History Archive Icon

History Archive


Formosa Collection

History Archive - Formosa Collection

FORMOSA (called Taiwan by the Chinese, and following them by the Japanese, into whose possession it came after their war with China in 1895), an island in the western Pacific Ocean, between the Southern and the Eastern China Sea, separated from the Chinese mainland by the Formosa Strait, which has a width of about 90 m. in its narrowest part. The island is 225 m. long and from 60 to 80 m. broad, has a coast-line measuring 731 m., an area of 13,429 sq. m.—being thus nearly the same size as Kiushiu, the most southern of the four chief islands forming the Japanese empire proper—and extends from 20° 56? to 25° 15? N. and from 120° to 122° E.

It forms part of the long line of islands which are interposed as a protective barrier between the Asiatic coast and the outer Pacific, and is the cause of the immunity from typhoons enjoyed by the ports of China from Amoy to the Yellow Sea. Along the western coast is a low plain, not exceeding 20 m. in extreme width; on the east coast there is a rich plain called Giran, and there are also some fertile valleys in the neighbourhood of Karenko and Pinan, extending up the longitudinal valleys of the rivers Karenko and Pinan, between which and the east coast the Taito range intervenes; but the rest of the island is mountainous and covered with virgin forest. In the plains the soil is generally of sand or alluvial clay, covered in the valleys with a rich vegetable mould. The scenery of Formosa is frequently of majestic beauty, and to this it is indebted for its European name, happily bestowed by the early Spanish navigators.

+ Read More

On the addition of Formosa to her dominions, Fuji ceased to be Japan’s highest mountain, and took the third place on the list. Mount Morrison (14,270 ft.), which the Japanese renamed Niitaka-yama (New High Mountain), stands first, and Mount Sylvia (12,480 ft.), to which they give the name of Setzu-zan (Snowy Mountain), comes second. Mount Morrison stands nearly under the Tropic of Cancer. It is not volcanic, but consists of argillaceous schist and quartzite. An ascent made by Dr Honda of the imperial university of Japan showed that, up to a height of 6000 ft., the mountain is clothed with primeval forests of palms, banyans, cork trees, camphor trees, tree ferns, interlacing creepers and dense thickets of rattan or stretches of grass higher than a man’s stature. The next interval of 1000 ft. has gigantic cryptomerias and chamoecyparis; then follow pines; then, at a height of 9500 ft., a broad plateau, and then alternate stretches of grass and forest up to the top, which consists of several small peaks. There is no snow. Mount Morrison, being surrounded by high ranges, is not a conspicuous object. Mount Sylvia lies in 24° 30? N. lat. There are many other mountains of considerable elevation. In the north is Getsurôbi-zan (4101 ft.); and on either side of Setzu-zan, with which they form a range running due east and west across the island, are Jusampunzan (4698 ft.) and Kali-zan (7027 ft.). Twenty-two miles due south of Kali-zan stands Hakumosha-zan (5282 ft.), and just 20 m. due south of Hakumosha-zan begins a chain of three peaks, Suisha-zan (6200 ft.), Hoo-zan (4928), and Niitaka-yama. These five mountains, Hari-zan, Hakumosha-zan, Suisha-zan, Hoo-zan and Niitaka-yama, stand almost exactly under 121° E. long., in the very centre of the island. But the backbone of the island lies east of them, extending S. from Setzu-zan through Gokan-zan, and Noko-zan and other peaks and bending S.W. to Niitaka-yama. Yet farther south, and still lying in line down the centre of the island, are Sankyakunan-zan (3752 ft.), Shurogi-zan (5729 ft.), Poren-zan (4957 ft.), and Kado-zan (9055 ft.), and, finally, in the south-east Arugan-zan (4985 ft.). These, it will be observed, are all Japanese names, and the heights have been determined by Japanese observers. In addition to these remarkable inland mountains, Formosa’s eastern shores show magnificent cliff scenery, the bases of the hills on the seaside taking the form of almost perpendicular walls as high as from 1500 to 2500 ft. Volcanic outbreaks of steam and sulphur-springs are found. Owing to the precipitous character of the east coast few rivers of any size find their way to the sea in that direction. The west coast, on the contrary, has many streams, but the only two of any considerable length are the Kotansui, which rises on Shurogi-zan, and has its mouth at Toko after a course of some 60 m. and the Seirakei, which rises on Hakumosha-zan, and enters the sea at a point 57 m. farther north after a course of 90 m.

