In 1895, military defeat forced China to cede Taiwan to Japan. Taiwan reverted to Chinese control after World War II. Following the Communist victory on the mainland in 1949, 2 million Nationalists fled to Taiwan and established a government using the 1947 constitution drawn up for all of China. Over the next five decades, the ruling authorities gradually democratized and incorporated the local population within the governing structure. In 2000, Taiwan underwent its first peaceful transfer of power from the Nationalist to the Democratic Progressive Party. Throughout this period, the island prospered and became one of East Asia's economic "Tigers." The dominant political issues continue to be the relationship between Taiwan and China - specifically the question of Taiwan's eventual status - as well as domestic political and economic reform.
Taiwan (Traditional Chinese: 台灣 or 臺灣, Simplified Chinese: 台湾 tái wān) is an island nation of about 36,000 km² located off the coast of southeastern China, southwest of Okinawa and north of the Philippines. The island is governed by the Republic of China (中華民國 Zhōnghuá Mínguó) or ROC. Shaped roughly like a sweet potato, the nation is home to more than 23 million people and is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Besides its crowded cities, Taiwan is also known for steep mountains and lush forests. In addition to the island of Taiwan, the Republic of China also governs the Pescadores (Penghu), Quemoy (Kinmen/Jinmen), and Matsu.
While the political status of Taiwan is a somewhat controversial and sensitive issue, from a traveller's point of view, Taiwan is under the de facto control of a different government from mainland China, and in practice operates as a separate country. This is not a political endorsement of the claims of either side of the dispute.
Read more about Taiwan in our Taiwan travel guide »