History and Culture

History

Fort ZeelandiaBack in 7,000 to 400 years ago, Austronesians, the ancestor of the island’s indigenous people, arrived in small groups and became the earliest known inhabitants of Taiwan. In the first half of the 17th Century, the Dutch established a presence at Anping (in modern-day Tainan city). They conducted missionary activities, trade and the production of various goods. They also recruited many Han Chinese immigrants from the China coast, leading to a multicultural history of Taiwan. The number of Han Chinese immigrants in Taiwan steadily increased during the short-lived Cheng (Koxinga) regime and Qing period over the next 200 years, creating a primarily Han society in Taiwan. In the late 19th century, the wave of imperialism touched the shores of Taiwan. The island became a colony of Japan and remained under Japanese rule for 50 years, during which time it evolved from a traditional society into a modern society. At the end of World War II in 1945, Taiwan was liberated from colonial rule. Since then, the island has experienced an economic miracle and introduced political democracy achievements that have attracted the world’s attention.

Culture and Heritage

fort-san-domingoBecause of its unique historical and geographical background, Taiwan has a rich and varied culture composed of elements taken from many different ethnic groups, including the indigenous peoples, the Dutch, the Spanish, the Japanese, the Han Chinese), as well as more recently the Americans. Consequently, the customs and traditions that make up Taiwan’s culture as we know it today are extremely vivid and mix different cultures. And not only that; the people who previously inhabited Taiwan also left many cultural remnants that can still be found around the island today, including traditional architecture, relics of prehistoric civilizations, folk art, and traditions.

The indigenous people who first came to Taiwan so long ago form the northernmost branch of the Austronesia culture group. The indigenous people who remain today are divided into 16 tribes; the Amis, Atayal, Paiwan, Bunun, Puyuma, Rukai, Tsou, Saisiyat, Yami (or Tao), Thao, Kavalan, Truku, Sakizaya, and the Sediq, the Kanakanavu and the Hla’alua. Over the years, other tribes, especially flatland groups, increasingly came in contact with the Han Chinese, their daily lives becoming more and more integrated, and by now most have assimilated with the Chinese. The other tribes, however, have also managed to preserve some of their traditional customs, tribal structures and architecture, and continue to keep the tribal spirit alive through the practice of traditional worship.

presidential-office-buildingConsulate Traces left by the Dutch, Spanish, and Japanese include Fort San Domingo in Tamsui and the remains of Anping Old Fort (Fort Zeelandia) in Tainan along with many other buildings such as the Presidential Office Building, the Legislative Yuan and Control Yuan buildings, various schools, and other large structures that now house governmental institutions, assembly halls etc., all testifying to the importation of foreign cultures into Taiwan.

Nevertheless, the most important part in Taiwan’s cultural history was played by the Han Chinese who brought with them traditional customs from China and created new ones in Taiwan. Whether they were southern Fujianese who immigrated over the centuries, the Chinese who came in the late 1940s, or Hakkas, they created their own cultures, traces of which can still be found all over Taiwan. In Taipei, Tainan, and Lugang, for example, old cities, streets, and temples still breathe the atmosphere of times long gone, while traces of wars, settlements and different 5 cultures can even be found on the off-shore islands of Kinmen, Matsu and Penghu.

sanyis-wooden-carvingsNext to these cultural remnants, Taiwan also offers a unique collection of art expression, such as Sanyi’s wooden carvings, Yingge’s pottery, and Kinmen’s ceramics. Another important aspect of culture are the many holidays and festivals that the Taiwanese celebrate so passionately and devotedly, such as the Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, Tomb Sweeping Festival, Ghost Festival, and temple festivals. By watching or even participating in these celebrations, one can get a better understanding of the cultural and historical background of the Taiwanese people.