The Chinese were aware of the existence of Taiwan and its Malayo-Polynesian aboriginal population as early as the 7th century AD but major Chinese settlement of the island did not begin until the 17th century. The Portuguese first visited the island in 1590, naming it Ilha Formosa (Beautiful Island). By 1626 the Dutch and the Spanish had established fortified commercial settlements along the island's western coast. In 1646 the Dutch seized the Spanish settlement but they were ousted in turn by an influx of Chinese refugees from the deposed Ming dynasty in 1661. In 1683 the Manchus, leaders of the ruling Ch'ing dynasty, took control of the island and made it part of mainland Fukien province.
Taiwan was ceded to Japan following the Sino-Japanese war in 1895 but it was returned to China in 1945 after W.W.II. Following the Communist victory on the mainland in 1949 Chiang Kaishek and remnants of his army fled to Taiwan where he became president. He died in 1975 and was succeeded by his son, Chiang Ching-kuo who laid the basis for the political reforms implemented by his successor, Lee Teng-hui, who became Taiwan's first freely elected president in 1988.
Now, Taiwan has a democratic two-party political system, a developed economy,
and an increasingly close, relationship with mainland China.
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It took me six hours to get here from Bangkok via Hong Kong. I was not impressed by Taipei which I found crowded, noisy, severely polluted and not particularly clean. This is the City Centre near the train station.
Here is the Train station. Maybe I was in a bad humour but I saw nothing in Taipei to seduce me after the charm and subtlety of life in Vietnam, Laos and northern Thailand. I found the huge Chiang Kaishek Memorial gross and in poor taste. As for the people, I found them busy, obsessed with work and insensitive when not frankly hostile to strangers.
The one redeeming factor was the National Palace Museum. It is worth putting up with the high prices and other negative aspects of Taipei to enjoy the wonders of Chinese art and culture stored in that remarkable Museum.
Retrospectively, we have to thank Chiang Kaishek for robbing China's finest jades, ceramics and other art when he fled in 1949 for he might have unwittingly saved them from destruction during the 1966 - 1970 cultural revolution.
Somehow, I have the feeling that my negative assessment is not completely fair so I'll have to go back someday to visit the rest of the island. Anyway, I did not linger more than two days in the museum and continued on to Seoul.