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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Aboriginal Taiwanese in Taiwan

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Taiwan Facts
Area:    35,980 sq. km.
Capital:    Taipei
Total Population:    21,293,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

There has been no rebellion among the aboriginal Taiwanese. Although there have been increased protests in recent years, rebellion is unlikely because of several factors: 1) the Taiwanese government's democratic regime; 2) the government's efforts to improve the group's situation, and 3) the lack of serious armed conflicts in nearby countries that might have spillover effects on aboriginal Taiwanese. The government's competition with the People's Republic of China may provide the rationale for future improvements in aboriginals' status.

Like indigenous peoples in many other areas of the world, Taiwan's aboriginals face threats to their culture and lifeways and a continual encroachment on their traditional areas of residence. Although aboriginals are not subject to any official discrimination, they are unable to influence policies and programs that affect their ways of life. Taiwan's rapid economic modernization displaced many aboriginals from their home areas while simultaneously providing them with limited economic benefits. The average income of the aboriginals is less than half of the national average. Poverty and the increasing inability to earn a livelihood through traditional methods such as hunting and felling trees have helped to promote widespread child prostitution and alcoholism. Further, Taiwan's indigenous peoples have become "tourist attractions" as the government has moved many groups into "model" villages in order to boost visitors to the island.


Analytic Summary

The aboriginal Taiwanese are distinct from Taiwanese or mainlanders (who are descendents of the Han Chinese), and are ethnically, culturally, and linguistically linked to the indigenous people in the Pacific islands including the Philippines (CUSTOM = 1, RACE = 1). Though they differ from the majority group in language, most aboriginal Taiwanese are bilingual (LANG = 1). Their ancestors have inhabited Taiwan since 3,000 B.C., long before the influx of ethnic Chinese in the 17th and 18th century and the establishment of the modern state in the 20th century.

Today the aboriginals reside mainly in the central and eastern mountains of Taiwan, while 25% of them live in cities, primarily in Taipei and Kaushiong (GROUPCON = 2). The group can be categorized into the lowland and the highland, among them 10 and 9 tribes, respectively. There are multiple autonomous groups promoting the aboriginals' interests in better health care, social welfare, economic status, education, and culture. However there is no conventional political organization or movement representing the group (GOJPA = 1).

The social separation of the Aboriginal Taiwanese was formalized during the Japanese occupation of the island from 1895 to 1945 by the designation of "protected areas" in the central mountains. The central tribal peoples were especially resistant to Japanese control and periodically staged serious uprisings. One of the more violent episodes, the Wushe Incident, occurred in 1930; more than 1,300 people were killed with many more dying due to draconian repressive measures. The tribal peoples of the eastern coastal regions lived a much more settled existence and were left relatively undisturbed.

The latest major influx of (Kuomintang) refugees from the mainland in 1948-1950 and the recent, rapid industrialization of the Taiwanese economy have finally eclipsed the aboriginal peoples' social isolation. Aboriginal peoples face active and passive discrimination from many ethnic Chinese (POLDIS04-06 = 3, ECDIS04-06 = 1). As a group, they have lagged far behind all other ethnic groups in most categories of development, such as income, employment, and advancement and in many quality-of-life indicators, such as life expectancy. The high incidence of poverty in the tribal areas has led to the migration of many young aboriginals to urban areas. Both of these factors have contributed to the general social decay in tribal areas. Aboriginals are not subject to deliberate political discrimination, nor do they face political restrictions but are politically underrepresented because of historical and social marginality. The government has also tried to address some employment issues, requiring firms competing for government contracts to meet quotas on employing aboriginal Taiwanese.

The most significant grievance for the aboriginal Taiwanese lies in the improvement of the groups' economic situation and preservation of their culture (ECGR06 = 2; CULGR06 = 2). Many aboriginals of the younger generation leave their homeland for the cities for employment opportunities but gain few economic benefits. Poverty also brings with it problems such as child prostitution and alcoholism. Culturally the aboriginals face threats to the perpetuation of their lifestyles because of 1) increasing inability to live by traditional means of subsistence (hence the youth leave for cities) such as hunting or felling trees, and 2) a continual encroachment on their traditional areas of residence. The government has attempted to address some these issues through the passage of the “Law on Preservation of Cultural Assets”, which aims to preserve cultural buildings and areas.

Some aboriginal Taiwanese have advocated political and economic autonomy. In recent years, there have been several protests, the most severe being one that was 50,000 strong in 2004 following remarks by Vice President Annette Lu that were considered to be racist (PROT04-05 = 3, PROT06 = 1). There have been no incidents of rebellion reported in recent years (REB04-06 = 0). No incidents of politically motivate intracommunal or intercommunal conflict have been reported in recent years (INTRACON04-06 = 0, INTERCON04-06 = 0). It is also worth noting that the government has promoted or emphasized aboriginal culture in order to help distinguish "Taiwanese" culture from that of the Mainland Chinese. Also, in 2001, teaching in aboriginal languages was instituted.



The Europa Yearbook, Far East and Australasia 1993.

Freedom House reports. 2004-2006.

Government Information Office (Taiwan) reports. 2004-2006.

Keesings Record of World Events, 1990-93.

Lexis-Nexis news reports, 1990-06.

Phase I, Minorities at Risk, overview compiled by Monty G. Marshall, 07/89.

Taipei Times. Various news reports. 2001-2003.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Taiwan. 2001-2006.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006