Reclus, Elisée. "Formosa." The earth and its inhabitants. Asia. Vol. II, East Asia: Chinese empire, Corea, and Japan. Edited by A. H. Keane. New York: D. Appleton, 1884.


Like Hainan, which it somewhat exceeds in size, and probably in population, Formosa belongs geologically to the mainland. Close to the east coast the sounding-line plunges at once into depths of 7,000 feet, whereas Fokien Strait, on the west side, has a mean depth of scarcely 140 feet, and contracts to a width of 80 miles at its narrowest part. Even about the southern entrance of the strait the sea is studded with the Pescadores (Panghu) Islands, which are continued westwards and south-westwards by dangerous shallows. Politically and ethnically, also, Formosa is simply an appendage of the neighbouring province of Fokien.

Known to the old geographers by the name of Great Luchew, and now officially called Taiwan, from the name of its capital, this island presents the form of an elongated oval, some 240 miles long north and south, and traversed throughout its entire length by a regular water-parting, which falls abruptly eastwards, while sloping gently towards the mainland. This Ta-shan, or "Great Range," as it is called, scarcely exceeds 8,000 feet in the south, but in the centre Mount Morrison attains a height of over 11,000 feet, while the system culminates northwards with Mount Sylvia and other peaks rising to elevations of 12,000 feet and upwards. The Ta-shan consists mainly of carboniferous limestones, with igneous rocks cropping out here and there. Mention is even vaguely made of an active volcano, the Kiai-shan, in the centre of the range, and earthquakes are still frequent in many places. The coast seems even to be rising, whereas the opposite seaboard between Ningpo and Canton is subsiding. When the Dutch held Taiwan, on the south-west side, a navigable strait, accessible to fleets, flowed between the two citadels. But this channel is now dry land, intersected by canals and roads, which are partly covered during the spring tides, so that the shipping now anchors about 2 miles from the old fort.

The first European navigators who sighted Taiwan early in the sixteenth century were so struck with its picturesque appearance that they aptly named it Formosa, or "the Beautiful." Probably no other oceanic island has better claims to the title, at least on its east side, facing the Pacific. The central range throws off right and left numerous spurs and side ridges, all varying in height and aspect. Peaks, crests, rugged crags, rounded domes, follow in endless variety from the interior to the headlands along the coast; while the mountain torrents everywhere break into foaming waterfalls, or rush through dark gorges amidst the bright tints of a dense sub-tropical forest vegetation clothing all the surrounding valleys. The native villages are suspected rather than seen, embowered in bamboo and palm thickets, which flourish down to the verge of the ocean, and crown the cliffs that are everywhere cut by the beating waves into a thousand fantastic forms.

The extraordinary wealth of the Formosan flora is due partly to the neighbourhood of the continent, partly to the different climatic zones superimposed one above the other along the mountain slopes. The coast lands belong to the tropics, while the hills and mountains rise to the temperate and colder atmospheric regions. There is further a regular succession of monsoons, the wind blowing in summer from the Malay Archipelago, in winter from Japan. With this disposition of the aërial corresponds that of the oceanic currents, which on the east side set north-eastwards in the direction of the Japanese Kuro-siwo, or "Black Stream," but which in the shallow waters along the west coast flow alternately north and south under the action of the shifting trade winds. The island is thus exposed to the varying influences of the northern and southern climates, while also enjoying the advantage of an abundant rainfall. The greatest amount of moisture is received, not in summer, as mostly elsewhere in the extreme East, but in winter, during the prevalence of the humid north-east monsoon, when a rainfall of over 120 inches has been recorded at the Kelung station on the north coast. On the east side the atmospheric currents are occasionally reversed by the typhoons, which rarely penetrate westwards to the Fokien Strait. On the 18th and 19th of August, 1858, the naturalists on board the Novara, en route from Shanghai to the Carolines, observed one of these cyclones, which, while revolving round itself, described a vast curve above the southern limits of the Liu-kiu Archipelago. From hour to hour they were able to follow and record the successive points gained by the hurricane, which reversed the normal direction of these typhoons.

Although Formosa probably possesses no vegetable or animal species distinct from those of the continent, some forms occur which have not yet been met elsewhere. The prevailing species, corresponding with those of South Japan and Fokien, are often distinguished by their symmetrical and vigorous growth. Nowhere else in the Chinese Empire do the bamboos attain a greater height, being sometimes 100 feet high, with a girth of 24 inches. The large forests of the interior consisted chiefly of the camphor-tree before the ravages committed by the rapacity of modern traders. One of the most common plants on the coast lands is the Aralia papyrifera, a shrub with bare stem terminating in broad leaves, used in the manufacture of "rice paper."

