Taiwan: Republic of China

Right: Taoist ritual on the streets of Tainan.

Passing Portuguese sailors were so impressed at the beauty of Taiwan that they dubbed it "La Ihla Formosa" (Beautiful Island). At that time the population was largely aboriginal with a handful of pirates, and refugees from Mainland China. The Dutch established their base in Tainan during the 17th century while the Spanish had a settlement at Danshui. Dutch rule came to an end when the pirate Koxinga, a Ming dynasty loyalist routed them at Anping. From 1895 until the end of WW2 Taiwan was governed by Japan.

Taoist ritual

I first came to Taiwan in 1999 to try my hand at teaching English. I settled in the southern Taiwan city of Tainan. Shortly after I arrived a massive 7.6 magnitude earthquake shook the island killing 3,000 people. Taiwan had the third highest number of fatalities during the SARS outbreak. Typhoons periodically ravage the island, plane crashes, a presidential assassination attempt, an exploding whale. Excluding the micro-states, Taiwan has the second highest population density on the planet, and it's a place where things seem to happen.

All this goes on in the shadow of the most populous country on Earth, which has promised to invade if Taiwan formally declares it's independence. For the folks on the street it's just business as usual.

Taiwan Facts:

Area: 32,260 sq km Population: 23,000,000 Pop. density: 700/sq km
Ethnic Groups: Taiwanese (including Hakka) 85%, Mainland Chinese, Aborigine 2%.
Language: Mandarin (official), Taiwanese, Hakka, aboriginal languages.
Religion: Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity.