Taiwanese Australians

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Taiwanese Australians
Total population
46,822+ (Taiwanese-born at 2016 census)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Brisbane · Sydney · Melbourne
Australian English · Taiwanese Mandarin · Taiwanese Hokkien · Taiwanese Hakka · Varieties of Chinese · Formosan languages
Buddhism · Christianity · Chinese folk religion · Freethinking · Taoism · Other

Taiwanese Australians are Australian citizens or permanent residents whose ancestry lies in various ethnic groups which inhabit the East Asian island of Taiwan. The political status of Taiwan is disputed, with the island being claimed by two Chinese governments and various secessionist groups.

The term Taiwanese Australian officially refers to immigrants coming to Australia who possess citizenship of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and their descendants in Australia, according to the official Australian Census. Previously, the term referred to those Australians of Formosan (Japanese) descent, who were relatively very few in number.

Australia Overview[edit]

Australia Summary[edit]

Australia, officially the (British) Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign nation occupying the continent of Australia and many nearby islands, including Tasmania. Australia is considered to be located within the geopolitical region of Oceania, or sometimes within "Australasia", and is the largest country within those regions both in terms of land area and population. Australia's immediate neighbours include Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia (France), and New Zealand. Australia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, possessing a population only slightly larger than that of the relatively tiny island of Taiwan.

History and Culture of Australia[edit]

Australia's modern history is usually traced back to 1901, when the six states of Australia united in a Federation and drafted up the first Australia constitution. Previously, the six states of Australia were not independent countries, but were instead dominions of the British Crown, whose monarch resides in England, United Kingdom. After being federated, the United Kingdom recognised Australia as an independent country, but still maintained a degree of dominance and administrative control over the country. For example, an independent Australian citizenship was only created in 1949; previously, Australians were considered to be British subjects.

Australia's society and politics have largely been influenced by those of the United Kingdom. For a long time, Australia officially considered the United Kingdom to be the "motherland" of the Australian people; it was for this reason that Australia contributed heavily towards World War I and the European theatre of World War II, despite being located far away from Europe. In the modern day, many Australian institutions have their roots in the United Kingdom, many Australians speak English as their first language (with English functioning as the de facto national language), and Australia still has a governor-general representing the monarch in government.

Prior to 1788, Australia was an independent realm from the United Kingdom and from the "Old World" as a whole, and was home to diverse indigenous peoples who are now collectively known as the Aboriginal Australians. From the perspective of these people, Australia's cultural history dates back at least 50,000 years. However, the British colonisation of Australia has caused the Aboriginal Australian history and culture to have been largely eradicated. In the modern day, the Aboriginal Australians have transitioned from making up most of Australia's population (alongside the Torres Strait Islanders) to making up around 3.1% of the population, as of 2016.

From 1901 until 1949–1973, Australia, as a British Commonwealth, had very strict immigration policies, collectively known as the "White Australia Policy". These policies were aimed at restricting non-(Western) European immigration, and especially Chinese (including Taiwanese) and other Asian immigration, and were ultimately aimed at maintaining Australia's status as a "British Ethno-State". These policies began to be lifted in 1949 as a result of World War II and Australia's new "Populate or Perish" mentality. By 1973, the White Australia Policy had been completely dismantled, and Asians were now free to immigrate to Australia and acquire citizenship.

In the modern day, Australian society is composed of a multi-ethnic "salad bowl" or "melting pot", with people of Anglo-Celtic descent constituting roughly 74% of the population as of 2006. Other major ethnic groups in Australia include (other) European Australians, Asian Australians, Middle Eastern Australians, Latin American Australians, African Australians, Jewish Australians, Aboriginal Australians, Torres Strait Islanders, and Pacific Islander Australians (including South Sea Islanders). Most people living in Australia, regardless of their ethnic descent, share a multicultural Australian identity and speak Australian English as their first or second language.

Taiwan Overview[edit]

Taiwan Disclaimer[edit]

When discussing Taiwan, it is important to take note of the fact that Taiwan is a heavily disputed territory, one of the most explosive "flashpoints"[2] for conflict in the entire world. The reason for this is because China, which is widely considered to be the second-most powerful country in the world[3], has a direct and incessant claim to Taiwan[4]. Meanwhile, Taiwan's strongest ally is the United States of America[5], which is widely considered to be the most powerful country in the world[6]. A conflict regarding Taiwan Independence could potentially involve a direct confrontation between China and the United States[7], with potentially devastating results[8].

Geopolitically, Taiwan is located within "East Asia", from a Chinese perspective[9], or within the "Indo-Pacific", from an American perspective[10]. From a Taiwanese perspective, the culture of Taiwan is highly East Asian, with similarities to Southeast Asian culture[11] due to the proximity of the island to the Philippines and due to the presence of Indigenous Taiwanese on the island, who are ethnically Austronesian. Taiwan is located 180 kilometres off the coast of Southeastern China, with the nearest neighboring Chinese province being Fujian Province, which has close linguistic ties to Taiwan[12], with many Taiwanese people being descended from Fujian.

Any article which discusses anything remotely related to Taiwan is sure to be met with controversy[13]. Given that the Chinese do not consider Taiwan to be its own independent country, but rather to be merely an extension of China[14], the suggestion that Taiwan is an independent country with an independent political status, independent history, independent culture, and independent identity, can be deeply offensive[15] to those Chinese people who strongly believe that Taiwan is part of China. Therefore, this article will take note of Chinese concerns. However, this article will focus on the perspectives of the various peoples who live in Taiwan[16].