Amongst the thirty-five species of mammals and one hundred and twenty-eight of land birds, there are fourteen and forty-three respectively which are found neither on the mainland nor on the neighbouring islands. This local fauna shows that the island has long been separated from the continent, although not long enough to greatly modify the prevailing types. Thus the tiger, wild boar, deer, antelope, monkeys, insectivora, and various species of ruminants and rodents correspond with those of the mainland, although several of these mammals are more closely related to those of India, Malaysia, and Japan than to those of China. The "rock monkey" recalls some of the Indian and Burmese varieties rather than those of South China and Hainan; while the beautiful deer discovered by Swinhoe, the flying squirrels, and the Macroscelis ape are allied to those of Malaysia. More than half of the Formosan avifauna is also more nearly related to those of the Himalayas, South India, the Eastern Archipelago, and Japan than to those of the more adjacent Chinese lands. Amongst the new forms discovered by Swinhoe the most remarkable are some gallinaceae and pigeons, a magnificent pheasant, some tomtits, sparrows, and the white-headed blackbird; but there are no parrots, as in the central and southern provinces of China. While the continental yellowhammer migrates in vast numbers between India and Manchuria, the Formosan variety never leaves the island, merely passing with the seasons from the plains to the uplands. In the Tamshui River singing fishes are heard, like those of Trincomali Bay, Guayaquil and San Juan del Norte.

Being visible from the mainland on clear days, Formosa has from the remotest periods been known to the Chinese. But although the Panghu group had been long occupied by some fishermen, the island was never visited till the year 605 of the vulgar era, nor were any settlements made till the fifteenth century, when the north coast was occupied. An organized system of immigration was at last developed during the second half of the seventeenth century, after the expulsion of the Dutch traders and the destruction of the pirates. Yet within two hundred years the settlers, mostly from Fokien, have already occupied all the west side, besides the northern extremity and the north-eastern seaboard. The gradual settlement of these tracts was attended by constant struggles with the natives. In these conflicts the intruders have often had recourse rather to opium and brandy than to force, thus poisoning rather than murdering the race. Swinhoe also tells us that they have imported tigers from Fokien, and let them loose against their troublesome neighbours. Great rivalries prevail even amongst the Chinese themselves, the Hakka and other factions from the mainland continuing their dissensions in their new homes. Many have contracted alliances with the natives, adopting their customs, and remaining Chinese only in their dress and practice of wearing the pigtail.

Inhabitants of Formosa.

The aborigines are known by various names, nor is it yet possible to classify them according to their origin and mutual affinities. The Song-Fan, or "Wild Men," resemble the Malays, to whom they are usually affiliated. Their dialect certainly belongs to the widespread Malay family. Some varieties closely resemble the Tagal of Luzon, and seventeen tribes in the north even call their language Tayal, while in some districts the tribes take the name of Tangalan. But there are no Sanskrit or Arab words in any of the local dialects, so that the Formosans must have become separated from the Malay family before the introduction of Buddhism into the Eastern Archipelago. Since the dispersion the relations of the islanders have been exclusively with the Middle Kingdom, as shown by the number of Chinese words adopted in a more or less modified form in their dialects.

In the south-eastern highlands the Butan tribe has made itself formidable both to the other natives and to the colonists. Besides the bow and arrow, they now procure fire-arms from the Europeans, and it was this tribe that the Japanese came to chastise in 1874 for the massacre of a shipwrecked crew. To judge from the captives brought on that occasion to Tokio, the Butans resemble the Japanese rather than the Malay type. They mostly wear blue cotton garments, with silver bracelets, and enormous ear ornaments of bamboo. According to the native reports, some dwarfish black tribes also dwell in a highland region towards the south. They are mentioned by Valentyn so early as 1726, but although also spoken of by Swinhoe, no traveller has yet visited them. Two skulls studied by Schetelig are attributed to these Formosan Negritos, survivors of an old race now almost entirely extinct.

