Main articles: History of Taiwan and Timeline of Taiwanese history|
Prehistory | Early settlement | European settlement | Japanese rule | Kuomintang martial law period | Modern democratic era
Main article: Prehistory of Taiwan
Evidence of human settlement in Taiwan dates back thirty thousand years, although the first inhabitants of Taiwan may have been genetically distinct from any groups currently on the island. About four thousand years ago, ancestors of current Taiwanese aborigines settled in Taiwan. These aborigines are genetically related to Malay and Polynesians, and linguists classify their language as Austronesian. Polynesians are suspected to have ancestry traceable back to Taiwan.
Han Chinese began settling in the Pescadores in the 1200s, but Taiwan's
hostile tribes and its lack of the trade resources valued in that era rendered
it unattractive to all but "occasional adventurers or fishermen engaging in
barter" until the sixteenth century.
Records from ancient China indicate that Han Chinese might have known of the existence of the main island of Taiwan since the Three Kingdoms period (third century, 230 A.D.), having assigned offshore islands in the vicinity names like Greater Liuqiu and Lesser Liuqiu (etymologically, but perhaps not semantically, identical to Ryūkyū in Japanese), though none of these names has been definitively matched to the main island of Taiwan. It has been claimed but not verified that the Ming Dynasty admiral Cheng Ho (Zheng He) visited Taiwan between 1403 and 1424.
Main article: Taiwan under Dutch rule
In 1544, a Portuguese ship sighted the main island of Taiwan and dubbed it "Ilha Formosa", which means "Beautiful Island." The Portuguese made no attempt to colonize Taiwan.
In 1624, the Dutch established a commercial base on Taiwan and began to import workers from Fujian and Penghu as laborers, many of whom settled. The Dutch made Taiwan a colony with its colonial capital at Tayoan City (present day Anping, Tainan). Both Tayoan and the island name Taiwan derive from a word in Sirayan, one of the Formosan languages.
The Dutch military presence was concentrated at a stronghold called Castle Zeelandia. The Dutch colonists also started to hunt the native Formosan Sika deer (Cervus nippon taioanus) that inhabited Taiwan, contributing to the eventual extinction of the subspecies on the island.
Koxinga and Imperial Chinese rule
Main article: Taiwan under Qing Dynasty rule
Naval and troop forces of Southern Fujian defeated the Dutch in 1662, subsequently expelling the Dutch government and military from the island. They were led by Koxinga (traditional Chinese: 鄭成功; simplified Chinese: 郑成功; pinyin: Zhèng Chénggōng). Following the fall of the Ming Dynasty, Koxinga retreated to Taiwan as a self-styled Ming loyalist and established the Kingdom of Tungning (1662–83). Koxinga established his capital at Tainan and he and his heirs, Zheng Jing (traditional Chinese: 鄭經; simplified Chinese: 郑经; pinyin: Zhèng Jīng), who ruled from 1662–82, and Zheng Keshuang (traditional Chinese: 鄭克塽; simplified Chinese: 郑克塽; pinyin: Zhèng Kèshuàng), who served less than a year, continued to launch raids on the south-east coast of mainland China well into the Qing Dynasty, attempting to recover the mainland.
In 1683, following the defeat of Koxinga's grandson by an armada led by Admiral Shi Lang of Southern Fujian, the Qing Dynasty formally annexed Taiwan, placing it under the jurisdiction of Fujian province. The Qing Dynasty government tried to reduce piracy and vagrancy in the area, issuing a series of edicts to manage immigration and respect aboriginal land rights. Immigrants mostly from Southern Fujian continued to enter Taiwan. The border between taxpaying lands and "savage" lands shifted eastward, with some aborigines 'Sinicizing' while others retreated into the mountains. During this time, there were a number of conflicts between Chinese from different regions of Southern Fujian, and between Southern Fujian Chinese and aborigines.
In 1887, the Qing government upgraded Taiwan's status from prefecture of Fujian to full province, the twentieth in the country, with its capital at Taipei. This was accompanied by a modernization drive that included building Taiwan's first railroad and starting a postal service.
Main article: Taiwan under Japanese rule
The building currently known as the ROC Presidential Office was originally built as the Office of the Governor-General by the Japanese colonial government.Imperial Japan had sought to control Taiwan since 1592, when Toyotomi Hideyoshi began extending Japanese influence overseas. In 1609, the Tokugawa Shogunate sent Arima Harunobu on an exploratory mission. In 1616, Murayama Toan led an unsuccessful invasion of the island.