The climate is damp, hot and malarious. In the north, the driest and best months are October, November and December; in the south, December, January, February and March. The sea immediately south of Formosa is the birthplace of innumerable typhoons, but the high mountains of the island protect it partially against the extreme violence of the wind.

Flora and Fauna.—The vegetation of the island is characterized by tropical luxuriance,—the mountainous regions being clad with dense forest, in which various species of palms, the camphor-tree (Laurus Camphora), and the aloe are conspicuous. Consul R. Swinhoe obtained no fewer than 65 different kinds of timber from a large yard in Taiwanfu; and his specimens are now to be seen in the museum at Kew. The tree which supplies the materials for the pith paper of the Chinese is not uncommon, and the cassia tree is found in the mountains. Travellers are especially struck with the beauty of some of the wild flowers, more especially with the lilies and convolvuluses; and European greenhouses have been enriched by several Formosan orchids and other ornamental plants. The pine-apple grows in abundance. In the lowlands of the western portion, the Chinese have introduced a large number of cultivated plants and fruit trees. Rice is grown in such quantities as to procure for Formosa, in former days, the title of the “granary of China”; and the sweet potato, taro, millet, barley, wheat and maize are also cultivated. Camphor, sugar, tea, indigo, ground peanuts, jute, hemp, oil and rattans are all articles of export.

The Formosan fauna has been but partially ascertained; but at least three kinds of deer, wild boars, bears, goats, monkeys (probably Macacus speciosus), squirrels, and flying squirrels are fairly common, and panthers and wild cats are not unfrequent. A poisonous but beautiful green snake is often mentioned by travellers. Pheasants, ducks, geese and snipe are abundant, and Dr C. Collingwood in his Naturalist’s Rambles in the China Seas mentions Ardea prasinosceles and other species of herons, several species of fly-catchers, kingfishers, shrikes and larks, the black drongo, the Cotyle sinensis and the Prinia sonitans. Dogs are kept by the savages for hunting. The horse is hardly known, and his place is taken by the ox, which is regularly bridled and saddled and ridden with all dignity. The rivers and neighbouring seas seem to be well stocked with fish, and especial mention must be made of the turtles, flying-fish, and brilliant coral-fish which swarm in the waters warmed by the Kurosiwo current, the gulf-stream of the Pacific. Shell-fish form an important article of diet to both the Chinese and the aborigines along the coast—a species of Cyrena, a species of Tapes, Cytheraea petechiana and Modiola teres being most abundant.

Population.—The population of Formosa, according to a census in 1904, is estimated at 3,022,687, made up as follows: aborigines 104,334, Chinese 2,860,574 and Japanese 51,770. The inhabitants of Formosa may be divided into four classes: the Japanese, who are comparatively few, as there has not been much tendency to immigration; the Chinese, many of whom immigrated from the neighbourhood of Amoy and speak the dialect of that district, while others were Hakkas from the vicinity of Swatow; the subjugated aborigines, who largely intermingled with the Chinese; and the uncivilized aborigines of the eastern region who refuse to recognize authority and carry on raids as opportunity occurs. The semi-civilized aborigines, who adopted the Chinese language, dress and customs, were called Pe-pa-hwan (Anglice Pepo-hoans), while their wilder brethren bear the name of Chin-hwan or “green savages,” otherwise Sheng-fan or “wild savages.” They appear to belong to the Malay stock, and their language bears out the supposition. They are broken up into almost countless tribes and clans, many of which number only a few hundred individuals, and their language consequently presents a variety of dialects, of which no classification has yet been effected: in the district of Posia alone a member of the Presbyterian mission distinguished eight different mutually unintelligible dialects. The people themselves are described as of “middle height, broad-chested and muscular, with remarkably large hands and feet, the eyes large, the forehead round, and not narrow or receding in many instances, the nose broad, the mouth large and disfigured with betel.” The custom of tattooing is universal. In the north of the island at least, the dead are buried in a sitting posture under the bed on which they have expired. Petty wars are extremely common, not only along the Chinese frontiers, but between the neighbouring clans; and the heads of the slain are carefully preserved as trophies. In some districts the young men and boys sleep in the skull-chambers, in order that they may be inspired with courage. Many of the tribes that had least intercourse with the Chinese show a considerable amount of skill in the arts of civilization. The use of Manchester prints and other European goods is fairly general; and the women, who make a fine native cloth from hemp, introduce coloured threads from the foreign stuffs, so as to produce ornamental devices. The office of chieftain is sometimes held by women.