Most of the unsubdued aborigines are tall, vigorous, and extremely active. Their gait has been compared by Guérin to that of the anthropoid apes. But the greatest variety of features prevails amongst these tribes, the faces of some being flat, of others as regular as those of Europeans. But many, with their large prominent eyes and restless glance, have a scared look, as if bereft of their senses. Goître is common in one tribe, and skin diseases very prevalent in the interior. The teeth are often dyed red by the constant use of the betel-nut, and in general much more regard is paid to ornament than to dress. Both sexes wear copper bracelets, coarse glass necklaces and girdles, bone plaques, and tinkling bells. The men pierce the lobe of the ear for the reception of a bamboo cylinder ornamented with designs, and all the unsubdued tribes still practise tattooing. Everything is regulated by traditional usage. Although there is no public worship, the daily actions are largely guided by omens, and all must be buried on the very spot where they die. Head-hunting is still practised, and a wooden platform attached to every house is usually adorned with the heads of their Chinese victims. But this pursuit cannot be continued much longer, for the independent natives have already been reduced to about 20,000 altogether, divided into a multitude of clans, which successively fall an easy prey to the ever-advancing colonists.

The already reduced tribes, collectively called Pepo-hoan, have become largely assimilated to the Chinese. Most of them have ceased to practise tattooing, and now wear the Fokien dress. Amongst them the Catholic and Protestant missionaries have been most successful, and the accounts of the Formosan people hitherto published by European travellers refer mainly to this Pepo-hoan element.


Formosa, where Western influences have long been at work, promised at one time to become a European colony. The Dutch had obtained a footing in the Panghu Archipelago so early as 1621, and soon after set up their factories on the mainland, where the present city of Taiwan-fu is situated. But the young settlement was soon surrounded by hostile Chinese communities, and finally surrendered in 1662 to the pirate Chingching better known in Europe by the name of Koxinga. Under his rule the English traded directly with Formosa; but after the definite establishment of the imperial authority in 1683, all foreign traffic was suspended till the year 1858, when the island was again thrown open to Europeans.

Taiwan, the capital, which has given its name to the whole island, is a modern Chinese city lying at some distance from the coast, and enclosed by ramparts 6 miles in circuit, within which are extensive gardens, cultivated lands, and pagodas. It is noted for its filigree-work, and does a considerable trade in sugar, exported chiefly to Australia. Some 24 miles south of Taiwan are the ports of Takow and Tungkang, besides the large town of Pitao, lying about 5 miles inland from the former place. Farther north the city of Sinchow exports rice and wheat through in outport of Hongsang. But a more important place is Tamshui (Tamsui, Tangshui), near the north-west extremity of the island, where the European traders have made a settlement, notwithstanding its unhealthy climate. Tamshui was formerly the chief mart for the camphor trade, which has been greatly reduced since the destruction of the neighbouring forests. Camphor is now largely replaced by tea, the trade in which is yearly increasing in importance, especially with America. Junks ascend the Tamshui river to the colony of Toatutia, residence of the foreign dealers, and beyond it to Mengka (Mongkia, Banka), commercial metropolis of the district. Some 7 miles farther east on the route to Kelung there are some sulphur springs, much frequented by invalids.

Kelung, although lying on the north coast about 30 miles east of Tamshui, is regarded as forming with that city a common port for foreign shipping. According to the natives, they are even connected by an underground passage, approached at either end by extensive caverns. The staple exports of Kelung are lignites, some of excellent quality, but the petroleum and rich sulphur deposits of the district still remain almost untouched. The headlands and islands in the neighbourhood of Kelung assume the most fantastic shapes, the lower and softer strata being eaten away by the waves, or hollowed out into picturesque grottoes and arcades. Most of the islands, worn away at the base, have assumed the form of colossal mushrooms. On a headland at the east side of the entrance to the port are the ruins of some old Spanish fortifications.

The Liu-kiu Archipelago, stretching north from Formosa, seems destined to belong mainly to the Japanese, who have already occupied the central and northern groups, including the principal island and the capital of the whole archipelago. San-nan, or Saki-sima-----&emdash;that is, the southern group&emdash;represented on old Chinese maps as forming part of Formosa, is in fact connected with it by a number of reefs and islets. At present their only importance for the Chinese consists in their position as an advanced bulwark of Formosa towards Japan. Being of small extent and very mountainous, they are thinly peopled by a few tribes, some of whom, like those of Yonakuni, are still in the savage state.

Towards its southern extremity the only geographical dependence of Formosa is the hilly island of Betel Tobago. But in the Fokien Strait, on the west side, the Pesacadores (Panghu) group possesses considerable importance as a shipping station and entrepôt between Formosa and the mainland. The inhabitants, estimated at about 180,000 are occupied with fishing and agriculture. But the yield of rice and millet being insufficient for their wants, they depend partly on Formosa for their sustenance. Here the fierce winter gales sometimes blow down or tear up the trees by the roots. The village of Makung is the capital of this group.