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.