The chief town is Taipe (called by the Japanese Taihoku), which is on the Tamsui-yei river, and has a population of about 118,000, including 5850 Japanese. Taipe may be said to have two ports; one, Tamsui, at the mouth of the river Tamsui-yei, 10 m. distant on the north-west coast, the other Kelung (called by the Japanese Kiirun), on the north-east shore, with which it is connected by rail, a run of some 18 m. The foreign settlement at Taipe lies outside the walls of the city, and is called Twatutia (Taitotei by the Japanese). Kelung (the ancient Pekiang) is an excellent harbour, and the scenery is very beautiful. There are coal-mines in the neighbourhood. Tamsui (called Tansui by the Japanese) is usually termed Hobe by foreigners. It is the site of the first foreign settlement, has a population of about 7000, but cannot be made a good harbour without considerable expenditure. On the west coast there is no place of any importance until reaching Anping (23° N. lat.), a port where a few foreign merchants reside for the sake of the sugar trade. It is an unlovely place, surrounded by mud flats, and a hotbed of malaria. It has a population of 4000 Chinese and 200 Japanese. At a distance of some 2½ m. inland is the former capital of Formosa, the walled city of Tainan, which has a population of 100,000 Chinese, 2300 Japanese, and a few British merchants and missionaries. Connected with Anping by rail (26 m.) and laying south of it is Takau, a treaty port. It has a population of 6800, and is prettily situated on two sides of a large lagoon. Six miles inland from Takau is a prosperous Chinese town called Feng-shan (Japanese, Hozan). The anchorages on the east coast are Soo, Karenko and Pinan, which do not call for special notice. Forty-seven m. east of the extreme south coast there is a little island called Botel-tobago (Japanese, Koto-sho), which rises to a height of 1914 ft. and is inhabited by a tribe whose customs differ essentially from those of the natives on the main island.

Administration and Commerce.—The island is treated as an outlying territory; it has not been brought within the full purview of the Japanese constitution. Its affairs are administered by a governor-general, who is also commander-in-chief of the forces, by a bureau of civil government, and by three prefectural governors, below whom are the heads of twenty territorial divisions called cho; its finances are not included in the general budget of the Japanese empire; it is garrisoned by a mixed brigade taken from the home divisions; and its currency is on a silver basis. One of the first abuses with which the Japanese had to deal was the excessive use of opium by the Chinese settlers. To interdict the importation of the drug altogether, as is done in Japan, was the step advocated by Japanese public opinion. But, influenced by medical views and by the almost insuperable difficulty of enforcing any drastic import veto in the face of Formosa’s large communications by junk with China, the Japanese finally adopted the middle course of licensing the preparation and sale of the drug, and limiting its use to persons in receipt of medical sanction. Under the administration of the Japanese the island has been largely developed. Among other industries gold-mining is advancing rapidly. In 1902 48,400 oz. of gold representing a value of £168,626 were obtained from the mines and alluvial washings. Coal is also found in large quantities near Kelung and sulphur springs exist in the north of the island.

