"Formosa." The Encyclopaedia Britannica: A dictionary of arts, sciences, and general literature. 9th ed. Edinburgh: Adam & Charles Black, 1889.


FORMOSA, in Chinese Taiwan, a large island in the Pacific lying between what the Chinese call Nan-hai and Tong-hai, or the Southern and the Eastern Sea, and separated from the Chinese mainland by the strait of Fokien, which has a width of about 91 miles its narrowest part. It extends from 121° 15' to 122° 5' E. long; Foki, its most northern point, lies in 25° 19', and its most southern, Lin-hai-shan or South cape, in 21° 54' N. lat. Its area is estimated at 14,978 square miles, or about half the size of Ireland. It forms part of the long line of islands which, in the words of Mr Bridge, are interposed as a protective fortification between the Asiatic coast and the broad expanse of the Pacific, and produces that happy immunity from the typhoon which is enjoyed by the ports of China from Amoy to the Yellow Sea. A chain of mountains, called simply Ta-shan or Great Mountain by the Chinese, traverses the island form N. to S., and attains in several of its summits no inconsiderable elevation. The loftiest point is usually said to be Mu Kang-shan or the "Wooded Mountain," which has been named Mount Morrison by the English, "after the captain of one of the early vessels trading to Taiwanfu," and is said to be 12,850 feet in height; but it is not improbable that this estimate is too high, and that the range really culminates elsewhere. Towards the north the English maps show a Mount Sylvia or Shan-chas-shan, 11,300 feet high, and a summit in the Middle, Western, or Dodds range, 12,800 feet. Be this as it may, Formosa, as far as its vertical relief is concerned, is divided into three regions, -- the mountains proper, the broad western versant with its alluvial plains, and the narrow eastern versant terminating in a high and precipitous coast. The formation of the island appears to have been due in part at least to volcanic agency; the Chinese accounts mention a mountain called Ho-shan or Fire Mountain, said to be a small volcano about 20 miles south of Kagee; and European explorers have described the jets of steam and sulphur-springs which occur among the calcareous rocks near Tam-sui. Coal, sulphur, and petroleum are the only mineral productions of Formosa which are known to exist in quantities sufficient to make them of economical importance. The principal coal-fields are in the north of the island, near Kelung and Tam-sui; and the coal is all shipped in Kelung harbour. Till 1877 mining operations were conducted after the simple Chinese fashion; but in that year Mr. Tyzack, an English engineer, engaged by the Chinese government, opened a pit with a regular shaft 300 feet deep, and all the necessary machinery and engines for the proper working of the mine. The bed of coal is 3 feet thick. The mineral is highly bituminous, and burns very fast, but can be used for steamers on short voyages. It is regularly employed by many foreign vessels, as well as in the Chinese men-of-war, and in the arsenal at Fuh-chow. In 1873, 45,000 tons were shipped in foreign ships; in 1874, 15,221 tons; in 1875, 27,665 tons; and in 1876, 31,593 tons. In the plains the soil is generally of sand or alluvial clay, covered in the valleys with a rich vegetable mould. As might be inferred from what has been already said, the streams that flow eastward are little better than torrents; but the western region is traversed by several rivers of moderate development -- the Taiwanfu and Pakan rivers, the Black river, the Lokan, the Taika, the Heon-lang, the Tion-kan, the Tonk-shan, and the Tam-sui. Of these the Black river is the widest, but the Tam-sui or Tang-shui-khi alone is navigable, allowing sea vessels to proceed about 3 miles inland, and junks of considerable size about 10 miles farther. There is a fine lake 4 miles long by 2 broad called the Tsui-sia-hai, or Lake of the Water Savages, not far from Posia. 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. As seen from the eastern coast "the outline of the mountains is at once beautiful and fantastic; domes and peaks and wall-like precipices succeed each other in striking variety; a brilliant verdure clothes their sides, down which dash cascades that shine like silver in the tropical sunlight" (Bridge in Fortnightly Review, 1876). The climate, though a tropical one, is agreeable and healthy, being tempered by the influences both of the sea and the mountains. According to the thermometric observations made at Kelung in 1874, the hottest months are June, July, August, and September, with an average from 81.76° to 82.81° F. in the shade and the coldest month is January, with an average of 57.70°. The thermometer almost reached 90° in the early part of July, and in January was frequently about 52° or 55°. For the same year the rainfall amounted to 118 inches, of which the most fell in January, February, March, and May. 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. Mr 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 Mr Pickering found the cassia tree in the mountains. Travelers are especially struck with the beauty of some of the wild flowers, more especially with the lilies and convolvuluses; and our 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 the title of the "granary of China"; and the sweet potato, taro, millet, barley, wheat, and maize are also cultivated. Sugar, tea, indigo, ground pea-nuts, jute, hemp, oil, and rattans are all articles of export, and some of them produce no inconsiderable trade. The principal tea district is about Banka, but the area devoted to this valuable crop is rapidly increasing. A large part of the tea finds its way to America. In some parts of the island it is probable that coffee may grown with advantage. 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 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 even 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, that 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.

