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World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Taiwan

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Taiwan, 2007, available at: [accessed 1 December 2015]
Comments In October 2015, MRG revised its World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. For the most part, overview texts were not themselves updated, but the previous 'Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples' rubric was replaced throughout with links to the relevant minority-specific reports, and a 'Resources' section was added. Refworld entries have been updated accordingly.
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The Republic of China (Taiwan) is located north of the Philippines and south of China, off the eastern coast of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and consists of the main island of Taiwan and smaller islands in the Taiwan Strait or off the southeast coast of the PRC. Taiwan itself is generally mountainous, with plains in the west end of the island, and tropical and sub-tropical vegetation.


Archaeologists have found evidence of prehistoric human habitation in Taiwan that dates back 12,000 to 15,000 years.

The ancestors of today's aboriginal groups are thought to have arrived 4,000-8,000 years ago. While Han Chinese began to settle in the nearby Pescadores islands in the 13th century, they were held back from Taiwan by the indigenous peoples until about the 16th century. The Portuguese knew of Taiwan in the same century and gave it the name by which Europeans would know it until the 20th century: Formosa, the 'Beautiful Island'.

The Dutch occupied parts of the island from the early 17th century and were able to keep out the Spanish, but the former were themselves removed in 1662 by mainland Chinese forces. Chinese warlords and pirates were to make Taiwan their base for a number of decades until the Qing dynasty was to annex it in 1683 and it became part of Fujian province. This is when the first wave of Chinese migration to Taiwan began. There were initially edicts in place recognising aboriginal land rights, but the flow of new migrants would increasingly exert pressure on setting these aside. In 1887 Taiwan was made a separate province of China, but was to be ceded to Japan soon after the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895.

There were some uprisings from mainly the Chinese inhabitants until about the 1920s. By the 1930s the Japanese authorities embarked in a drive to assimilate the local population by forcing them to adopt Japanese language and culture. As the tide of the Second World War turned against them, there were last-ditch attempts to allow the appointment or election of Taiwanese into the Japanese Diet so as to present Taiwan an integral part of Japan, but these efforts were to remain useless.

The status of Taiwan was to become uncertain after events in 1945. While the Republic of China forces in Taihoku (today's Taipei) accepted the surrender of Japanese troops in Taiwan, the province was put under the administrative control of the Republic of China in 1945 by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, no treaty made specific references to Taiwanese sovereignty. The position of the People's Republic of China is that its sovereignty was transferred to China under the terms of the Potsdam Declaration.

Relationships between the Republic of China authorities and Mainland Chinese, on the one hand, and Native Taiwanese and aborigines on the other, quickly led to distrust and riots, exacerbated by the political, cultural and linguistic differences between these groups. Tensions flared on 28 February 1947 - which has become known as the '228 Incident or Massacre'when its thought that up to 30,000 people may have been killed after violence erupted following an incident in which a female vendor was beaten by the Mainland Chinese authorities for selling untaxed cigarettes. The rebellion was crushed by the Republic of China military forces by the end of March 1947. These events also led to what is often called the 'White Terror' when political dissent and discussion of the massacre was prohibited. Martial law was imposed from from 19 May 1949 to 15 July 1987. Tens of thousands of Taiwanese were imprisoned or executed for their real or perceived opposition to the Kuomintang (KMT) government.

After losing the Chinese Civil War to the Communist Party of China, the Kuomintang and its leader Chiang Kai-shek moved the Republic of China government to Taipei, though still maintaining they remained the legitimate government of all China, and continued to be recognised as such by most of the international community until the 1970s. At the same time, the government of the People's Republic of China established in 1949 claimed it to be the legal representative of all of China, including Taiwan, and that the Republic of China's government in Taipei was an illegitimate separatist group. It is thought that some 1.3 million Mainland Chinese followed the Kuomintang's movement into Taiwan from 1949, quickly coming to dominate many if not most aspects of the island's economy and politics.

For almost four decades Taiwan was to be governed by what amounted to a party-state dictatorship, with the Kuomintang as the ruling party. All other political parties were banned and political opponents were persecuted, imprisoned or executed. Martial law was lifted in 1987 and democratic reforms started to be introduced. Taiwan held its first direct presidential election in 1996. During this period, native Taiwanese and Aborigines started to be more vocal in their demands, including calls to formally secede from the rest of China. The victory of the Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Chen Shui-bian, in Presidential elections in 2000 ended more than half a century of Kuomintang (or KMT) rule.


Main languages: Mandarin (official), Taiwanese (also known as Hoklo or Minnanese), Hakka

Main religions: Buddhism, Taoism, I-Kuan Tao, Christianity

Indigenous peoples include Atayal, Bunun, Kavalan, Tsou, Paiwan, Rukai, Puyuma, Amis, Yami (or Tao), Saisiyat, Thao, Truku (also Taroko) and Sakizaya, comprising an estimated population of 458,000. (Source: Council of Indigenous Peoples, January 2006)

The vast majority of Taiwan's estimated 23 million people (Source: CIA World Factbook, July 2007) are Han Chinese (98 per cent), though most of these belong to two groups considered to be 'Native Taiwanese': the Hokkien who originally began immigrating from China's southern Fujian province in the 16th century and represent about 70 per cent of the total population, and the Hakka (about 15 per cent of the total population) who migrated in the same period from China's Guangdong province.