In 1871, an Okinawan vessel shipwrecked on the southern tip of Taiwan and the crew of fifty-four were beheaded by the Paiwan aborigines. When Japan sought compensation from Qing China, the court rejected the demand on the grounds that the "wild"/"unsubjugated" aboriginals （traditional Chinese: 台灣生番; simplified Chinese: 台湾生番; pinyin: Táiwān shēngfān) were outside its jurisdiction. This open renunciation of sovereignty led to a Japanese invasion of Taiwan. In 1874, an expeditionary force of three thousand troops was sent to the island. There were about thirty Taiwanese and 543 Japanese casualties (twelve in battle and 531 by endemic diseases).
Qing China was defeated in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95), and ceded Taiwan and the Pescadores to Japan in perpetuity in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Inhabitants wishing to remain Chinese subjects were given a two-year grace period to sell their property and remove to mainland China. Very few Taiwanese saw this as plausible.
On May 25, 1895, a group of pro-Qing high officials proclaimed the Republic of Formosa to resist impending Japanese rule. Japanese forces entered the capital at Tainan and quelled this resistance on October 21, 1895.
The Japanese were instrumental in the industrialization of the island; they extended the railroads and other transportation networks, built an extensive sanitation system and revised the public school system. During this period, both rice and sugarcane production greatly increased. At one point, Taiwan was the seventh greatest sugar producer in the world. Still, the ethnic Chinese and Taiwanese aborigines were classified as second- and third-class citizens. Large-scale violence continued in the first decade of rule. 'Japan launched over 160 battles to destroy Taiwan's aboriginal tribes during its 51-year colony on the island...'  Around 1935, the Japanese began an island-wide assimilation project to bind the island more firmly to the Japanese Empire. The plan worked very well, to the point that tens of thousands of Taiwanese joined the Japanese army ranks, and fought loyally for them. For example, former ROC President Lee Teng-hui's elder brother served in the Japanese navy and died while on duty in February 1945 in the Philippines.
'Taiwan played a significant part in the system of Japanese prisoner of war camps that extended across South-East Asia between 1942 and 1945.' Allied POW's, as well as 'women and children as young as seven or eight years old,' were brutally enslaved at various locations like at the copper mine northwest of Keelung, sadistically supervised by Taiwanese and Japanese. '...it was found that, while the Japanese were invariably proud to give their name and rank, Taiwanese soldiers and 'hanchos' invariably concealed their names...some Taiwanese citizens...were willing participants in war crimes of various degrees of infamy...young males were to an extent highly nipponized; in fact a proportion in the 1930s are reported to have been actively hoping for a Japanese victory in China...One of the most tragic events of the whole Pacific war took place in Kaohsiung. This was the bombing of the prison ship Enoura Maru in Kaohsiung harbour on January 9th 1945.'
The Imperial Japanese Navy operated heavily out of Taiwan. The "South Strike Group" was based out of the Taihoku Imperial University in Taiwan. Many of the Japanese forces participating in the Aerial Battle of Taiwan-Okinawa were based in Taiwan. Important Japanese military bases and industrial centers throughout Taiwan, like Kaohsiung, were targets of heavy American bombing.
By 1945, just before Japan lost World War II, desperate plans were put in place to incorporate popular representation of Taiwan into the Japanese Diet to make Taiwan an integral part of Japan proper.
Japan's rule of Taiwan ended when it lost World War II and signed the Instrument of Surrender of Japan on August 15, 1945. But the Japanese occupation had long lasting effects on Taiwan. Up to this very day, a small number of older Taiwanese are still loyal toward Japan, and they share their beliefs with the next generation. In general for its effect on politics, while the KMT remains interested in reunification with China, the DPP seeks closer relations with Japan.
