Taiwan, officially Republic of China, island (in 1994 est. population was 21,299,000), 13,885 sq mi, in the Pacific Ocean, separated from the mainland of S China by the 100-mi-wide (161-km) Taiwan Strait. The capital is TAIPEI. Other major cities include KAOHSIUNG, Tainan, Taichong, and Chilung. About one quarter of Taiwan’s land area is cultivated; rice, wheat, sugarcane, and sweet potatoes are the most important crops. In the 1970s industry replaced agriculture as the major export earner. Light industry is the major manufacturing sector, with electronics far ahead.
Other manufactures include electrical equipment, chemicals, motor vehicles, and machinery, and service industries are beginning to be more important. The main natural resources are woods and other forest products. Religions include Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Christianity. Taiwan was first settled by the Chinese in the 7th century, the island was reached by the Portuguese in 1590. It was held by the Dutch in the 1640s, and by China’s Ch’ing dynasty from 1683. Occupied by Japan after the First Sino-Japanese War, Taiwan remained in Japanese hands until 1945. When CHIANG KAI-SHEK and the Nationalists, or Kuomintang, were kicked from mainland CHINA by the Communists, they shifted the seat of their government to Taiwan.
The U.S. long supported and aided the Nationalists, but in the 1970s Taiwan’s international political position had eroded. In 1971 it lost China’s seat in the UN to the People’s Republic of China, and in 1979 the U.S. broke diplomatic relations with the Nationalists to establish relations with the People’s Republic of China, although keeping good economic and cultural ties. Martial law, in effect since 1949, was lifted in 1987, and many jailed political dissidents were freed. Pres. Chiang Ching-kuo died in 1988 and was succeeded by LEE TENG-HUI, a Taiwan native. In 1991 Lee ended emergency rule, which had permitted the domination of the National Assembly by aging mainland delegates elected in 1947. In elections in 1992 the Kuomintang retained control of the assembly, but the major opposition party won a third of the seats.