Taipei Tawain skyline in the dusky sunset with clouds in the background, blue skies at top turning into pinkish towards the skyline, bright city lights and buildings.

Anthropology: A Historical and Cultural Trip to Taiwan

In my opinion, a trip is never complete without knowing the cultural and historical milieu of the place. Therefore, I am taking you to Taiwan, a nation with an intriguing history and cultural environment as Taiwan’s culture is far greater conservative and traditional than any other Asian country. Family, being the focus of any cultural activity, its origin is Chinese and is patrilineal and patriarchal.

Though society is egalitarian in the matter of opportunities where one can develop one’s social status via education, it is class-oriented and hierarchical. Theoretically, the social ladder tops with scholars and proceeds with farmers, laborers, merchants, and soldiers. However, during times of war or any invasion, soldiers rose in class along with merchants who bought into the scholarly class sometimes.

Taiwan Culture Day
Taiwan Culture Day
Credit: Global Taiwan Institute

Moreover, the culture in Taiwan has been impacted by the, Japanese culture as well which was feudal, clan-oriented and the military or samurai class was the more socially prestigious one than the other classes. Aboriginal people have also affected the culture in Taiwan. Due to the fragile state of Taiwan, the migrating Chinese people focussed more on business and security rather than education. Therefore, they gave less significance to the factors like the necessity of a strong central government or the control of water than in the mainland.

Despite the tremulous condition of the government, the Taiwanese people respect their culture with high regard and advertise it too. The government considers supporting their cultural activities as one of the important parts of society. After the year 1945, the support took a turn by eliminating Japanese cultural components and instead of advertising Chinese ones. Since the 1990s, cultural support has been noticeable for diverse ethnic groups. That’s why in this post we will learn the uniqueness of Taiwan’s culture, as the constitution itself guarantees the disbursement of such cultural activities.

A Brief History of Taiwan

As we have discussed before, various tribes inhabited the nation for around four thousand years. In the sixteenth century, Chinese settlements surfaced. Eventually, it attracted both European colonists that were expanding their countries, Spanish and Dutch. In 1684, the overthrown Ming dynasty took over Taiwan until the Qing dynasty completely took control of reigning over China and created Taiwan to be a province in its own right.

In the 1980s, the defeat of China in the first Sino-Japanese war, which lasted from 1894 to 1895, brought the first occupation of Chinese territory by Japan and Taiwan, conceded in the treaty of Shimonoseki. Though the population fiercely resisted and resented the treaty, Japan ruled Taiwan from 1895 to the end of the Second World War.

Colourised photograph of an Amis couple in traditional clothing. Taken in pre-WWII Japanese-ruled Taiwan.
Amis couple in traditional clothing.
Credit: The

In 1948, the Chinese Civil War (1927-1950), which had been in the making for some years, came to a conclusion as the Communists of Mao conquered the nationalist forces and their leader Chiang Kai-Shek. Thousands of nationalist supporters along with their leadership fled to Taiwan and built a quickly dominant government called the KMT or Kuo Min-Tang.

Kuo Min-Tang then ensured their survival and went into advancing Taiwan’s economy with incredible success, making this small island country one of the rapidly developing “tiger economies” on the Pacific rim. Politically, Taiwan depended on the USA’s support until the beginning of the 1970s, when a rapprochement between Beijing and Washington occurred. The USA shifted its allegiance from Taiwan to China.

China still considers Taiwan to be a part of its mainland and continuously harbors the long-term objective of reuniting Taiwan to its territory. Therefore, when the United Nations identifies Taiwan as an independent country, it doesn’t bode well with Beijing. However, in spite of their political disagreements, the communications, trade, and travel links between China and Taiwan prevailed from the early 1970s. Taiwanese like to call their nation the Republic of China and the Chinese find it more acceptable than an independent Taiwan.

Important Things to Know

  • Taiwanese compete as Chinese Taipei at the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics.
  • Although the People’s Republic of China wants to reunify China, in most current years they want to follow the principle of Deng Xiaoping which states “One Country, Two Systems.”
  • Taiwanese people use two different calendars, such as the Gregorian and the Minguo, which started with the foundation of the Republic of China in 1911.

In order to find out more about the spectacular history of Taiwan, you can visit here.

Cultural Background

Regular Life in Taiwan

Taiwan’s regular life of a person mostly centers around education, family, and job. The extent of each relies on the predicament, status, and age of every individual. Though it seems that women and children are closer to the family than men, with the rising number of working women, that becomes steadily less the case. Compared to the west, children spend more time studying as the competition to get into respectable universities begins early. Household stability is of great significance, as well as respect for elders and loyalty towards the family are considered to be vital in Taiwan’s daily life.

With modernized Taiwan along with its progressive democracy, you’ll notice more people take an interest in politics. Many people have taken part in it by protesting, voting, or joining campaigns. Many have started to spend more time at national events, social clubs, schools, and companies.

Social Norms in Taiwan

Although the cultural life in Taiwan is an amalgamation of a variety of ethnicities, it is dominated by Chinese traditions and superstitions. Therefore, traditional holidays are minutely observed and ancient festivities and customs are celebrated with fervor. The Lunar or Chinese New Year is the most significant of them all. The citizens return to their homes if they can and reunite with their family, eat and have good conversations. Conventionally, they are expected to clear their debt and freshly start their lives. In the Spring, the Dragon Boat Festival, National Day on 10th October, and the Mid-Autumn festival are the other important festivities.

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Taiwan
Chinese (Lunar) New Year in Taiwan
Credit: Nick Kembel

Eating together is an important part of society and they are proud of Taiwanese cuisine. Families are bonded by food at home and the gatherings last longer than other cultures. People also like to dine out and spend their money on restaurants more than any other custom. Taiwanese cuisine is one of the best cuisines in the world as there is a diverse number of cuisines from China found in this small island nation.

