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Taiwan, formerly Formosa, island in the western Pacific Ocean, formally Republic of China. Together with the Pescadores, Quemoy, and Matsu groups, it is the official seat of the Republic of China government, which claims to be the legal ruler of all China. Taiwan is separated from mainland China by the Formosa Strait, about 90 mi (145 km) wide. The capital is Taipei.

Land and climate

With an area of 13,900 sq mi (36,000 sq km) the island of Taiwan is forested and mountainous, with extensive plains in the west. Its highest point is Yü Shan (13,113 ft/3,997 m). The monsoonal climate is tropical in the south, subtropical in the north, and makes possible 2 rice harvests a year.


Most of the people of Taiwan are Chinese and come largely from the Fukien province on the mainland. The major religions are Buddhism and Taoism. The official language is Chinese.


Once predominantly agricultural, Taiwan's economy has become heavily industrialized. Major industries include steel, aluminum, textiles, metals, machinery, and chemicals, but the mainstay of its manufacturing and exports is in electronics. Irrigation is vital for growing rice, sweet potatoes, soybeans, sugar, tea, fruits, and cotton; sugar and tea are exported. There are rich fisheries and the island has much timber. Its natural resources include coral, natural gas, some oil, gold, copper, and silver.


Named Formosa by the Portuguese, who arrived in 1590, the island came under the control of the Dutch in 1624. It subsequently fell to a Ming general in 1662 and then to the Manchus in 1683. Taiwan was ceded to Japan in 1895 as part of the settlement of the First Sino-Japanese War and remained in Japanese hands until the end of World War II. In 1949, it became a refuge and stronghold for Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists after they were driven from the mainland by Communist forces under Mao Zedong. The Nationalists turned the island of Formosa into the Republic of China, and declared it the legitimate government of China under the presidency of Chiang Kai-shek. Between 1951 and 1965, Taiwan was supported with the help of substantial subsidies from the U.S. government. But eventually the United States decided to recognize Mao's government, and in 1971 Taiwan was expelled from the UN and its seat given to the government of the People's Republic of China. From 1954 to 1980, Taiwan was protected by the United States under the terms of the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1954, but in the years following U.S. recognition of the mainland government, Taiwan found itself increasingly isolated. The death of Chiang Kai-shek in 1975 dealt a further blow to Taiwan's political aspirations. Chiang was succeeded by his son, Chiang Ching-kuo, who died in 1988. From 1949 to 1987, Taiwan was under martial law, but with its suspension there arose opposition parties on the island in addition to the dominant Kuomintang of the Nationalists and their supporters. In 1990 Chiang Ching-kuo's successor, Lee Teng-hui, a native Taiwanese, was elected without opposition to a 6-year term. In 1991, the absolute power of the Kuomintang was terminated. In 1996 the first direct presidential elections were held, which were won by Lee. China regarded the elections as an illegal act, and tried to intimidate Taiwan by carrying out military drills and missile tests.


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