The inhabitants of Formosa may be divided into three classes: -- the Chinese, many of whom have immigrated from the neighbourhood of Amoy and speak the dialect of that district, while others are Hakkas from the vicinity of Swatow; the subjugated aborigines, now largely intermingled with the Chinese; and the uncivilized aborigines of the eastern region, who refuse to recognize the Chinese authority, and carry on raids as opportunity occurs. The semi-civilized aborigines, who have adopted the Chinese language, dress, and customs, are called Pe-pa-hwan (Anglice Peppo-hoans), while their wilder brethren bear the name of Che-hwan or green savages. They appear to belong to the Malay stock, and their language, according to Gabelentz's investigations in the Zeitschrift der Morgenlūnd. Gesellschaft, 1859, bears out the supposition.[1] 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, says Dr Dickson, of the Presbyterian mission, there are "eight different mutually unintelligible dialects." Mr Corner of Amoy describes the people themselves 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 have had least intercourse with the Chinese show a considerable amount of skill in the arts of civilization. The houses, for instance, of the village of Ka-fri-ang in the south are described by Rev. W. Campbell as "built of stone, tiled with immense slabs of a slaty kind of rock, and fitted up within with accommodation for sleeping comfortably as well as for cooking, and for storing up abundance of materials for personal and household use." Manchester prints and other European goods are in pretty general use; 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. Intermarriage between the Chinese and the natives is very common.

The Chinese portion of the island was till 1876 divided into the districts of Komalan, Tam-sui, Chang-hua, Kia-i, Tai-wan, Feng-shan, of which Komalan or Kapsiulangting was the only one on the eastern side; but the districts of Komalan and Tam-sui have been abolished, and a department of North Formosa established with three dependent magistracies. A highway runs from Bangka in the north to Pangliavu in the south. Beginning at the north we find the following places of importance: -- Kelung, the ancient Pe-Kiang, a treaty port in the neighbourhood of the mines; Tam-sui, or properly Howei or Hobay, also a treaty port with 100,000 inhabitants, on the harbour of the same name, which is formed by hills upwards of 2000 feet high and has a depth of 3 1/2 fathoms and a bar of 7 1/2 feet; Twa-tu-tia, about 13 miles up the Tam-sui River in a tea district, and possessing a population of 20,000; Mengka, Bangka, or Banca, a little higher up the river, one of the most flourishing commercial towns in the north, with 30,000 inhabitants; Teukcham or Teuxham, a walled town at the head of Tam-sui district, with a population of 40,000 inhabitants; Heong-san and Tiong-Kang, both near the coast; Oulan and Suikang, both inland; Changhwa the capital of a district, and the second city in the island, with population of 60,000 or 80,000; Chip-Chip, a large town inhabited solely by Chinese; Kagee, or Chin-la-san, and Ung-Kan-bay; Kok-si-Kong, with a small harbour; Taiwanfu, the capital of the island, with 30,000 inhabitants (or, according to another statement, 100,000), a treaty port, and the remains of the Dutch port of Zelandia; Takao or Takow, also a treaty port, in 22° 37' N. lat., 120° 16' E. long., to the south of Ape's Hill; Pataou or Pitau, a few miles inland, the Feng-shan-hsien of ancient documents; and Tang-Kang, a town of 20,000 inhabitants. Besides these there are many places of several thousands of a population, and the whole of the Chinese territory is dotted with villages and hamlets. The whole island is estimated to contain from one and a half to two million souls, the smaller number being probably nearer the truth. The Chinese influence is rapidly spreading, and the island is more and more attracting the attention of foreigners.