Li Wu RiverOn October 25, 1945, Republic of China troops representing the Allied Command accepted the formal surrender of Japanese military forces in Taihoku. The ROC administration, led by Chiang Kai-shek, announced that date as "Taiwan Restoration Day" (traditional Chinese: 臺灣光復節; simplified Chinese: 台湾光复节; Hanyu Pinyin: Táiwān Guāngfùjié; Tongyong Pinyin: Táiwan Guangfùjié). They were greeted as liberators by some Taiwanese. Many other Taiwanese, however, who fought against China and the allies for the Japanese war machine never greeted more than reluctantly, this new generation of Chinese arrivals. The ROC military administration on Taiwan under Chen Yi was generally unstable and corrupt; it seized property and set up government monopolies of many industries. Many problems like this, compounded with hyperinflation, unrest due to the Chinese Civil War, and distrust due to political, cultural and linguistic differences between the Taiwanese and the Mainland Chinese, quickly led to the loss of popular support for the new administration. This culminated in a series of severe clashes between the ROC administration and Taiwanese, in turn leading to the bloody 228 incident and the reign of White Terror.
In 1949, during the Chinese Civil War, the Kuomintang (KMT) , led by Chiang Kai-shek, retreated from Mainland China and moved the ROC government from Nanjing to Taipei, Taiwan's largest city, while continuing to claim sovereignty over all of China and Greater Mongolia. On the mainland, the victorious Communists established the People's Republic of China, claiming to be the sole representative of China including Taiwan and portraying the ROC government on Taiwan as an illegitimate entity.
Some 1.3 million refugees from Mainland China, consisting mainly of soldiers, KMT party members and most importantly the intellectual and business elites fled the mainland and arrived in Taiwan around that time. In addition, as part of its escape from Communists on the mainland, the Nationalist government relocated to Taiwan with many national treasures including gold reserves and foreign currency reserves. This was often used by the PRC government to explain its economic difficulties and Taiwan's comparative prosperity. From this period through the 1980s, Taiwan was governed by a party-state dictatorship, with the KMT as the ruling party. Military rule continued and little to no distinction was made between the government and the party, with public property, government property, and party property being interchangeable. Government workers and party members were indistinguishable, with government workers, such as teachers, required to become KMT members, and party workers paid salaries and promised retirement benefits along the lines of government employees. In addition all other parties were outlawed, and political opponents were persecuted, incarcerated, and executed.
Taiwan remained under martial law and one-party rule, under the name of the "Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion" (traditional Chinese: 動員戡亂時期臨時條款; simplified Chinese: 动员戡乱时期临时条款; Hanyu Pinyin: dòngyuán kānluàn shíqí línshí tiáokuǎn; Tongyong Pinyin: dòngyuán kanluàn shíhcí línshíh tiáokuǎn), from 1948 to 1987, when Presidents Chiang Ching-kuo and Lee Teng-hui gradually liberalized and democratized the system. With the advent of democratization, the issue of the political status of Taiwan has resurfaced as a controversial issue (previously, discussion of anything other than unification under the ROC was taboo).
As the Chinese Civil War continued without truce, the Republic of China built up military fortification works throughout Taiwan. Within this effort, former KMT soldiers built the now famous Central Cross-Island Highway through the Taroko Gorge in the 1950's. The two sides would remain in a heightened military state well into the 1960’s on the islands on the border with unknown number of night raids and clashes with details that are rarely made public. During the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis in September 1958, Taiwan's landscape added Nike-Hercules Missile batteries with the formation of the 1st Missile Battalion Chinese Army and would not be deactivated until 1997. Newer generations of missile batteries have since replaced the Nike Hercules systems throughout the island.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the ROC began to develop into a prosperous, industrialized developed country with a strong and dynamic economy, becoming one of the Four Asian Tigers while maintaining the authoritarian, single-party government. Because of the Cold War, most Western nations and the United Nations regarded the ROC as the sole legitimate government of China (while being merely the de-facto government of Taiwan) until the 1970s, when most nations began switching recognition to the PRC.
Chiang Kai-shek's eventual successor, his son Chiang Ching-kuo, began to
liberalize Taiwan's political system. In 1984, the younger Chiang selected Lee
Teng-hui, a native Taiwanese technocrat, to be his vice president. In 1986, the
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was formed illegally and inaugurated as the
first opposition party in Taiwan to counter the KMT. A year later Chiang
Ching-kuo lifted martial law.