An extensive scheme of railway construction has been planned, the four main lines projected being (1) from Takau to Tainan; (2) from Tainan to Kagi; (3) from Kagi to Shoka; and (4) from Shoka to Kelung; these four forming, in effect, a main trunk road running from the south-west to the north-east, its course being along the foot of the mountains that border the western coast-plains. The Takau-Tainan section (26 m.) was opened to traffic on the 3rd of November 1900, and by 1905 the whole line of 259 m. was practically complete. Harbour improvements also are projected, but in Formosa, as in Japan proper, paucity of capital constitutes a fatal obstacle to rapid development.

There are thirteen ports of export and import, but 75% of the total business is done at Tamsui. Tea and camphor are the staple exports. The greater part of the former goes to Amoy for re-shipment to the west, but it is believed that if harbour improvements were effected at Tamsui so as to render it accessible for ocean-going steamers, shipments would be made thence direct to New York. The camphor trade being a government monopoly, the quantity exported is under strict control.

History.—The island of Formosa must have been known from a very early date to the Chinese who were established in the Pescadores. The inhabitants are mentioned in the official works of the Yuan dynasty as Tung-fan or eastern barbarians; and under the Ming dynasty the island begins to appear as Kilung. In the beginning of the 16th century it began to be known to the Portuguese and Spanish navigators, and the latter at least made some attempts at establishing settlements or missions. The Dutch were the first, however, to take footing in the island; in 1624 they built a fort, Zelandia, on the east coast, where subsequently rose the town of Taiwan, and the settlement was maintained for thrity-seven years. On the expulsion of the Ming dynasty in China, a number of their defeated adherents came over to Formosa, and under a leader called in European accounts Coxinga, succeeded in expelling the Dutch and taking possession of a good part of the island. In 1682 the Chinese of Formosa recognized the emperor K’ang-hi, and the island then began to form part of the Chinese empire. From the close of the 17th century a long era of conflict ensued between the Chinese and the aborigines. A more debased population than the peoples thus struggling for supremacy could scarcely be conceived. The aborigines, Sheng-fan, or “wild savages,” deserved the appellation in some respects, for they lived by the chase and had little knowledge even of husbandry; while the Chinese themselves, uneducated labourers, acknowledged no right except that of might. The former were not implacably cruel or vindictive. They merely clung to their homesteads, and harboured a natural resentment against the raiders who had dispossessed them. Their disposition was to leave the Chinese in unmolested possession of the plain. But some of the most valuable products of the island, as camphor and rattan, are to be found in the upland forests, and the Chinese, whenever they ventured too far in search of these products, fell into ambushes of hill-men who neither gave nor sought quarter, and who regarded a Chinese skull as a specially attractive article of household furniture. A violent rebellion is mentioned in 1788, put down only after the loss, it is said, of 100,000 men by disease and sword, and the expenditure of 2,000,000 taels of silver. Reconciliation never took place on any large scale, though it is true that, in the course of time, some fitful displays of administrative ability on the part of the Chinese, and the opening of partial means of communication, led to the pacification of a section of the Sheng-fan, who thenceforth became known as Pe-pa-hwan (Pepohoan).

