Republicanism in British America
The history of the Taiwanese people is an intriguing and at the same time interesting part of the history of the world. It represents the combination of the influences of the traditional way of life and the European contribution to the creation of the cultural heritage that is today Taiwan. However, in order to have a better consideration of the actual scope of the Taiwanese identity, it is important to underline the contributions each of the several waves of cultural influences had on the establishment of the Taiwanese culture.
Overall, it can be said that Taiwan, similar to most other cultures in the world represents a mixture of several other cultural entities, some of them stronger than other which had a different impact on the final result one can see today in the island. Therefore, the first element which should be taken into account is the aboriginal people. Their presence is attested before the 17th century, when “Taiwan was inhabited by people belonging to the Austronesian race, the members of which lived in a vast area extending from Madagascar in the west to Hawaii and Easter Island in the east, and from New Zealand in the south to Taiwan in the north. Taiwan’s aborigines are believed to have come from the Malay Archipelago in different waves about 6,000 years ago at the earliest and less than 1,000 years ago at the latest” (Vost, 1995). Therefore it can be said that the indigenous tribes present in the region played a significant role in establishing not only a cultural framework for subsequent influences but at the same time it created a connection point between Taiwan and other parts of the world.
The organization of the tribes in the region however came as a result of the conventional differentiation of the peoples according to their position on the island. In this sense, there were plain tribes as well as mountain tribes (Wost, 1995). Despite the fact that there is some sort of doubt over the actual existence of these tribes in this geographical area, it can be said that overall, the aboriginal presence was significant for the establishment of a direction for the culture of Taiwan. Nowadays, these contributions can be seen throughout the cultural identity of the Taiwanese, as “arts such as woodcarving, weaving, wickerwork, and pottery, as well as ceremonial dance and song, have always played central roles in indigenous life, and have strong traditions of individuality, innovation, and creativity” (Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, n.d.). These are visible to this day, despite the fact that their importance and their popularity have decreased. The most important element and the strongest contribution of the indigenous people is the creation of this actual cultural background which plays a significant part in drawing the guidelines for the subsequent evolution of the cultural identity of the island. This is of particular significance in the light of the territorial discussions which make a subject for debate with China.
The need for a particular cultural identity and for expressing it is important for constructing the national image of a people, especially under these geographical considerations. The Taiwanese people have thus tried to make the world aware of their aboriginal heritage precisely because this aspect is important for the image of the people. The tribes have left behind an important heritage which includes literature, art, and music. Thus, efforts are being made to use this cultural heritage. In this sense, “Indigenous intellectuals have been trying to recreate their cultural histories since the 1980s by . Stories of creation myths and tribal heroes have been transcribed by Romanizing indigenous languages, and are published with Chinese translations. Such texts constitute a belated effort in the struggle for cultural survival and the preservation of languages and traditions, as even indigenous children resist using their native tongues” (Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, n.d.). Therefore, it can be argued that one of the most important contributions to the definition of the Taiwanese identity and one of the means through which this identity can be kept alive is represented by the aboriginal cultural legacy.
It is considered that the actual road in modern history is available for the world in the moment in which the island became a colonial point of attraction. In this sense, “the island’s modern history goes back to around 1590, when the first Western ship passed by the island, and Jan Huygen van Linschoten, a Dutch navigator on a Portuguese ship, exclaimed “Ilha Formosa” (meaning “Beautiful island”), which became its name for the next four centuries” (New Taiwan, 2007). The historical background for the contact with the European power should be taken into consideration at this time. Therefore, the 17th century represented for the European powers one of the most interesting parts in the history of the continent because it enabled them the possibility to explore for the first time the world and enter in contact with peoples from different regions of the globe.
This aspect is significant for the colonial power on the one hand and for the aboriginal presence on the other hand. For the European presence on the island, Taiwan represented an important source of income especially taking into account the fact that in the middle of the 17th century the competition between the European powers in terms of colonial assets was rather important. Therefore, Taiwan was viewed as a business opportunity in the end. Thus, “in 1624, the Dutch founded a small outpost on Taiwan with the aim of trading Chinese silk for Japanese silver, as their Portuguese rivals did in Macao, but they soon realized that Taiwan could become a thriving land colony, producing hides, venison, rice, and sugar” (Andrade, 2006). More precisely, they adapted their basic means of conducting business on the continent to the actual characteristics of the land they conducted their activity in. However, it must be pointed out that the relations between the two sides were not cultural ones, but rather commercial relations, which did not affect the cultural background of either part.
The presence of the Dutch represented an important aspect for the further evolution of the cultural heritage of Taiwan from two : on the one hand, from a , and on the other hand, from a commercial one. Regardless of these perspectives, the major triggering point for their development was the immigration afflux which stirred the presence of the Fujianese.
