Taiwan has a long and colourful history. From the prehistoric Austronesian expansion that spread across the Pacific islands to the modern tech boom from the 1990s onwards that continues to power the global economy, the island has never ceased to amaze throughout history. The following is a condensed overview and timeline of Taiwanese history.


  • Circa 10,000 BCE・Sea levels rose at the end of the last glacial period (Ice Age). The land bridge between Taiwan and the Asian continent became submerged, forming the Taiwan Strait and Taiwan became an island.
    • The resulting geographic isolation of Taiwan allowed indigenous cultures to develop independently of continental influences.
  • Circa 4000–3000 BCE・The early neolithic Dapenkeng culture appeared in the archaeological records of the island.
    • The people of this culture spoke early forms of Austronesian languages and are the ancestors of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.
    • Around this period, some branches of Taiwan’s indigenous Austronesian cultures began expanding rapidly throughout maritime Southeast Asia and the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Colourized Japanese-era photograph of indigenous Taiwanese/Formosan youth
Colourized photo of indigenous Taiwanese youth.

16th Century

  • 1542・Sailors from a passing Portuguese ship named the island Ilha Formosa.
  • 1592・Japanese warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi launched his first invasion of Korea. An ultimately unsuccessful side expedition to subjugate Taiwan was launched the following year.
    • This was the first time a foreign power attempted to subjugate Taiwan.
Painting: The (Dutch) voyage's return in 1599, by Cornelis Vroom
Painting by Cornelis Vroom of Dutch merchant ships.

17th Century

  • 1609・Japan’s Tokugawa shogunate sent an exploratory mission to Taiwan, led by Shimabara feudal lord Arima Harunobu.
  • 1616・The Tokugawa shogunate ordered a military expedition to Taiwan under the command of Nagasaki magistrate Murayama Tōan. The mission sought to establish a Japanese trading post in Taiwan but ultimately ended in failure.
  • 1624・Dutch colonization of Taiwan began with the occupation of Tayovan in southwestern Taiwan (modern-day Anping District, Tainan City). The Dutch constructed Fort Zeelandia.
    • The Dutch became the first foreign power to successfully subjugate and administer any part of the island.
    • The colony formed a distinct governorate under the overall direction of the governor-general of the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia).
    • Large numbers of Hoklo and Hakka immigrants from southeastern China began settling in the new Dutch colony.
  • 1626・Spanish colonists arrived from the Spanish East Indies (present-day Philippines and the Marianas) in northern Taiwan and established Fort San Salvador near the present-day port city of Keelung.
  • 1642・Spanish colonists were expelled from Taiwan by the Dutch due to fierce competition between the two colonial powers.
  • 1653・The Dutch colony in Taiwan began to thrive as a crucial trade link between China, Japan and European colonies in Southeast Asia.
  • 1661・Pirates in the region, led by Sino-Japanese warlord Koxinga, launched an invasion of Taiwan and besieged the Dutch stronghold at Fort Zeelandia.
    • After a nine-month siege, the Dutch governor surrendered to Koxinga. Dutch colonists in Taiwan relocated to Batavia (present-day Jakarta, Indonesia), ceding Taiwan to the pirate kingdom.
  • 1662・Zhèng Jīng (Taiwanese: Tēnn King), succeeded his father, Koxinga, as pirate king and proclaimed the Kingdom of Formosa in present-day southwestern Taiwan.
  • 1683・The Kingdom of Formosa is annexed by the Manchurian Empire (Qing China).
    • This marked the first time Taiwan came under Chinese rule.
  • 1684・Under Qing Chinese rule, Taiwan was initially organized as a prefecture under the jurisdiction of Fujian Province, across the Taiwan Strait in southwestern China.
    • Beijing’s imperial government was initially reluctant to fully annex Taiwan as the island was seen as lying outside traditional Chinese territory (and therefore barbaric).
    • Taiwan was ultimately annexed to impose order due to its high frequency of insurgencies and rebellions.
Flag of the Qing dynasty
Flag of the Manchurian Empire in China (Qing dynasty)

18th Century

  • 1721・Zhū Yīguì (Taiwanese: Chu It-Kùi) Rebellion.
  • 1732・Indigenous rebellion near central Taiwan’s Dajia River.
  • 1786・Lín Shuǎngwén (Taiwanese: Lîm Sóng-Bûn) Rebellion.

