Area: 36,189 sq. km. (13,973 sq. mi.).
Cities (2009): Capital--Taipei (pop. 2.6 million). Other cities--Kaohsiung (1.5 million), Taichung (1.07 million).
Terrain: Two thirds of the island is largely mountainous with 100 peaks over 3,000 meters (9,843 ft.).
Climate: Maritime subtropical.
Population (February 2009): 23.0 million.
Annual population growth rate (2008): 0.73%.
Languages: Mandarin Chinese (official), Taiwanese, Hakka.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Attendance (2007)--99.30%. Literacy (2008)--97.78%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2007)--0.47%. Life expectancy (2008)--78.57 yrs; male 75.59 yrs.; female 81.94 yrs.
Work force (August 2009): 10.96 million.
Type: Multi-party democracy.
Constitution: December 25, 1946; last amended 2005.
Branches (Yuan): Executive, Legislative, Judicial, Control, Examination.
Major political parties: Kuomintang (KMT or Nationalist Party); Democratic Progressive Party (DPP); several small parties.
Suffrage: Universal over 20 years of age.
Central budget proposed (FY 2009): $56.8 billion.
Defense proposed (2009): 17.2% of entire budget.
GDP (2009): $379 billion.
Real annual growth rate (2009): -1.87%.
Per capita GDP (2009): $16,442.
Unemployment (February 2010) 5.76%.
Natural resources: Small deposits of coal, natural gas, limestone, marble, and asbestos.
Agriculture (1.6% of GDP): Major products--pork, rice, fruit and vegetables, sugarcane, poultry, shrimp, eel.
Services: (68.5% of GDP).
Industry (29.9% of GDP): Types--electronics and flat panel products, chemicals and petrochemicals, basic metals, machinery, textiles, transport equipment, plastics, machinery.
Trade (2009): Exports--$203.7 billion: electronics, optical and precision instruments, information and communications products, textile products, basic metals, plastic and rubber products. Major markets--P.R.C. and Hong Kong $83.7 billion, U.S. $23.6 billion, Japan $14.5 billion. Imports--$174.7 billion: electronics, optical and precision instruments, information and communications products, machinery and electrical products, chemicals, basic metals, transport equipment, crude oil. Major suppliers--Japan $36.2 billion, P.R.C. and Hong Kong $25.6 billion, U.S. $18.2 billion.
Taiwan has a population of 23 million. More than 18 million, the "native" Taiwanese, are descendants of Chinese who migrated from Fujian and Guangdong Provinces on the mainland, primarily in the 18th and 19th centuries. The "mainlanders," who arrived in Taiwan after 1945, came from all parts of mainland China. About half a million indigenous peoples inhabit the mountainous central and eastern parts of the island and are believed to be of Malayo-Polynesian origin. Of Taiwan's total population, approximately one million, or 4.4%, currently reside in mainland China.
Since 1979, six years of elementary school and three years of junior high have been compulsory for all children. About 95% of junior high graduates continue their studies in either a senior high or vocational school. Taiwan has an extensive higher education system with 162 institutions of higher learning. In 2008, about 156,213 students took the entrance examinations to enter universities and colleges; about 73% of the candidates were accepted by a college or university. Opportunities for graduate education are expanding in Taiwan, but many students travel abroad for advanced education. In FY 2008, over 19,400 U.S. student visas were issued to Taiwan passport holders.
A large majority of people in Taiwan speak Mandarin Chinese, which has been the medium of instruction in the schools for more than five decades. Native Taiwanese and many others also speak one of the Southern Fujianese dialects, Min-nan, also known as Taiwanese. Recently there has been a growing use of Taiwanese in the broadcast media. The Hakka, who are concentrated in several counties throughout Taiwan, have their own distinct dialect. As a result of the half-century of Japanese rule, many older people also can speak Japanese. The method of Chinese romanization most commonly used in Taiwan is the Wade-Giles system. In 2002, Taiwan authorities announced adoption of the pinyin system used on the mainland to replace the Wade-Giles system, but its use is not consistent throughout society, often resulting in two or more romanizations for the same place or person.
According to Taiwan's Interior Ministry figures, there are about 11.2 million religious believers in Taiwan, with more than 75% identifying themselves as Buddhists or Taoists. At the same time, there is also a strong belief in traditional folk religion throughout the island. These are not mutually exclusive, and many people practice a combination of the three. Confucianism also is an honored school of thought and ethical code. Christian churches have been active on Taiwan for many years, and today, the population includes a small but significant percentage of Christians.
Taiwan's culture is a blend of its distinctive Chinese, Japanese, and Western influences. Fine arts, folk traditions, and popular culture embody traditional and modern, Asian, and Western motifs. One of Taiwan's greatest attractions is the Palace Museum, which houses over 650,000 pieces of Chinese bronze, jade, calligraphy, painting, and porcelain. This collection was moved from the mainland in 1949 when Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Party (KMT) fled to Taiwan. The collection is so extensive that only 1% is on display at any one time.
