Formosan. Taiwanese aborigine in 19th century.
The island is also known by the name Formosa, which was given to it by Portuguese sailors (after “Ilha formosa”, Portuguese for “beautiful island”).
The modern name “Taiwan” comes from the name of an indigenous tribe in the southwest of the island, after which the Dutch colonial masters in the 17th century called the area around Fort Zeelandia (Tainan), which they built between 1624 and 1634, “Tayowan” or “Tayovan” (different spellings existed).
The name originally referred only to the city of Tainan, but was later extended to the entire island and phonetically reproduced in Chinese as “Taiwan”. The Chinese characters for “Taiwan” mean “Terrace Bay”, a meaning sometimes erroneously given as etymology.
The Tropic of Cancer, which marks the climatic boundary between the solar tropics and subtropics, passes through the island just south of its highest peak, Yushan, at 3,952 metres.
The first traces of settlement date back to the Neolithic period (around 4000 BC), and another wave of settlement from mainland China can be traced back to around 2500 BC. This period was characterised by agriculture and a megalithic culture with erected large stones and graves made of stone cists.
Even during the first half of the 1st millennium of our era, the indigenous cultures on the Chinese mainland and the islands offshore from it presented a culturally and linguistically similar picture. Until the 17th century, however, there were hardly any cultural links between Taiwan and China. The indigenous peoples of Taiwan maintained trade relations both with China and to the south, e.g. with the Philippines.
The first Chinese expedition to Taiwan is said to have taken place in 608 during the Sui dynasty. In the first Chinese account of Taiwan published at the beginning of the 18th century (Táiwānfǔ zhì – “Account of the District of Taiwan”), a voyage by Admiral Zheng He in the 15th century is mentioned as the first expedition, but this is also not proven beyond doubt.
Source: Asian costumes by Auguste Wahlen. Manners, customs and costumes of all peoples of the world, 1843.