In the early part of the 19th century the island was chiefly known to Europeans on account of the wrecks which took place on its coasts, and the dangers that the crews had to run from the cannibal propensities of the aborigines, and the almost equally cruel tendencies of the Chinese. Among the most notable was the loss in 1842 of the British brig “Ann,” with fifty-seven persons on board, of whom forty-three were executed at Taichu. By the treaty of Tientsin (1860) Taichu was opened to European commerce, but the place was found quite unsuitable for a port of trade, and the harbour of Tamsui was selected instead. From 1859 both Protestant and Presbyterian missions were established in the island. An attack made on those at Feng-shan (Hozan) in 1868 led to the occupation of Fort Zelandia and Anping by British forces; but this action was disapproved by the home government, and the indemnity demanded from the Chinese restored. In 1874 the island was invaded by the Japanese for the purpose of obtaining satisfaction for the murder of a shipwrecked crew who had been put to death by one of the semi-savage tribes on the southern coast, the Chinese government being either unable or unwilling to punish the culprits. A war was averted through the good offices of the British minister, Sir T.F. Wade, and the Japanese retired on payment of an indemnity of 500,000 taels. The political state of the island during these years was very bad; in a report of 1872 there is recorded a proverb among the official classes, “every three years an outbreak, every five a rebellion”; but subsequent to 1877 some improvement was manifested, and public works were pushed forward by the Chinese authorities. In 1884, in the course of belligerent proceedings arising out of the Tongking dispute, the forts at Kelung on the north were bombarded by the French fleet, and the place was captured and held for some months by French troops. An attack on the neighbouring town of Tamsui failed, but a semi-blockade of the island was maintained by the French fleet during the winter and spring of 1884-1885. The troops were withdrawn on the conclusion of peace in June 1885.

In 1895 the island was ceded to Japan by the treaty of Shimonoseki at the close of the Japanese war. The resident Chinese officials, however, refused to recognize the cession, declared a republic, and prepared to offer resistance. It is even said they offered to transfer the sovereignty to Great Britain if that power would accept it. A formal transfer to Japan was made in June of the same year in pursuance of the treaty, the ceremony taking place on board ship outside Kelung, as the Chinese commissioners did not venture to land. The Japanese were thus left to take possession as best they could, and some four months elapsed before they effected a landing on the south of the island. Takau was bombarded and captured on the 15th of October, and the resistance collapsed. Liu Yung-fu, the notorious Black Flag general, and the back-bone of the resistance, sought refuge in flight. The general state of the island when the Japanese assumed possession was that the plain of Giran on the eastern coast and the hill-districts were inhabited by semi-barbarous folk, the western plains by Chinese of a degraded type, and that between the two there existed a traditional and continuous feud, leading to mutual displays of merciless and murderous violence. By many of these Chinese settlers the Japanese conquerors, when they came to occupy the island, were regarded in precisely the same light as the Chinese themselves had been regarded from time immemorial by the aborigines. Insurrections occurred frequently, the insurgents receiving secret aid from sympathizers in China, and the difficulties of the Japanese being increased not only by their ignorance of the country, which abounds in fastnesses where bandits can find almost inaccessible refuge, but also by the unwillingness of experienced officials to abandon their home posts for the purpose of taking service in the new territory.

Bibliography.—C. Imbault-Huart, L’Île Formose, histoire et description (Paris, 1893), 4°; J.D. Clark, Formosa (Shanghai, 1896); W.A. Pickering, Pioneering in Formosa (London, 1898); George Candidius, A Short Account of the Island of Formosa in the Indies ..., vol. i.; Churchill’s Collection of Voyages (1744); Robert Swinhoe, Notes on the Island of Formosa, read before the British Association (1863); W. Campbell, “Aboriginal Savages of Formosa,” Ocean Highways (April 1873); H.J. Klaproth, Description de l’île de Formose, mém. rel. à l’Asie (1826); Mrs T.F. Hughes, Notes of a Six Years’ Residence in Formosa (London, 1881); Y. Takekoshi, Japanese Rule in Formosa (transl. by G. Braithwaite) (London, 1907).


1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 10. pp. 669-671.

Available Books

Error Icon

There are no works available for the Formosa collection.


View All Regions
History of Humanity - History Archive Logo
History of Humanity - History Mysteries Logo
History of Humanity - Ancient Mesopotamia Logo
History of Humanity - Egypt History Logo
History of Humanity - Persian Empire Logo
History of Humanity - Greek History Logo
History of Humanity - Alexander the Great Logo
History of Humanity - Roman History Logo
History of Humanity - Punic Wars Logo
History of Humanity - Golden Age of Piracy Logo
History of Humanity - Revolutionary War Logo
History of Humanity - Mafia History Logo