Because of the recent bru-ha-ha over a telephone call that President-elect Donald J. Trump took from the President of Taiwan, I decided to investigate the island’s history, to find out the real story. I was very surprised by what I found. The history of human habitation on the island of Taiwan goes back 8,000 years. Contrary to official mainland Chinese propaganda, and popular belief in America, the island has not been a historical part of the Chinese Empire for all of Chinese history.
Prior to 1624, the natives of Taiwan were primarily Polynesian in appearance and culture. Accounts from those days, indicate that they were not related to orientals or Han Chinese at all. They were a light brown-skinned people, typically proto-Caucasian in appearance. They looked and acted much the same as native Hawaiians, Tahitians and Maori. Indeed, most scientists believe that the Polynesian people originated on Taiwan.
As a result of large-scale Chinese in-migration and interbreeding, however, the remaining “tribes people”, now referred to as “aboriginal Taiwanese” have acquired Han Chinese facial features, including the straight shiny black hair, wide cheekbones and epicanthically folded eyelids. These were NOT the people that were found on the island hundreds of years ago, however, when it was first colonized by westerners.
In 1624, Dutch traders established a crown colony on the island with the intent of using it as a base to trade with China and Japan. The Dutch East India Company came up with a novel idea on getting something the Chinese and Japanese would be willing to pay for. Both mainland China and Japan were big food importers then just like now. The Dutch administration, therefore, imported farmers from Europe, and set up a system of rice and sugar plantations.
To work the land, they imported about 50-60,000 Chinese. The deal was this: the Dutch would supply free transport to the island, free tools, farming advice, seed and oxen. In return, Chinese farmers were required to pay 10% of all their crops to the Dutch. Not a bad deal. The Dutch were thinking long-term because, at the time, the Chinese Empire had no desire to control the island. Bureaucrats in Beijing viewed it as worthless. They called it a “miserable mud flat” and the “Gate of Hell”.
By 1626, things were shaping up so nicely that the Spanish sought to muscle in on the Dutch. They established a foothold in the northern portion of the island, but were expelled within 20 years. Unfortunately, for the Dutch colonists, who had adopted Taiwan as their new home, in 1662, war broke out between the dying Ming and incoming Qing dynasties in mainland China. That ended as a disaster for the Ming, whose fleeing troops then became a disaster for the young Dutch colony. About 7,000 surviving Ming troops fled to Taiwan in 200 warships.
Sensing weakness (the Dutch garrison numbered about 180), the Ming escapees didn’t ask permission to land and settle. They simply attacked, and wrested control of the island away from the Dutch, by so-called “right of conquest”. After killing most of the Dutchmen, they found themselves as fascinated by “yellow hair” as Chinese men still are today. The Ming officers, therefore, forced all the remaining Dutch women into slavery as concubines and prostitutes. Most were kept by Ming officers. Some were used by the Ming officers and, later, sold for service to the common troops. The daughters of the well-known Dutch missionary Antonius Hambroek met this fate.
About 20 years passed, and the Ming slowly won the loyalty of various native chiefs, replacing the Dutch in the trading deals. By the 1680s, the Ming felt strong enough to mount a mainland offensive. They wanted to reestablish their dynasty in the only place that counted, “the middle kingdom between the mountains and the sea” (a/k/a mainland China). They landed troops and tried to rally support on the mainland.
The scheme failed. In the end, the Ming were routed again. This time, however, even though they loathed the island of Taiwan, the rulers of the Qing dynasty was not about to allow the surviving Ming to return to Taiwan to rebuild their power again. So, they were followed back to the island. Then, the Ming were finally and decisively defeated. The Qing took control over those portions of the island that had been previously controlled by the Dutch, and ended the Ming dynasty once and for all.
Qing control, however, was always as spotty as that of their predecessors. At the height, in 1895, the Qing dynasty still only controlled 45% of the island. The rest, about 55%, was under the control of various native chiefs. Earlier, beginning in 1592, the Japanese Empire unilaterally decided that the island was rightfully a part of Japan. It contested the Chinese Qing dynasty’s claim to Taiwan, which it viewed as invalid. According to the Japanese, the island had always been part of the “natural and historic islands of Japan.” Indeed, although they didn’t know enough anthropology to use it as an excuse, Japan’s original inhabitants, prior to immigration from parts of China, was a similar non-Mongoloid race, the “Ainu”.
A mass invasion was attempted in 1619, but it failed as a result of a typhoon that sank the Japanese ships. Finally, in 1895, the Japanese won sovereignty in the Sino-Japan War. During Japan’s rule, many inhabitants of Taiwan, though genetically mostly Chinese, enthusiastically adopted Japanese culture, names and language. They also enlisted in and were ready to fight for their beloved Japanese Emperor. About 200,000 of the troops that invaded China were ethnic Han Taiwanese, who viewed themselves as being just as loyal to the Japanese emperor as people who might live in Tokyo or Osaka.
During the war, the Chinese government renounced all treaties with Japan and made return of the island of Taiwan a primary war goal. After Japan was defeated by the USA, the island was handed back to mainland China. However, the unruly islanders didn’t like the idea of mainland control, regardless of their ethnic blood lines. They proved difficult to control. Several hundred thousand native Japanese were residents by then, and the rest of the population was heavily Japanized. The native Japanese were so difficult to handle that they were expelled to Japan very quickly.
By 1947, however, “anti-mainlander” sentiment had vastly increased among the Japanized Han population. The result was widespread violence, looting and riots. It all ended in a mass revolt, in which tens of thousands of Taiwanese died by the hands of mainland Chinese armies (the Kuomintang at the time). Then, in 1949, the Communists took control of the mainland, isolating the remaining nationalist troops to Taiwan. Over the years, nationalists from the mainland have become less disliked, and integrated into Taiwanese society and vice versa.
One thing is clear. There is no moral imperative that supports the so-called “One China” policy. In fact, viewing the mainland and the island of Taiwan as “one China” has been a very misguided concept from the very beginning. In reality, mainland China has no better claim to the island of Taiwan than Japan, Holland, or Spain. The current racial mix on the island means that the inhabitants have a majority of Han Chinese genes. That does not mean the mainland Chinese government has a right to control their lives or their foreign relations. The islanders have a much more morally defensible claim toward independence.
– Josh Pullman –
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