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Given the current and potential global turmoil at present, we felt it was worth doing a series of posts on China and Taiwan as this contentious issue is in our region and potentially affects all of us in the Indo-Pacific region.

Our previous government and its flawed remnants have shown a complete lack of tact or diplomacy when publicly making war-mongering noises. Peter Dutton still does not get it. Worst of all, their approach to the conflicts they created with China over trade has been to beat their collective chests and act tough. In doing so, they not only look ludicrous, but they show a complete lack of appreciation for the complexities involved.

As other writers have put it, “to depict the resolution of the One China issue as a choice between war and no war (ie. Peace) is to over simplify the matter”.

Before we can even discuss the One China scenarios, we need to go back in time and understand the origins and background to Taiwan and China’s connection.

This will be covered in our first post in the series. We will then look at early Chinese connections which will take us up to the end of the Qing dynasty – China’s last dynasty.

Part 1

The island of Taiwan (formerly Formosa in Portugese and Dutch times), is some 161 kilometres from mainland China. The history of the island of Taiwan dates back tens of thousands of years to the earliest known evidence of human habitation. In the Late Pleistocene, sea levels were about 140 m lower than in the present day, exposing the floor of the shallow Taiwan Strait as a land bridge that was crossed by mainland fauna. It was also a bridge for early humans. Bones of an early species of ‘homos’ were found in the channel between Taiwan and Penghu Island. While these fossils are dated well over 190,000 years, the oldest known remains found on Taiwan were between 20,000 and 30,000 years old.

The Chinese province of Fujian lies across the Taiwan strait from Taiwan and shares similar site characteristics with Taiwanese artefact sites. The sudden appearance of a culture based on agriculture around 3000 BC is believed to reflect the arrival of the ancestors of today's Taiwanese indigenous peoples.

Analysis of spores and pollen grains in sediment of Sun Moon Lake suggests that traces of slash-and-burn agriculture started in the area some 11,000 years ago, and ended 4,200 years ago, when abundant remains of rice cultivation were found in that period. At the beginning of the Holocene 10,000 years ago, sea levels rose, forming the Taiwan Strait and cutting off the island from the Asian mainland.

So, in short, Taiwan was ‘founded’ by humans originating thousands of years ago. They could have originated anywhere with some coming from the nearest Chinese province of Fujian. For the last 10,000 years a number of cultures occupied Taiwan and spread throughout the nearby islands and beyond. Around 3000 BC the Neolithic Dapenkeng culture was dominant around the island’s coast. Most scholars believe this culture is not derived from the Changbin culture, but was brought across the Strait by the ancestors of today's Taiwanese aborigines, speaking early Austronesian languages.

China had no real connection with or even interest in Taiwan until around the 3rd century. From then until the 14th century there were a number of failed visits and expeditions. Even Kublai Khan sent officials to Ryuku Islands but they wound up on Taiwan and were sent packing.

It is interesting to note that in 1349, Wang Dayuan provided the first written account of a visit to Taiwan. He found no Chinese settlers there but many on the Penghu Islands. By the 16th century, increasing numbers of Chinese fishermen, traders and pirates were visiting the southwestern part of the island. When the Dutch arrived in 1623, they found about 1,500 Chinese visitors and residents.

European settlement took place on Taiwan (formerly named Formosa by the Portuguese), from the mid 16th century onwards until the Dutch were defeated in 1662 by a Ming loyalist, Koxinga. Chinese civilians, many of whom were farmers, started to settle in Taiwan from the nearest mainland provinces of Fujian and Guangdong.

The Qing dynasty (1644–1912) replaced the Ming and was founded by a northeast Asian people who called themselves Manchus (Aisin Gioro clan). Their history, language, culture, and identity were distinct from the Chinese population, who they conquered in 1644 when China was weakened by internal rebellions. It was also called Manchu dynasty or Pinyin Manzu.

It was the last imperial Chinese dynasty and the longest ruled by non-Han people.

It took over from the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and trebled the size of its territory and increased the population from about 150 million to 450 million.

So, apart from some conflicting times under the Ming for a few years in the 17th century, Taiwan had not seen much of the Chinese except for Han immigrants such as farmers who were allowed to migrate by the Qing who ruled Taiwan until 1912.

However, the Qing were NOT Han – they were Manchurians! So the Han effectively had little or no influence in Taiwan until after 1912! In fact, under the Qing, around half of the Chinese settlers returned to the mainland.

Taiwan’s history (and pre-history) therefore begs the question “on what does China now base it’s contention that Taiwan should be ‘reunified’ with mainland China?”.


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