TAIWAN — Michael Thacker — 26th October 2014

Michael began to learn about Taiwan when his daugh­ter, son-in-law and their three chil­dren moved there in 2011.

Many people know that Taiwan:

  • is an island
  • was called Formosa
  • pro­duced cheap, tatty goods
  • is wanted by China

In fact, Taiwan is now a man­u­fac­turer of very high tech elec­trical goods and the ten­sion with China has eased.

Taiwan is an island, situ­ated off the coast of China, that is about 90 miles wide, East to West, and about 250 miles long. It has a range of moun­tains run­ning down the middle, from North to South, and the Tropic of Cancer runs through the middle of the island. It is on the bound­ary of the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tec­tonic plates meet, and is prone to earth­quakes (as many as three a week!). Most of the pop­u­la­tion lives on the coastal plain to the West of the moun­tains.

In 1999 the Jiji ‘quake, meas­ur­ing 7.3 on the Richter scale, happened in the night and lasted 37 seconds.  It killed 2415 people and injured 11,305.  The damage was estim­ated to cost  US$10 bil­lion.

A high-speed rail­way has been built down the coastal plain but it does not go close to many towns, so old, dam­aged build­ings have been aban­doned and the replace­ments built near to the rail­way.  One town, Taiching, has moved 13 miles West to be next to the line. Many branch lines car­ry­ing ordin­ary trains (not HS) go off into the hills.  Some were dam­aged in the typhoon and are still not repaired.

To the East of the island is noth­ing but the Pacific Ocean so Taiwan is prone to typhoons. In 2009 Typhoon Moraket, with over 80 mph winds, depos­ited over 3 metres of rain in 4 days.  Over 600 people were killed and damage was US$3.3 bil­lion.

New build­ings are built “earth­quake proof”, and to pre­vent flood­ing in Taipei the river has flood bar­ri­ers over 40 feet high along its banks.

The island was ori­gin­ally settled by Polynesians. The Portugese dis­covered it in 1517 and called it Ihla Formosa (Beautiful Island).

In 1895 it belonged to Japan and they put in har­bours, roads, rail­ways and hydro-electric power, not to bene­fit the people but to exploit the island’s nat­ural resources.  After the war in 1945 it belonged to China and in1949 Chiang Kaisheck took his army to Taiwan along with many valu­able arti­facts from museums in Peking.

Chiang Kaisheck died in 1975 and his son, Chiang Chingkuo took over.  He was a pro­gress­ive leader and he inves­ted in infra­struc­ture and edu­ca­tion.  In 1987 one-party rule ended and in 1996 the oppos­i­tion party upset China so much that China ‘aimed’ mis­siles at Taiwan that fell into the Taiwan Straits.  This threat had the oppos­ite effect from what was inten­ded and the Independence Party in Taiwan gained a lot of sup­port­ers.

The cap­ital city, Taipei, is a modern high-rise city.  The main mode of trans­port seems to be mopeds, although the number of cars is increas­ing.  The stand­ard of driv­ing is awful.

There are many inter­na­tional high-end luxury shops sim­ilar to many of the world’s large cities.  The is an excel­lent Metro and some extremely large build­ings such as the Martyr’s Shrine and Taipei 101.  Completed in 2004, Taipei 101 was the world’s tallest build­ing for 4 months.  It is now the 4th tallest.  It seems strange that a place prone to earth­quakes would build such a tall struc­ture, but it had all the latest “earthquake-proof” tech­no­lo­gies built in, with very large con­crete found­a­tions and a huge, massive ‘pen­du­lum’ sus­pen­ded above the 91st floor to dampen vibra­tions.

Within the city bound­ary there is a National Park and many tea plant­a­tions.

There are three main ‘reli­gions’ in Taiwan: Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. There are over 1500 temples on the island.  Temples are ornate and col­our­ful.  Many have dragons on their roofs and pic­tures or statues of gods inside. The Buddhist Temple has an enorm­ous campus and  30 meter tall statue of Buddha and eight pago­das. The Confucian Temple has no gods inside because Confucianism is more a philo­sophy than a reli­gion, but it has dis­plays of many of Confucius’ say­ings.

This was an inter­est­ing talk about some­where that few people know much about.