From the point-of-view of the trade relations, the Dutch became aware of the limited success they would have in trying to convince the aboriginal people from working on a systematic base to develop trade with the rest of the regions but in particular with the European colonial rivals. In this sense, the Dutch encouraged the immigration of Chinese workers on the island which would determine an increase in the production from the island. Thus, “by 1645, as many as fifteen thousand Fujianese immigrants lived in southwestern Taiwan” (Andrade, 2006). This aspect of the situation came to play a role also in the way in which culture would be later developed. In this sense, the presence of so many Chinese inhabitants in the region influenced the way in which Taiwan could have maintained its original cultural identity. Thus, the presence of the Chinese in the 17th century implied the adaptation of the local elements to the new ones. Therefore, a change did occur at this level.
The next segment in the history of the island and a crucial moment in the history of the Taiwanese people was the defeat of the Dutch by the Chinese. At this moment in time, the Chinese would get hold of the power in the region and, despite the fact that there were no immediate manifestations of territorial claims; it represents the historical background for the current conditions in the country. Thus, “In 1662 Dutch were defeated by a Chinese pirate, Cheng-kung (Koxinga), a loyalist of the old Ming dynasty, who himself was on the run from the newly established Ching dynasty. Cheng-kung himself died shortly afterwards, his son took over, but in 1683, this last remnant of the Ming Dynasty was defeated by the Ch’ing troops” (New Taiwan, 2007). Therefore, the Taiwanese people became, yet again the subject of foreign occupation. This is an important moment because it enabled the traditional way of life to be even stronger preserved as a result of the conflicting situations with the various influences.
The region which determines the geographical position of the island has often been the center point of many fights for supremacy. The Chinese and the Japanese desire to take control of most of the territories in the area also included the debate over the Taiwanese island. The immigration of more and more Chinese workers who often entered the island with the family and settled there was an important aspect of the way in which China would eventually came to exercise control over the island. Thus, “the Chinese administered the island and undertook a process of colonization of the land and inhabitants, until the Japanese occupation began in 1895” (McDevitt-Parks, 2007). Therefore, the next stage in the evolution of the island can be characterized as a need for overcoming the annexation attempts from China and afterwards Japan. The situation however became an issue of international politics as Europeans became involved through the Unequal Treaties which “which opened designated ports in China to foreign trade. In addition, as a result of the treaties’ terms, European powers were granted extraterritorial jurisdictions in the treaty ports themselves, so that Europeans were obligated to abide by their own legal system and would only be tried by their own consular officials” (McDevitt-Parks, 2007).
The island was in itself at the disposal of the several influences which exercised their authority particularly because the aboriginal people did not have the capacity to defend themselves, nor were they able to stand against the desires for supremacy of China, Japan, and other European countries such as the French. Therefore, the territory was being traded between these regional powers, especially China and Japan. This was largely due to the fact that Taiwan was at the crossroads between the two. Despite the fact that they had a local tradition and culture, they lacked the actual means through which they would be able to retaliate. The 19th century was in this sense an essential moment in the history of the island as its leaders tried to undergo an initiative aiming at independence. Thus, “on 25 May 1895 — with the assistance of disenchanted Manchu officials — the Taiwan Republic, the first independent republic in Asia was established” (New Taiwan, 2007). Nonetheless, the endeavor did not last and in time the island came to be the result of several treaties and agreements which tried to determine its faith.
Overall, it can be concluded that Taiwan has had a troubled history along the centuries. However, it stands as a cultural icon for the region, with a cultural identity which benefited from various influences which in time assimilated or in parts even eliminated the aboriginal presence on the island. Still, from this perspective, it seems that the Taiwanese people were often left without a choice to determine their own fate, a situation which is more or less the one existing at this moment.
Andrade, Tonio. “The Rise and Fall of Dutch Taiwan, 1624-1662: Cooperative Colonization and the Statist Model of European Expansion.” Journal of World History. Emory University. 2006.
McDevitt-Parks, Dominic. “ of Formosan peoples.” Freeman Summer Grant. 2007. 30 April 2008 http://www.reed.edu/academic/studentgrants/downloads/freeman-mcdevitt-parks-report.pdf
New Taiwan. Taiwan’s 400 years of history. 2007. 30 April 2008. http://www.taiwandc.org/hst-1624.htm
Taipei Economic and Cultural Office. Taiwan’s Culture and Art. N.d. 30 April 2008 http://www.asianinfo.org/asianinfo/taiwan/pro-art.htm
Vost, Cliff. “The Tribes of Taiwan.” Travel in Taiwan. 1995. 30 April 2008. http://www.sinica.edu.tw/tit/culture/0795_TribesOfTaiwan.html