After the 1988 death of Chiang Ching-Kuo, his successor as President Lee Teng-hui continued to hand more government authority over to the native Taiwanese and democratize the government. Under Lee, Taiwan underwent a process of localization in which local culture and history was promoted over a pan-China viewpoint. Lee's reforms included printing banknotes from the Central Bank rather than the Provincial Bank of Taiwan, and disbanding the Taiwan Provincial Government. Under Lee, the original members of the Legislative Yuan and National Assembly, elected in 1947 to represent mainland constituencies and having taken the seats without re-election for more than four decades, were forced to resign in 1991. Restrictions on the use of Taiwanese in the broadcast media and in schools were lifted as well.
In the 1990s, the Republic of China transformed into a true democratic state, as President Lee Teng-hui was elected by the first popular vote held in Taiwan during the 1996 Presidential elections. In 2000, Chen Shui-bian of the DPP, was elected as the first non-KMT President and was re-elected to serve his second and last term since 2004. Polarized politics has emerged in Taiwan with the formation of the Pan-Blue Coalition of parties led by the KMT, favoring eventual Chinese reunification, and the Pan-Green Coalition of parties led by the DPP, favoring an eventual and official declaration of Taiwan independence.
On September 30, 2007, Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party approved a resolution asserting separate identity from China and called for the enactment of a new constitution for a "normal country" . It called also for general use of "Taiwan" as the island's name, without abolishing its formal name, the Republic of China. 
The DPP’s independence position is extremely popular with Taiwanese, which is why President Chen is holding the referendum in March of 2008 on applying to the UN under the name of Taiwan. The popularity of the issue forces the KMT to be pragmatic, instead posing the question of whether the application should be in any name that can get the island in the organization. Since in any case the UN defers to the unilateral mainland interpretation of the resolution that admitted the PRC to the organization, neither method will lead to Taiwan’s admission. But it will raise political heat on the issue from which the DPP is likely to benefit for both the presidential and legislative elections in the New Year.
Chen Shui-bian has scored several “firsts” in the relentless UN drive that has marked his last year as Taiwan’s president. For the first time, Chen’s UN bid was made -- twice in July (July 19 and July 27) and then officially in September during the annual UN session -- under the name Taiwan, not “Republic of China.” The UN rejected all three bids according to its long-standing one-China policy (the 1971 UN Resolution 2758). Chen, however, vows to continue his highly provocative effort until the island becomes a full UN member.
After the failed UN bid in July, Chen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) unveiled on August 1 an unprecedented draft "normal country resolution,” arguing that "Taiwan and China are not under the jurisdiction of each other." The timing of the resolution’s release was also provocative: the first day of August, which is the Mainland’s armed forces day. In mid-September, half a million people marched for Taiwan’s UN membership in Taiwan when the world body held its annual meeting in New York City. A referendum on UN membership, the first in the history of Taiwan, is scheduled to be held in March of 2008, in conjunction with Taiwan's presidential election.
Perhaps the most significant “first” is Chen’s open defiance of Washington. Prior to Taiwan’s latest UN bid, the United States sent out clear and strong messages through both public and private channels that that the referendum would unnecessarily raise tensions with China. A State Department statement in June warned that the United States “opposes any initiative that appears designed to change Taiwan's status unilaterally." In late August, the Bush administration even scaled down Chen’s “transit” through U.S. territory (usually an overnight stopover in a major U.S. city) to a few hours of refueling in Alaska on his way to visit some Central American nations.
On September 11, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas Christensen publicly warned Taiwan in a strikingly candid tone: back down or face the consequences. “Taiwan's security is inextricably linked to the avoidance of needlessly provocative behavior,” he told an audience that included Taiwan defense officials and lawmakers. “... let me be perfectly clear: ... we do not recognize Taiwan as an independent state, and we do not accept the argument that provocative assertions of Taiwan independence are in any way conducive to maintenance of the status quo.”
Christensen’s warning, however, did not seem to deter Chen. Two days later, the Taiwanese leader responded, "The United States has its interest, while we have ours. Sometimes the two do not correspond and sometimes they even clash.”
Essentially, both Chen and the DPP have tossed away Chen’s March 2000 “four NOs” pledge to the United States that he as Taiwan’s president would not declare independence, not change the national name, not push for inclusion of sovereignty themes in the constitution, and not promote a referendum to change the status quo regarding independence and unification. Taiwan’s current move for UN recognition under the name Taiwan is perhaps the last shoe to drop since early 2006 when Chen scrapped Taiwan’s National Unification Council and National Unification Guidelines -- two symbolic elements of the island’s lip-service to the one-China posture