An island state south of mainland China
. Formerly known as Formosa (a name given the island by Portuguese explorers and meaning 'beautiful' in Portuguese), it is located about halfway between the Philippines
to the south and Japan
's archipelago of Okinawa
to the north-east.
Taiwan was long dominated by outside powers, especially when China
's Qing government ceded the island to Japan in 1895. After WWII
and the defeat of the Japanese, Taiwan became the last refuge of the Chinese Nationalists, the Kuomintang, under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, who had fled the mainland in the wake of the Chinese Civil War and Mao
Taiwan became a de facto dictatorship under Chiang, with brutal repression of political dissent (a period commonly referred to as the “White Terror”) under prolonged martial law, with special political prisons for communists and other opponents of the regime where torture as part of the “re-education” programmes was common. Inmates also had to do forced labour. Chiang Kai-shek died in 1975, but it took until 1987 for martial law to be lifted and only then could the country embark on a path to democracy.
Officially named the “Republic of China” (ROC), and originally claiming to represent all of China, Taiwan became a contested entity. It has never declared independence and mainland China, the “People’s Republic of China” (PRC), has never recognized Taiwan; nor do the majority of the world’s other countries (for fear of angering the PRC). Originally Taiwan was a founding member of the UN
, but in 1971 it lost its seat after the PRC was recognized as "China" (one factor in the new policies towards China under US
president Richard Nixon). Since the ROC thus could no longer represent China in the UN, also because of the American and the UN's "one China" principle, Chiang gave up Taiwan's UN seat. The country has in recent years sought to be readmitted to the UN, but all attempts have been thwarted by the PRC, who continues to claim that Taiwan is a constituent part of China. It's hard to imagine that one of the economically most prosperous territories on Earth, which is also a sound Western-style democracy, is not represented in that international body, but there you are! However, Taiwan enjoyed some support by the West during the Cold War
era, though the US withdrerw its military presence in Taiwan in the 1970s (also as part of its shift to a new policy towards the PRC), and in 1979 cut formal diplomatic ties too.
Recently Taiwan has come under increasing pressure by the PRC under president Xi, who seems to have made it his goal to annex the island. This is more than just propaganda. Military planes of the PRC's air force have repeatedly flown close to or even into Taiwanese airspace and the PRC's navy has performed naval exercise involving an aircraft carrier near in the South China Sea near Taiwan. Given these provocations, some political and military observers (in 2021) see a Chinese invasion as a real possibility within the next six years or so (it would be a huge gamble, though). Better make it there sooner rather than later!
In terms of dark tourism, most sites of interest here have to do with either the former dictatorship and its political prisoners or with the tensions, and at times military exchanges, with the PRC. Other sites are related to natural disasters (especially earthquakes). These are the places given their own chapters on this website:
I had planned and booked a two-week plus trip to Taiwan for around Easter 2020, but of course that was thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic, also in 2021 and 2022. Whether it might be possible to finally go in 2023 remains to be seen. If so, I will greatly expand these chapters, and probably add additional ones, based on my findings from that field trip. Until then, just short stub chapters have to act as stand-ins. Please bear with me.