More recent Chinese arrivals came in with the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) government and troops after losing the Chinese civil war to the Communists in 1949.

About 2 per cent of the population (nearly 460,000) are indigenous peoples who have inhabited the island for thousands of years. There are thirteen officially recognised indigenous peoples: the Ami, Atayal, Paiwan, Bunun, Puyuma, Rukai, Tsou, Saisiyat, Tao (Yami), Thao, Kavalan, Taroko, and Sakizaya, the latter officially recognised as Taiwan's 13th aboriginal tribe on 17 January 2007, s well as a number of unrecognized smaller groups, some of whom are fighting for official recognition.


Since the lifting of martial law in 1987, Taiwan has moved towards a full-fledged democracy based on the rule of law and respect for human rights.

Restrictions on the use of languages other than Mandarin, especially in the mass media, were lifted, human rights legislation and institutions started to be put into place, and various legislative and regulatory steps were taken to recognise the rights of Taiwan's Aborigines. These started to emerge mainly in the 1990s as the then President Lee Teng-hui started to adopt a number of human-rights initiatives, including a formal apology for the 228 incident. There followed amongst others in 1996 the creation of the Council of Aboriginal Affairs [which later became a Cabinet-level body, the Council of Indigenous Peoples] and the introduction of laws and reforms to give better protection to women's rights.

After his 2000 election victory, Chen Shui-bian, the new President, declared that human rights would be a major element in his administration. This was followed through with the release in 2002 of a government white paper proposing the reform of Taiwan as into 'a human rights state'. The white paper contained proposals to establish a National Human Rights Commission, which to date has still not been established and the incorporation of international human rights standards into Taiwanese legislation, measures which are currently under way.



Minority based and advocacy organisations


Chang Fo-Chuan Center for the Study of Human Rights
Tel: +886 2 2881 9471, ex. 6110

ECPAT (International Campaign to End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism) Taiwan
Tel: +886 2 66106616

Human Rights Education Foundation
Tel: +886 2 2826 3904

New Century Institute (USA)
Tel: +1 212 431 2155

Taiwan Association for Democracy
Tel: +886 2 2708 0100

Taiwan Association for Human Rights
Tel: +886 2 2363 9787

Indigenous peoples

Alliance of Taiwan Aborigines
Tel: +886 2 928 6120

Chinese Association for Human Rights
Tel: +886 2 3393 6900

Plains Aborigine Council of Taiwan
Tel: +886 37 881 155

Sources and further reading


About Human Rights, Taiwan Panorama Archives,

Chen, Shubian, Raising the bar: Human-Rights initiatives in Taiwan, Harvard International Review, March, 2002.

Cohen, Marc, Taiwan at the Crossroads: Human Rights, Political Development and Social Change on the Beautiful Island, Asia Resource Center, Washington, 1988.

Dignity, Respect and Freedom - Human Rights in Taiwan, Government of the Republic of China,

Hakkas, Taiwan Panorama Archives,

Hucker, John, Democracy and Human Rights with Reference to Taiwan, New Century Institute, 2003.

Human and Constitutional Rights Resource Page, Taiwan,

Human Rights Policy White Paper, Government of the Republic of China, Taipei, 2002.,

Jao-mei, H., 'Indigenous peoples of Taiwan', Outsider, MRG newsletter, no. 42, 1995.

Liao, F., Establishing at National Human Rights Commission in Taiwan: The Role of NGOS and Challenges Ahead, Asia Pacific Journal on Human Rights and the Law, Volume 2, Number 2, 2001, pp. 90-10.

Neary, Ian, Human rights in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, Routledge, 2002.

Online Human Rights Related Archives Exhibit, National Archives Administration, Government of China,

Taiwan Communiqué,

Taiwanese Hakka,

The Tribes of Taiwan,

Indigenous peoples

Atayal: The Worldwide Voice of the Indigenous Tribes of Taiwan,

Blundell, David, Austronesian Taiwan: Linguistics; History; Ethnology; Prehistory, Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines Publishing, 2000.

Council of Indigenous Peoples,

Ericsson, Niclas, Creating 'Indian Country' in Taiwan?, Harvard Asia Quarterly, Volume VIII, No. 1, Winter 2004.,

Faure, David, In Search of the Hunters and Their Tribes. Taipei, Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines Publishing, 2001.

Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan,

Ka, C.M., Japanese Colonialism in Taiwan: Land Tenure, Development, and Dependency 1895-1945, Westview Press, 1996.

Li, Paul Jen-kuei, The Dispersal of The Formosan Aborigines in Taiwan, Languages and Linguistics 2001, 2.1:271-78.

Munsterhjelm, Mark, The First Nations of Taiwan: A Special Report on Taiwan's Indigenous Peoples, Cultural Survival Quarterly, Issue 26.2, 31 May 2002.

Shih, Cheng-Feng, Legal Status of the Indigenous Peoples in Taiwan,

Taiwan Aboriginal News Magazine,

Taiwan Aboriginal Rights Web Page,

Taiwanese Aborigines, Taiwan Panorama Archives, %20Aborigines

The Culture of Taiwan's Indigenous Peoples,

The Tribes in Taiwan, Council of Indigenous Peoples,

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