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 southern 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 has since risen the town of Taiwan, and the settlement was maintained for thirty-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 Kanghi, and since then it has formed part of the empire. In 1714 the Jesuit mathematicians from the court visited the island. In 1782 occurred a most destructive storm, which laid the public buildings in ruins and wrecked twenty-seven of the imperial war-ships; and in 1788 there broke out a violent rebellion, which was 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. In the early part of the present century the island was principally known to Europeans on account of the wrecks which took place on its coast, and the dangers that crews had to run from the cannibal propensities of the aborigines, and the almost equally cruel tendencies of the Chinese. Among the most notable cases was the loss in 1842 of the British brig, "Ann," with fifty-seven persons on board, of whom forty-three were executed at Taiwan. By the treaty of Tientsin (1860) Taiwan was opened to European commerce, but Mr Swinhoe found the place quite unsuitable for a port of trade, and the harbour of Tam-sui was selected instead. Shortly afterwards a rebellion broke out, to which several of the Chinese authorities fell victims; and for some time the condition of the foreign settlers was rather precarious, while the trade of the new port was so small that it was proposed to relinquish the consulate. In 1865 Dr Maxwell of the English Presbyterian Church established a medical mission first at Taiwan and afterwards at Takao; and the organization thus originated comprised in 1877 thirteen churches among the Chinese, and as many among the aborigines of the southern provinces, with upwards of 1000 baptized converts and 3000 attendants at worship. The northern provinces are in the hands of the Presbyterian Church of Canada, which commenced its operations in 1872, and had nine stations in 1877. A Roman Catholic mission has also been in existence in the island since 1859. In 1867 the United States consul at Amoy made a treaty with Tok-a-Tok, a chief of the aborigines of the southern part of the island, by which the safety of foreigners was secured in that district. An attack made on the Protestant and Roman Catholic mission at Feng-shan-hsien in 1868 led the British consul to authorize the occupation of Fort Zelandia and Amping by Colonel Gordon; but his action was afterwards disapproved by the home Government, and the indemnity demanded from the Chinese restored. In 1872 the crew of a Japanese vessel shipwrecked on the coast being murdered by the savages, the Japanese Government sent an expedition to punish the assassins, and a war between China and Japan would have been the consequence if Wade the English ambassador had not succeeded in bringing them to terms, -- China agreeing to pay 500,000 taels as compensation to the friends of the murdered men and to purchase the houses, &c., erected by the Japanese, and the Japanese on their side withdrawing their troops and giving up all claims to occupation. According to Mr Hewlett's report for 1872, the political state of the island is very bad; the officials classes, he says, have a proverb "every three years an outbreak, every five a rebellion," and the reason of this instability is to be found in their own rapacity and glaring violations of justice. A more hopeful account is given by Mr Morrison in 1877; under the enlightened government of Ting, formerly futai of Fuhchow, roads are being constructed throughout the Chinese territory, and other measures adopted for the development of its resources. A telegraph has been laid between Taiwanfu and Takao; and the proposal to make a railway from the south to the north of the island is being seriously discussed. A fort was built at Anping (the port of Taiwanfu) between 1874 and 1876, and two others at Takow. A scheme is in operation for the military reduction of the east coast districts, and a road is being pushed south from Sauo.

