President: Ma Ying-jeou (2008)
Premier: Mao Chi-kuo (2014)
Land area: 12,456 sq mi (32,261 sq km); total area: 13,892 sq mi (35,980 sq km)
Population (2014 est.): 23,359,928 (growth rate: 0.25%); birth rate: 8.55/1000; infant mortality rate: 4.49/1000; life expectancy: 79.84
Capital (2014 est.): Taipei, 6,950,646 (metro. area), 2,693,672 (city proper)
Other large cities: New Taipei, 3,913,595; Kaohsiung, 2,773,855; Taichung, 2,662,770; Tainan, 1,876,706; Hsinchu, 419,384
Monetary unit: New Taiwan dollar
The Republic of China today consists of the island of Taiwan, an island 100 mi (161 km) off the Asian mainland in the Pacific; two off-shore islands, Kinmen (Quemoy) and Matsu; and the nearby islets of the Pescadores chain. It is slightly larger than the combined areas of Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Taiwan was inhabited by aborigines of Malayan descent when Chinese from the areas now designated as Fukien and Kwangtung began settling it in the 7th century, becoming the majority. The Portuguese explored the area in 1590, naming it “the Beautiful” (Formosa). In 1624 the Dutch set up forts in the south, the Spanish in the north. The Dutch forced out the Spanish in 1641 and controlled the island until 1661, when Chinese general Koxinga took it over and established an independent kingdom. The Manchus seized the island in 1683 and held it until 1895, when it passed to Japan after the first Sino-Japanese War. Japan developed and exploited Formosa. It was the target of heavy American bombing during World War II, and at the close of the war the island was restored to China.
After the defeat of its armies on the mainland, the Nationalist government of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek retreated to Taiwan in Dec. 1949. Chiang dominated the island, even though only 15% of the population consisted of the 1949 immigrants, the Kuomintang. He maintained a 600,000-man army in the hope of eventually recovering the mainland. Beijing viewed the Taiwanese government with suspicion and anger, referring to Taiwan as a breakaway province of China.
The UN seat representing all of China was held by the Nationalists for over two decades before being lost in Oct. 1971, when the People's Republic of China was admitted and Taiwan was forced to abdicate its seat to Beijing.