Taiwan—Small Island with Big Features
BY “AWAKE!” CORRESPONDENT IN TAIWAN
TAIWAN is a lush-green island, a hundred miles off the China mainland. It is 240 miles long and 90 miles wide, about one third the size of the state of Virginia. Although small in size, it is big in many ways.
For one thing, it has a big population. Fifteen million, or nearly four times as many people as the whole state of Virginia! This makes it the most densely populated land in the world, with 1,080 persons per square mile.
Taiwan also has big physical features. Over thirty of its mountain peaks are more than 10,000 feet high, and some rise nearly 13,000 feet—almost two and a half miles in the air! So much of the island is comprised of steep mountains that only 25 percent of the land is regarded as cultivatable. Yet food production is tremendous.
Taiwan provides almost all the food it needs, importing only a few items. There are some 745,000 farms on the island, averaging about three acres in size. Some 4.4 million hogs were slaughtered in 1971! These were produced almost entirely by farmers who raise only a few, perhaps no more than half a dozen at a time as a sideline.
Despite the repercussions caused by the admittance of the Communist Chinese to the United Nations, Taiwan’s economy still is booming. Several nations have severed diplomatic relations with the Nationalist Chinese government in an effort to court the favor of the Communist Chinese. This has naturally caused bitterness here. But the only indications of this that a visitor to Taiwan is likely to see are the Chinese-language slogans encouraging the populace to continue the struggle against Communism.
About 190,000 aborigines now live on Taiwan. These are descendants of the island’s earliest known inhabitants. They include members of the Amis, Bunun, Paiwan, Lukai, Binan, Taiyal, Saiset, Tsou and Yami tribes. From where did these many peoples come?
Most anthropologists agree that at least the Amis came from Malay-Indonesian stock. Their language closely resembles some Philippine dialects. These and the Yami are essentially plains dwellers. From as far back as the Amis’ orally transmitted history goes, they have been rice farmers. Also, they raised herds of water buffalo for meat following the introduction of these animals by the Dutch in the early seventeenth century.
The origins of the other tribes are more difficult to pinpoint. Many believe that some, if not all of them, migrated originally through the Malay peninsula from remote areas of the Asian mainland. Certain tribes, notably the Taiyal, Tsou, Bunun and Paiwan, were notorious for their head-hunting practices.
Each tribe has its own distinctive language and culture. The Amis have become well known throughout the Orient for their dances and singing. Troupes have toured many lands demonstrating the dances that portray facets of their ancient culture.
During the early centuries of the aboriginal occupancy, Taiwan was unknown to the Western world. The Portuguese first sighted the island in 1590. Impressed by its lush tropical appearance, they named it Formosa, meaning “Beautiful.” They established a settlement in the north, but soon left.
Then came the Dutch in 1622. They took territory from the aboriginal inhabitants and the few Chinese who had migrated to Taiwan during the previous centuries. The Dutch built the town of Anping and Fort Zeelandia.
The Spaniards, who were in the Philippines at the time, were alarmed and in short order set up a fort in what is now Keelung harbor on the upper edge of Taiwan. Shortly thereafter they built another fort on the northwest coast. After several attempts, the Dutch finally drove the Spaniards out of Taiwan.
Under Dutch encouragement some 100,000 Chinese came to Taiwan. The Dutch wanted skilled farmers to produce sugarcane, which they had introduced into the island. From 1624 to 1661 the Dutch ruled Taiwan with the aim of building up agriculture and trade (mainly in deerskins) and to obtain revenue through taxation.
The Dutch were also interested in spreading their Protestant religion. Their missionaries acted as agents in collecting taxes. These also produced a translation of the Gospels of Matthew and John into an aboriginal language. Great efforts were made to teach the people Dutch, so that it might serve as a means of communication between the various language groups.
However, Dutch rule was short-lived. The Chinese leader Koxinga wanted to use Taiwan as a base for his attacks on the Manchus who had invaded China. In 1661 he overthrew the Dutch with the aid of the Chinese who had immigrated here.
A Chinese Island
While a few Chinese had settled on Taiwan as early as the twelfth century, full-scale migration began in the seventeenth century. By the early nineteenth century some 2,500,000 Chinese from the province of Fukien, just across the sea from Taiwan, made up 82 percent of the population. Another 400,000 Chinese came from Canton, plus 150,000 from other provinces of China.
Since each province of China has its own Chinese dialect, with differences in a dialect even within a province, Taiwan came to have a bewildering number of Chinese dialects. Also, there are nine or more aboriginal languages.
Today the aboriginal inhabitants compose less than 2 percent of the population. Yet most of the more than 1,100 Taiwanese witnesses of Jehovah are from these tribal groups, particularly the Amis tribe.
Japan obtained Taiwan as spoils of the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895. The Japanese aims for Taiwan were: (1) to supply imperial Japan with agricultural products, (2) to serve as a market for Japan’s increasing industrial output and (3) to provide living space for emigrants from heavily populated Japan.
The police were given wide powers to implement these goals. By 1912 there was one policeman for every 580 persons in rural Taiwan, to compare with one for every 1,052 persons in industrial Japan. They were harsh with the local populace, but were effective in helping Japan to control Taiwan and in suppressing crime and corruption.