19th Century

  • 1867・Rover Incident: The American vessel Rover shipwrecked near present-day Kenting in southern Taiwan. American survivors were massacred by indigenous Taiwanese tribesmen.
    • The incident led to a US military expedition against southern Taiwanese tribes.
  • 1871・Mudan Incident: 54 shipwrecked Ryukyuan sailors were massacred by natives of the Paiwan tribe. Ethnic Han settlers on the island rescued 12 Ryukyuan sailors.
    • Japan intervened on behalf of the Kingdom of Ryukyu (present-day Okinawa) and launched a military expedition to Taiwan in retaliation. The Ryukyuan kingdom was annexed by Japan in 1879.
  • 1884・Battle of Tamsui: Rare French defeat during the Sino-French War (1884-1885) between the Qing Empire in China and the French Third Republic.
  • 1887・Taiwan was made a full province of the Qing Empire (the island had been a satellite under the provincial jurisdiction of Fujian).
  • 1894・The First Sino-Japanese War broke out between the ascendant Empire of Japan and the declining Qing Empire of China.
  • 1895・The Treaty of Shimonoseki concluded between the Qing Empire and the Empire of Japan. Taiwan became Japan’s first major overseas colony.
    • In May, the Republic of Formosa was proclaimed in Taiwan in opposition to Japanese rule. Taiwan was administered by the republic until its conquest by Japan in October.
Photo of the Grand Shrine of Taiwan
Photo of the Shinto Taiwan Grand Shrine.

20th Century

  • 1905・Taiwan’s economy achieved self-sufficiency and no longer required Japanese financial support.
  • 1907・Běipǔ Uprising: First documented uprising against Japanese rule in Taiwan. The revolt was led by the Hakka and Saisiyat peoples of northwestern Taiwan.
  • 1928・Founding of the Taihoku Imperial University (now the National Taiwan University).
    • The university was one of nine Imperial Universities in the Japanese empire.
    • The Imperial Universities comprised seven institutions in Japan and one each in Korea and Taiwan.
  • 1930・Musha (Wùshè) Uprising: A major indigenous revolt by central Taiwan’s Seediq people against Japanese rule. Indigenous warriors launched a headhunt, killing over 130 Japanese officers and settlers.
  • 1935・Japanese governor-general of Taiwan held an international expo to showcase the island’s rapid development and modernization under Japanese rule.
    • In the same year, the first Taiwanese-born representatives were elected to office in Taiwan’s colonial legislative assembly.
  • 1936・The Japanese government began implementing “Japanization” (kōminka) in Taiwan.
    • Japanization Movement: The Japanese language was made mandatory in Taiwan’s education system. Taiwanese subjects were encouraged to adopt Japanese names. Taiwanese soldiers were drafted to serve in Japan’s Imperial Army.
  • 1937・The Second Sino-Japanese War broke out between the Empire of Japan and the Republic of China, founded in 1912 after the fall of the Qing Empire.
  • 1939・The Sino-Japanese War, together with the War in Europe and the Pacific War, became major theatres of conflict in the Second World War.
  • 1945 (April)・Japanese election laws were amended to enable Taiwanese representation in Japan’s Imperial Diet in Tokyo.
  • 1945 (August)・The Empire of Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers, ending the Second World War. The Japanese empire was dismantled and Taiwan was claimed by the Republic of China.
  • 1947・February 28 (228) Incident: A large-scale uprising against the Chinese government was met with a bloody massacre of Taiwanese civilians by the Chinese army.
  • 1949・China became a communist country. The ousted government of the Republic of China (ROC) fled to Taiwan with nearly two million Chinese refugees.
    • Chinese refugees, known as “outlanders” or “mainlanders” on the island, greatly transformed the dynamic in Taiwan’s already complex ethnic and linguistic landscape.
    • The ROC government introduced Sinicization programs across Taiwan to counteract Japanization. Mandarin Chinese culture was favoured over Taiwan’s long-established Hoklo, Hakka and indigenous heritage.
  • 1960-2000・Broad economic and political reforms launched.
    • Taiwan experienced an economic miracle and rapidly emerged as an advanced economy and was dubbed one of the Four Asian Tigers (alongside South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong).
    • Taiwan democratized and the Taiwanization Movement and de-Sinicization gained momentum.
      • Taiwan’s centuries-old Hoklo-derived and Hakka-derived cultural heritage, as well as indigenous Austronesian/Formosan cultures, experienced major revivals.
Panoramic photo: Taipei at night
Modern Taipei’s skyline at night.

21st Century

  • 2005・The Indigenous Peoples Basic Law came into effect.
    • The act recognized the right of Taiwan’s indigenous nations to self-government and set up autonomous jurisdictions for indigenous communities.
  • 2007・The Indigenous Traditional Cultural Expression Protection Act came into effect.
    • The act tasked Taiwan’s government with the duty of protecting indigenous cultural heritage.
  • 2017・On May 24th, Taiwan’s Supreme Court ruled that marriage discrimination based on sexual orientation is unconstitutional, granting constitutional protection to LGBT couples who wish to marry in Taiwan.
    • Reuters touted it as the first-ever such ruling in Asia and described Taiwan as having “a reputation as a beacon of liberalism in the region.”
  • 2017・The Indigenous Languages Development Act was promulgated on June 14th.
    • Taiwan officially recognized its 16 indigenous languages (42 dialects) as national languages with legal protection and authority—safeguarding indigenous persons’ rights to use native tongues in official settings.
Posted by:Island Folklore

An online repository of Taiwan’s folktales, history, legends, myths and traditions.