Taiwan's indigenous peoples, who originated in Austronesia and southern Asia, have lived on Taiwan for 12,000 to 15,000 years. Significant migration to Taiwan from the Chinese mainland began as early as A.D. 500. Dutch traders first claimed the island in 1624 as a base for Dutch commerce with Japan and the China coast. Two years later, the Spanish established a settlement on the northwest coast of Taiwan, which they occupied until 1642 when they were driven out by the Dutch. Dutch colonists administered the island and its predominantly aboriginal population until 1661. The first major influx of migrants from the Chinese mainland came during the Dutch period, sparked by the political and economic chaos on the China coast during the Manchu invasion and the end of the Ming Dynasty.
In 1664, a fleet led by the Ming loyalist Cheng Ch'eng-kung (Zheng Chenggong, known in the West as Koxinga) retreated from the mainland and occupied Taiwan. Cheng expelled the Dutch and established Taiwan as a base in his attempt to restore the Ming Dynasty. He died shortly thereafter, and in 1683, his successors submitted to Manchu (Qing Dynasty) control. From 1680, the Qing Dynasty ruled Taiwan as a prefecture and, in 1875, divided the island into two prefectures, north and south. In 1887 the island was made into a separate Chinese province.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, migration from Fujian and Guangdong provinces steadily increased, and Chinese supplanted indigenous peoples as the dominant population group. In 1895, a weakened Imperial China ceded Taiwan to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki following the first Sino-Japanese war.
During its 50 years (1895-1945) of rule, Japan expended considerable effort in developing Taiwan's economy. At the same time, Japanese rule led to the "Japanization" of the island, including compulsory Japanese education and pressuring residents of Taiwan to adopt Japanese names.
At the end of World War II in 1945, Taiwan reverted to Chinese rule. During the immediate postwar period, the Nationalist Chinese (KMT) administration on Taiwan was repressive and corrupt, leading to local discontent. Anti-mainlander violence flared on February 28, 1947, prompted by an incident in which a cigarette seller was injured and a passerby was shot to death by Nationalist authorities. The island-wide rioting was brutally put down by Nationalist Chinese troops, who killed thousands of people. As a result of the February 28 Incident, the native Taiwanese felt a deep-seated bitterness toward the mainlanders. For 50 years the KMT authorities suppressed accounts of this episode in Taiwan history. In 1995 a monument was dedicated to the victims of the "2-28 Incident," and for the first time, Taiwan's leader, President Lee Teng-hui, publicly apologized for the Nationalists' brutality.
Starting before World War II and continuing afterwards, a civil war was fought on the mainland between Chiang Kai-shek's KMT government and the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Zedong. When the civil war ended in 1949, 2 million refugees, predominately from the Nationalist government, military, and business community, fled to Taiwan. In October 1949 the People's Republic of China (P.R.C.) was founded on the mainland by the victorious communists. Chiang Kai-shek established a "provisional" Republic of China (R.O.C.) capital in Taipei in December 1949. During the 1950s, the KMT authorities implemented a far-reaching and highly successful land reform program on Taiwan. They redistributed land among small farmers and compensated large landowners with commodities certificates and stock in state-owned industries. Although this left some large landowners impoverished, others turned their compensation into capital and started commercial and industrial enterprises. These entrepreneurs were to become Taiwan's first industrial capitalists. Together with refugee businessmen from the mainland, they managed Taiwan's transition from an agricultural to a commercial, industrial economy.
Taiwan has developed steadily into a major international trading power with $496 billion in two-way trade (2008). Taiwan's accession to the World Trade Organization in 2002 has expanded its trade opportunities and further strengthened its standing in the global economy. Tremendous prosperity on the island has been accompanied by economic and social stability. Chiang Kai-shek's successor, his son Chiang Ching-kuo, began to liberalize Taiwan's political system, a process that accelerated when President Lee Teng-hui took office in 1988. The direct election of Lee Teng-hui as president in 1996 was followed by opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Chen Shui-bian's election victory in March 2000. Chen was re-elected in March 2004 in a tightly contested election. The KMT's Ma Ying-jeou won the March 2008 presidential election by a substantial majority and took office on May 20, 2008.
Although less than one-quarter of Taiwan's land area is arable, virtually all farmland is intensely cultivated, with some areas suitable for two and even three crops a year. Agriculture comprises only about 1.7% of Taiwan's GDP. Taiwan's main crops are rice, fruit, and vegetables. While largely self-sufficient in rice production, Taiwan imports large amounts of wheat, corn, and soybeans, mostly from the United States. Poultry and pork production are mainstays of the livestock sector and the major demand drivers for imported corn and soybeans. Rising standards of living have led to increased demand for a wide variety of high-quality food products, much of it imported. Overall, U.S. agricultural and food products account for over 30% of Taiwan's agricultural import demand. U.S. food and agricultural exports total about $3.0 billion annually, making Taiwan the United States' sixth-largest agricultural export destination. Taiwan's agricultural exports include frozen fish, aquaculture and sea products, canned and frozen vegetables, and nursery products such as orchids. Taiwan's imports of agricultural products and the range of countries supplying the market have increased since its WTO accession in 2002, and it is slowly liberalizing previously protected agricultural markets