A History of Pre-Invasion Taiwan

J. Bruce Jacobs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearch


In Taiwan’s long and contested history, we know least about the first and most extended period, which began over six thousand years ago and lasted until the invasion of the Dutch in 1624. Since Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples lacked writing, the analysis first relies on recent archeological evidence, which shows the increasing sophistication of Taiwan’s culture over the millennia. As early as 2800-2200 BCE, Taiwan’s peoples had trading networks with the Pescadore (Penghu) Islands. From 1500 BCE Taiwan’s peoples became the source of migrations to virtually every inhabitable island in the Pacific Ocean and across the Indian Ocean to Madagascar. From 500 BCE to 500 CE Taiwan’s peoples were part of a large trading network that included what is now the Philippines, eastern Malaysia, central and southern Vietnam, peninsular Thailand, and eastern Cambodia. Trade within Taiwan was also widespread. This trade and imports, such as metal technology, all came from Southeast Asia; no evidence of contact with China exists. Early Chinese writing confirms Taiwan was “foreign.” In addition, early 17th century Chinese accounts of Taiwan aborigines mesh with early Dutch accounts. These accounts demonstrate that Taiwan’s aborigines had healthy and prosperous societies and that village construction demonstrated considerable sophistication. Chinese had little to do with Taiwan in part because Fujian was the last part of the Pacific coast inhabited by Han Chinese. Although the Ming Dynasty basically withdrew from foreign trade, Taiwan became a place for trade among Chinese merchant-pirates, Japanese and later Westerners within the wider trading networks of East and Southeast Asia. Yet, none of these groups established a permanent base in Taiwan. Only in 1624, did the Dutch accept advice from several sources to retreat from their base in the Pescadore (Penghu) Islands to the “stateless area” of Taiwan. Thus, only in 1624 did the Dutch establish the first colonial regime in Taiwan.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-38
Number of pages38
JournalTaiwan Historical Research 臺灣史研究
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


  • Archeology
  • Trading Networks
  • Metal Age
  • Aboriginal Society
  • Ming Trade Prohibition
  • Merchant-Pirates
  • Arrival of Europeans in Asia

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