court rules that provisions of the Civil Code forbidding same-sex marriage violate the Constitution, placing Taiwan on track to become the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex unions.

The Indigenous Languages Development Act is enacted to preserve and promote the native tongues of Taiwan’s 16 officially recognized indigenous tribes.

Taiwan hosts the Taipei 2017 Summer Universiade.

Formosat-5, the nation’s first homegrown ultra-high resolution Earth observation satellite, is launched.

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Timeline Source: Official Site of the Republic of China

Cover Photo: Wiki Commons

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