Literature. -- G. Candidius, A short account of the island of Formosa, 1637, printed in Churchill's Collection. vol i; 't Verwaarloozde Formosa by C.E.S., Amsterdam, 1675, translated into French as "Formose négligée" in the Recueil de voyages pour l'établ. de la Comp. des Indes. t. x.; Valentyn. Oud en Nieuw Oozt Indien. t. iv., with a large map of the island; Malte-Brun, "Analyse de quelques mémoires hollandais sur l'île de Formose," in Annales des Voyages, 1810; Klaproth, "Description de Formose," In Mém. relatifs à l'Asie, t. i., and "Sur la langue des indigènes," in Journal Asiatique, 1822; Lindsay and Gutzlaff. Voyage to the Northern Ports of China, 1833; E. Stevens, "Island of Formosa," in Chinese Repository, vol. ii., 1833; E. C. B., "Dealings of the Chinese Government in Formosa," in Chinese Repository, 1837; Lieut. Gordon, "On Coal in the N.E. of Formosa," in Journ. Roy. Geog. Soc. 1849; Robert Swinhoe, "Bericht über die Westküste von Formosa," in Ztschr für Allgem. Erdk zu Berlin, 1857, translated from Overland and Chinese Mail; "Visit to Formosa," in Jour. of North China branch of Roy. As. Soc., 1859; "Notes on Formosa," in Jour. Roy. Geog. Soc. 1864; "Additional Notes," in Proceed. Roy. Geog. Soc., 1866; Habersham, My last Cruise, 1857; Biernatzki, "Zur Kunde der Insel Formosa," in Ztschr. für Allegem. Erdk.,1857, and "Die Insel Formosa," in Ztschr. für Allegem. Erdk., 1859; Jomard, Coup d'oeil sur l'île Formose, Paris 1859; E. W. Brooker, "Observations on Tai-wan," in Nautical Mag., 1858 and "Journal of H.M.S. the Inflexible," in Nautical Mag., 1859; A. C. Gras. Renseignements sur les îles Bashee, îles les Formose, &c., 1860; G. Stanley, "Les Côtes O et S. der Formose," in Annales hydrogr., 1867; "Ile Formose" in Annales de la prop de la foi, 1867; Vivien de Saint Martin, "Aperçu général de l'île de Formose," in Bull. de la Soc. de Géogr. 1868; Guérin and Bernard, "Les aborigènes de l'île de Formose," Bull. de la Soc. de Géogr. 1868; E. W. Brooker, "Remarks on the Coast of Fomosa," in Nautical Magazine, 1868; Bechtinger, Het eiland Formosa, 1871; Thomson, "Notes of a journey in Southern Formosa" in Proceedings of Roy. Georgr. Soc., 1873; Taintor, Aborigenes of Formosa, 1874; Bax, Eastern Seas, 1875, Arthur Corner, "Journey in interior of Formosa," in Proc. Roy. Georgr. Soc., 1875; Knoblauch. "Einige Notizen über Formosa," in Mitth, d. Deutsch. Ges. für Natur- und Všlkerkunde Ost Astens, Yokohama, 1875; Kühne, in Annalen der Hydrogr. und mar. Meteor., 1875; Cyprian Bridge, "An Excursion in Formosa," in Proc. Roy. Geog. Soc., 1877; T.L. Bullock, "A Trip into the interior of Formosa," in Proc. Roy. Geog. Soc., 1877; James Morrison, "Description of the Island of Formosa," in Geographical Magazine, 1877; W. A. Pickering, "Among the Savages of Central Formosa, 1866-1867," in Messenger of Presbyt. Church of England. 1878; and British Consular Reports. A map of the island is given by E. G. Ravenstein in the Geographical Magazine, Oct. 1874.

[1] Compare lists in Journ. of Roy. Geog. Soc., 1873, and Collingwood's Appendix. [original note]