During the fifty years that Japan ruled, great strides were made in organizing Taiwan to implement the above goals. External shipping, mainly to Japan, was greatly increased. Some 2,800 miles of railway lines were constructed, one section becoming famous throughout the railroad world. It was a line that climbed more than 9,800 feet up Mount Ali in the central mountains to haul lumber. Its forty-five-mile length took twelve years to construct.
Another important project was the construction of 586 miles of daisha railway lines. The daisha is a simple flat-top car that runs on very narrow-gage tracks and is pushed by one or two men. In the year 1938 these daisha carried three million passengers and 553 million tons of freight!
By the time the Japanese occupation ended with her World War II defeat in 1945, a huge irrigation system had converted the formerly dry, unproductive Chianan plain into a productive garden. More than 67,000 acres, which comprise about 60 percent of the total plains area of Taiwan, are served by this system. Also, the Japanese language had become the language bridge between the various language groups in Taiwan.
The people’s knowledge of Japanese helped in the preaching of the good news of God’s kingdom by Jehovah’s witnesses. Prior to World War II, two full-time preachers from Japan visited the village of an Amis woman named Lin. She accepted the Bible truths taught, and was baptized in 1939. She explains:
“I was one of the few women in the village who had some Japanese education, so I was able to read the Japanese Bible and difficult Bible publications. Though my understanding was rather faulty, I realized that Jehovah is the true God. I knew that to gain life I must be faithful to Him. When I refused to worship at the Shinto shrine and to say that the Japanese emperor was superior to Jehovah, I was stripped naked and beaten.”
A sharpened bamboo stick was jabbed into her genitals. But even through this ordeal and other sufferings in prison, this Amis Witness maintained integrity. Such faith has been characteristic of many of the Amis and other tribal Witnesses.
Development Under Chinese Rule
With the end of World War II, Taiwan once again became one of the thirty-five provinces of China. By early 1949 another 1,500,000 Chinese had moved to Taiwan from the mainland, along with the Nationalist government of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. New roads were built, the most outstanding being the cross-island highway from Hualien to Taichung. This road, passing through Taroko Gorge and other spectacular scenery, makes the fertile east coast more accessible to the western part of the island.
This past year has seen a similar new highway, farther south, enter the final stages of construction. New dams have been completed, and more are being constructed. A successful land reform program has brought an easier life to most farmers.
The preaching work of Jehovah’s witnesses has also gone ahead since World War II. For example, Mr. Wang, a post-war arrival from the Chinese mainland, explains how he became a Witness:
“Two missionaries called when I was at work. My wife tried to turn them away, but my daughter said they should return on the weekend when I would be home, for she thought I might be interested. They started a Bible study with me that changed my whole life. Our family life improved, and my wife was also moved to accept the Bible truths. We have seen the Taipei congregation grow from the five or six attending meetings, to the hundred or more that assemble each week now at the Kingdom Hall.”
As Taiwan develops materially, more and more tourists come. They increased from 42,000 in 1961 to almost 540,000 in 1971! There is indeed much for a visitor here to see and enjoy.
For example, there is the National Palace Museum, which almost certainly contains the biggest collection of Chinese artifacts in the world. While some items are on permanent display, whole sections are changed every three months. Even so, it would take ten years to display everything once! The jade and pottery are so breathtakingly beautiful that many spend hours examining these two displays alone.
For many tourists, however, the fabulous scenery that caused the Portuguese sailors to name the island Ilha Formosa, or Isle Beautiful, is the highlight of a visit to Taiwan. One of the most impressive places to see is Taroko Gorge, near Hualien on the east coast. “Big” is an inadequate word to describe the towering marble cliffs and deep valley through which a normally small stream flows.
It is not necessary, however, to go so far to sample the verdant beauty of this little isle. A short trip from Taipei to the village of Wulai will take a visitor through some typical Taiwan mountain scenery. There a person can ride one of the few remaining daisha. Also, one can see dances of the Taiyal tribe performed, and note the tattoo markings on the older women.
For those interested in the various forms of religion practiced in the Orient, there are numerous temples and other centers of worship to see. A good place to observe Buddhists worshiping is the Lungshan Temple, dedicated to the worship, primarily, of Kwanyin, the goddess of mercy. This temple is interestingly constructed and has numerous intricate carvings of whole scenes from Chinese legends.
The branch office of the Watch Tower Society, which serves the interests of all of Jehovah’s witnesses in Taiwan, is located at No. 5, Lane 99, Yun Ho Street, near the National Taiwan University. Hundreds of persons are expected to visit here August 5 to 8 during the International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Taipei. Just ten years ago there was such an international gathering in Taipei. A Chinese woman by the name of Yen was then working as an accounting clerk at a hotel. She explains the effect that the assembly delegates had upon her:
“I soon perceived that their manners were no formalistic veneer. The hotel staff was polite for business reasons. But these people were politer and kinder than we were! What an impression they made! I was moved to talk to some of them, and one of them gave me the Kingdom Hall address. This resulted in a Bible study being started with me.
“My family are all Buddhist, and breaking away from the customs and superstitions presented many problems. It took a lot of patience on the part of the Witnesses to help me do this. But the refreshment of serving with many Christians who have the same deep love as those touring Witnesses I first met has made the effort more than worth while.”
Those tourists of ten years ago set a fine example in conduct for all who will this year be visiting Taiwan. Even though ours is a small and perhaps unfamiliar island to some, it has many big features that will surely interest and delight a visitor.