A selection of the typical Taiwanese street foods sold around Taipei’s Tzu Sheng Temple
A selection of the typical Taiwanese street foods sold around Taipei’s Tzu Sheng Temple
Credit: Farley Elliott

All in all, Taiwanese people are extremely friendly and the standards of their hospitality are high. Did you know that visitors are not expected to usually be entertained and the entertainment happens in the restaurants rather than in the homes? Handshaking is a common custom and casual clothing is highly acceptable as well.

Art and Culture

Art or more predominantly, the Taiwanese culture is affected by the aboriginal people, the immigrants who brought Chinese culture, the little time of Western colonial rule, Chinese governance, Japanese rule, and Westernization since WWII. Special efforts were made to eradicate Japanese culture and promote Chinese culture after 1945. Chiang Kai-Shek liked the folk arts, classical painting, traditional Chinese opera, and calligraphy. The art forms in Taiwan consist of dance, puppet shows, and sculpture.

Actor applying makeup, National Theatre, Taipei.
Actor applying makeup, National Theatre, Taipei

The National Palace Museum in Taipei has one of the best Chinese antiques in the world. It was opened in 1965 and contains several works of art, valuable artifacts, and books that were brought from China to Taiwan in 1949. In New Taipei City, the Juming Museum in Jinshan or Chin-shan district holds exhibitions on contemporary art. The National Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall consists of items from the recent history of China. The complex also includes a concert hall and an opera house. The National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts exhibits the works of the Ming and Qing dynasties.

ront gate of Chiang Kai Shek (CKS) memorial hall in Taipei City, Taiwan
Front gate of Chiang Kai Shek (CKS) memorial hall in Taipei City, Taiwan

Democratization has been partnered with more eclecticism in Taiwanese arts and it has led to studies of new themes like nativism, pragmatism, and realism. Taiwanese culture has also been influenced by Japanese culture, especially in martial arts, and movies have become famous in Taiwan. Western culture has also made its mark on Taiwan’s culture in movies, literature, music, and fashions. After 1987, people were allowed to visit China and that renewed the interest in Chinese culture and arts.


Most of the Taiwanese citizens speak Mandarin Chinese or Guoyu or “national language.” However, the native language in Taiwan is called Minnan Hua or Taiyu which is widely spoken by the dominant ethnic group of the island. They originally came from southern China’s Fujian province. Hakka Chinese and a wide range of aboriginal dialects are still spoken too.


The Folk religion that constructs the core faith of most of Taiwan is a mixture of ancient animist credences along with the conventions of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. The purer form of Buddhism is still rising with Christianity. Because of the work of the Western missionaries for the past centuries, many indigenous people are Christians.

Places You Must Visit In Taiwan

Along with historical and cultural abundance, Taiwan is full of majestic places. You might become overwhelmed with the number of things to do and places to visit on this small island. But, that’s why you are in the right place, because I will make sure that you are aware of the top places in Taiwan that you must visit.

Taipei 101

Taipei 101
Taipei 101
Credit: Lonely Planet

Perhaps it’s not the tallest building in the world, but it’s still the most impressive building in Taiwan. The seven hundred and twenty-eight-ton mass damper that ensures the endurance of many earthquakes on the island is a magnificent piece of engineering. It can be perceived from several places within the building.

The National Palace Museum

The National Palace Museum lets you take a peek into the past of imperial China as it houses many imperial Chinese artifacts. During the cultural revolution, the government of Chiang Kai-Shek rescued thousands of items that are now displayed in the museum.

Taroko Gorge

You have to enjoy a couple of hours of a train journey to Taroko National Park from Taipei. The National Park is home to the most visited tourist destination and natural wonders. You should take the trail to the Eternal Spring Shrine, which is a stunning waterfall.

Yushan National Park

Another one of the magnificent national parks in Taiwan, the setting of the nation’s tallest mountain, is in Yushan National Park. A few other picturesque mountain peaks can be seen here too, like Sanqingshan.

Alishan Scenic Mountain Area

Alishan’s Mountain Train is forever a tourist attraction among both foreign and local tourists. The place is a heaven for nature lovers and hikers as the train winds its way to the top of the mountain with many hiking trails along with plenty of picture-snapping opportunities.

Sun Moon Lake

A view of Sun Moon Lake. Taiwan
Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
Credit: YouTube

If you want to take a short trip and want to savor the scenic beauty of the largest body of water in Taiwan, then Sun Moon Lake is the place for you. You will find many hotels around the lake that are most of the time busy due to the yacht trips they give to the tourists from one side to the other. You can also find a cable car here to take you to the Formosa Aboriginal Culture Village.

During my virtual visit to Taiwan (research), I found this amazing blog and it’s really informative.

Best Time to Visit Taiwan

Your itinerary should decide the time to visit Taiwan. Tourists can visit Taiwan all throughout the year, so it basically depends on you plan to see and do. From September to November, Taiwan is the best time for the general best.

A Beautiful View of Cherry Blossom in Spring, Taiwan
Spring in Taiwan

While the summer is best for those who enjoy island hopping and tropical beaches, the spring is the best time to visit for nature and culture. However, winter can be a great time to take a trip to Taipei too. In reality, you can’t go wrong with the timing to visit Taiwan, where you will have great food, vibrant city life, and spectacular nature throughout the whole year.

This is it, folks! We are at the end of our journey through the article, but maybe it could be a beginning for you to lose yourself in the vigorous cultural life of Taiwan. For more information, visit the official website here. Until then, travel well and be well.

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