1. Welcome to Taiwan
Off the eastern coast of Asia lies Taiwan, or the Republic of China (ROC), a mountainous island of the Western Pacific with a total area of nearly 36,000 sq. km. The island chain closest to the continent marks the edge of the Asiatic Continental Shelf. Taiwan, one of the islands of this chain, is the largest body of land between Japan and the Philippines.
The surface geology of the island of Taiwan varies in age from very recent alluvial deposits to early sedimentary and crystalline rocks. The fundamental topographic feature is the central range of high mountains running from the northeast corner to the southern tip of the island.
On the East Coast, the mountains fall away steeply into the Pacific. To the west, the level sediments lie just below the surface of the sea. As a result, river deposits have filled the shallow waters and extended the land 15 to 30 km westwards from the foothills, giving Taiwan a larger proportion of useful level land than either Japan or the Philippines. Natural resources and agricultural potential make this coastal plain of great importance.
In the path of warm ocean currents, Taiwan enjoys an oceanic and subtropical monsoon climate conspicuously influenced by its topography. Summers are long and accompanied by high humidity, while winters are short and usually mild. In the coldest months, a thin layer of snow is visible on the peaks of the highest mountains. Frost is rare in the lowlands, where most of the population live and work. The mean monthly temperature in the lowlands is about 16oC in the winter, and ranges between 24oC and 30oC the rest of the year. The relative humidity averages about 80 percent.
Taiwan is the trade wind belt of the planetary wind system, and is greatly affected by the seasonal exchange of air masses between the continent and the ocean. Besides location and topography, the winter (northeast) and summer (southwest) monsoons are the main factors controlling the climate of Taiwan.
Taiwan’s Population Distribution
The population of Taiwan stood at 22.03 million as of August 1999. At 609 persons per square kilometer, the population density of the Taiwan area was the second highest in the world after Bangladesh. Taipei City, which covers 272 sq. km, is Taiwan’s most crowded urban area with 9,710 persons per square kilometer. Kaohsiung City (154 sq. km) is next, with 9,577 persons per square kilometer, and Taichung City (163 sq. km), the third most populated area, has 5,715 persons per square kilometer.
The National Language
Mandarin, the national language of the ROC and of the Chinese mainland, is based on the Peking dialect. Formerly referred to as the Official Speech, the Beijing dialect has had approximately 1,000 years of history as the quoin of politics and commerce in China, particularly in the north.
The ROC on Taiwan
The history of Taiwan after 1949 has been one of rapid and sweeping change over a short period. Following 50 years of Japanese colonization, an influx of around two million soldiers and civilians from the Chinese mainland turned the island into a frontline of the Cold War. Over the last five decades, intensive economic development made the island one of the world’s largest economies, and rapid industrialization, urbanization, and modernization over a few decades has dramatically transformed the lives of the island’s residents. The scale of this transformation has seldom been witnessed anywhere in world history.
Following Japan’s defeat and surrender in 1945 at the end of World War II, Taiwan was retro ceded to the Republic of China on October 25 of the same year. After having been occupied by the Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, Manchus, and Japanese, Taiwan was finally under Chinese rule again.
The city of Taipei is a booming city of 2.7 million people. It is the economic, cultural, and political center of Taiwan, and is a “must visit” place for first-time visitors. Taipei’s National Palace Museum ranks as one of the four best museums in the world, in a class with the Louvre, British Museum, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. It has the world’s largest collection of Chinese artifacts covering over 5000 years of China’s history. In addition, there are many other notable places to visit, including the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, the Presidential Palace, Snake Alley, Lungshan Temple and Confucius Temple. Frequent domestic flights leave from Taipei airport, only minutes from downtown, to all major cities on the island and to the main sightseeing spots.
Taipei lies right on the major air routes between Japan and Hong Kong. There are numerous daily flights on many of the major airlines, including United, Cathay Pacific, Northwest, Japan, Singapore, as well as the locally owned China Airlines and EVA Airways, to and from the USA and Europe. Taipei’s Chiang Kai-Shek (CKS) International Airport is about 50 km from the city center.
Much of the credit for Taiwan’s steady economic growth must go to the spread of universal education throughout the island. After 1949, the government expanded education and raised literacy rates. From 1950 to 1990 the number of university students, including those attending private colleges and universities, increased by more than 90 times. Although there were only five M.A. candidates in 1950, and Taiwan had its first Ph.D. student in 1956, by 1997 there were 48,619 students in 766 graduate programs, with 10,013 students studying for the doctorate. Thousands of others were enrolled in graduate programs abroad in the US, Canada, Australia, and Europe. The number of high school students also increased from around 34,000 in the 1950s to more than 400,000 in the 1990s. Most remarkable has been the change in the rate of illiteracy. In 1951, 34.6 percent of the population six years and older were illiterate. This figure had dropped to 15.3 percent by 1969. At present, less than six percent of the population is illiterate, mostly the elderly.
Science and Technology
The Republic of China is certainly aware of the need to stay abreast of scientific developments. The ROC government has allocated an ever- increasing portion of its budget and manpower to research and the development of new technologies. Indeed, the government’s education, national defense, and economic policies all focus, to some extent, on the development of the scientific expertise. The absolute and relative amounts of funding for R&D in both the public and the private sectors have grown rapidly over the last decade. Numerous cultural exchange agreements have also been signed with friendly nations to strengthen scholastic exchanges.
More people in Taiwan than ever before are graduating with B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in the hard sciences. More scientists are traveling abroad and more non-Chinese scientists are visiting Taiwan. Each year, there are more and more R&D institutes established, undertaking more research and producing more scientific publications in Taiwan than ever before.
Scientific research in Taiwan is not only motivated by intellectual interest, but also by national considerations and in part by profit. Taiwan’s freewheeling market economy provides plenty of incentives for R&D in profitable technology. However, the National Science Council, the highest government office charged with coordinating national science and technology policy, closely coordinates all R&D activities, and provides funding to the public sector for scientific and technological research projects through grants and contracts.
Present and Future
Although the greatest change in post-1949 Taiwan has been the island’s economic revolution and spectacular rise in personal income and living standards, the social transformation brought about following the lifting of martial law in 1987 cannot be overlooked. The legalization of labor strikes, demonstrations, and the formation of new political parties all gave greater power to the people. The lifting of restrictions (and censor) on newspapers and publishing has produced an explosion in media growth and broadened the perspectives of an increasingly sophisticated populace.
Economic development over the past five decades has also taken a heavy toll on the living environment. Increased prosperity and greater democratic participation have brought about demands for a better quality of life. Anti-pollution protests have been common since the late 1980s. The Republic of China has continued to pursue a balance among democracy, prosperity, equality, a high quality of life, biological diversity, and environmental protection. As the ROC enters the 21st Century, vigorous debates and discussions in the media and within government have become a daily part of life in Taiwan.
Historians have viewed the 19th and 20th centuries as a search by Chinese for modernity, and inclusion if not integration, with the outside world. Often, however, modernity and the opening of China have been forced on the nation at great cost. The world forces of imperialism, communism, and the Cold War have dragged China through turmoil and change. Centuries of imperial rule and the Confucian state vanished at the dawn of the 20th century, and it certainly appears that civil war and communism will also be history with the dawn of the 21st century. Today, the forces of global capitalism, democracy, and the information age are carrying China into a new era, one in which the future of China and that of the World are undivided.