As Ukraine is currently entangled in war, Western audiences have drawn parallels between its situation and the tensions between Taiwan and China. Similarly, China's desire to "unify" with Taiwan is deeply rooted in history. Therefore, it is essential to understand the history of the Chinese and Taiwanese people to understand the conflict.
Around 1000 BCE, people from the coast of China sailed to Taiwan, and an aboriginal population was established. This aboriginal population is distinct from the Han Chinese and should be considered as different ethnicities. Taiwan then became the origin of the Austronesian expansion as people sailed to spread across the Philippines, Australia, Polynesia, and other islands.
In the 16th century, Portuguese sailors stumbled upon Taiwan and named it "Ilha Formosa," which means "beautiful island." Up to that point, the island had only occasional visits by fishermen and merchants. However, in the 1620s, the Dutch East India Company established bases in Taiwan and employed the aboriginal population to work on their plantations. The Spanish also attempted to establish bases two years later but were eventually ousted by the Dutch.
A Fallen Dynasty
During the mid-17th century, loyalists of the Ming dynasty sought refuge in Taiwan after the Manchurians seized control of China (establishing the Qing Dynasty). The Han Chinese population became established on the island, and these loyalists eventually drove out the Dutch, taking authority. However, within a few decades, the Qing dynasty forcibly took control of Taiwan from these loyalists. Centuries later, Taiwan became a province of the Qing dynasty.
First Sino-Japanese War and Japanese Occupation
In the First Sino-Japanese war, the Qing Dynasty fought Japan and was defeated in 1895. Under the Treaty of Shimonoseki, the Qing ceded Taiwan to Japan. During this period, Taiwan was under Japanese occupation through both World War I and World War II. Japanese rule from 1895 to 1918 focused on suppressing rebellions and establishing government structures. Then, from 1919 to 1937, Japan attempted to assimilate the Han Chinese population in Taiwan with Japanese culture and education, trying to make Taiwanese people “become” Japanese. Economically, Japan invested heavily in infrastructure and improved public services. From 1938 until the end of World War II, Taiwan served as a significant production base supplying the Japanese war effort.
Return to the Republic of China
During World War II, in the Cairo Declaration of 1943 by Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, they promised to return Taiwan and the Penghu Islands to the Republic of China. Subsequently, following Japan's defeat in World War II, the Cairo Agreement was implemented, leading to the Republic of China assuming governance over Taiwan.