Political Situation in Taiwan[edit]

Taiwan island is claimed by the People's Republic of China (PRC) as its own "Taiwan Province". Officially, the Australian Government recognises this claim, due to its adherence to the "One-China Policy", which the Government of the People's Republic of China (Beijing Government) has laid out as a prerequisite for trade and other relations to be conducted between the two countries, with the "One-China Principle". Still, the Australian Government conducts unofficial relations with Taiwan, occasionally political but usually pertaining to cultural exchanges and trade, through de facto embassies in Taipei, Taiwan, and Canberra, Australia.

In spite of the PRC's claims to Taiwan, the Republic of China (ROC), originally under the leadership of the Kuomintang (KMT), which was overthrown by the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) in Mainland China following the events of the Chinese Civil War in 1949–1950, currently maintains control over the island of Taiwan, which it has held since 1945, following the controversial Chinese annexation of Taiwan, following fifty years of the also highly controversial Japanese occupation of Taiwan. Notably, Taiwan has never been administered by the PRC, commonly known as "China"; though, the PRC bases its claims on the "Succession of States" theory.

Officially, the ROC (Taiwan) has its own constitution, which it regards to be the official constitution of China, overriding any constitutions which the CPC (Chinese Government), which administers the PRC (China), has made. However, due to pressure from the CPC, is it difficult for the ROC to make changes to its own constitution regarding the territory which it claims, so Taiwanese politicians and presidents, especially those from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the rest of the "Pan-Green Coalition", might not necessarily endorse the constitution. The DPP is the current ruling party of the ROC (Taiwan), having been democratically elected.

The DPP and the Pan-Green Coalition are closely associated with various secessionist movements within the ROC (Taiwan) which are collectively known as the Taiwan Independence movement, which aims to establish an independent "Republic of Taiwan". This movement is significant because the DPP is currently in power, and influential enough that its secessionist activities are widespread across Taiwanese society. The main thing preventing the DPP from outright declaring Taiwan Independence is the fact that the Beijing Government (CPC) has threatened to invade and potentially obliterate Taiwan if that were ever to happen.

The remnants of the KMT, which was the ruling party of China between 1928 and 1949, and which was also the ruling party of the ROC (Taiwan) from 1949 until 2000, having ruled the ROC (Taiwan) as a single-party dictatorship between 1949 and 1987, has created what is now known as the "Pan-Blue Coalition", which is a group of various political parties within the ROC (Taiwan) which opposes Taiwan Independence, and which favours closer ties with the PRC in its current Communist/Socialist state, and which ultimately favours Reunification with Mainland China under a multi-party, democratic government, if not under its own Republic of China government.

Usage of the terms "Taiwan" and "Taiwanese"[edit]

The terms "Taiwan" and "Taiwanese" can have entirely different meanings depending on the political perspective of the person using the terms.

The term "Taiwanese", in its common Australian usage, refers to people who are descended from the ROC (Taiwan), which officially regards itself to be the true government of China. Therefore, in the Australian usage, the terms "Taiwan" and "Taiwanese" don't imply a distinct ethnicity from "China" and "Chinese", but instead imply a distinct nationality. Officially, Australians regard Taiwanese people as an ethnic subgroup of the Chinese ethnicity; however, just as with people from Hong Kong, and, to a lesser extent, Macau, Australians usually make note to specify "Taiwanese Chinese" (as they would "Hong Kong Chinese" or "Macau Chinese").

However, the Taiwanese who support the Pan-Blue Coalition don't actually identify with the Taiwanese nationality. Instead, the Taiwanese who support the Pan-Blue Coalition consider themselves to be "Chinese, no questions asked". However, in order to differentiate themselves from the Mainland Chinese, who are often perceived poorly by Australians due to their (often minimal) affiliations with their Communist government, the Taiwanese who support the Pan-Blue Coalition often prefer to identify as "Taiwanese" when interacting with Australians and other non-Chinese foreigners, because it removes any possible associations with Communist China.

Whilst the Pan-Blue Taiwanese still usually identify as "Taiwanese" in a cultural sense, they only believe that Taiwan is a province of China, and that they are natives of Taiwan Province, China. However, they are still often offended at notions that they are "fake Taiwanese", often supported by members and supporters of the Pan-Green Coalition, given that they (the Pan-Blue Taiwanese) often have strong connections to the Taiwanese identity and culture, just not in the national sense. They consider themselves to be Taiwanese only in the greater context of a Chinese nationality, Chinese ethnicity, Chinese culture, and Chinese identity, but they are still Taiwanese.

On the other hand, the Pan-Green Taiwanese usually do identify with a "Taiwanese" nationality, and they usually support Taiwan Independence in some form or another. Whilst many of the Pan-Green Taiwanese do understand that Taiwan is currently controlled by China, they are often very adamant on indicating the differences between China and Taiwan, and they strongly support the concept of a distinct "Taiwanese" national identity, separate from the Chinese national identity; some members and supporters of the Pan-Green Coalition even support the concept of a distinct "Taiwanese" ethnicity, separate from the Chinese ethnicity.

Indigenous Taiwanese[edit]

Taiwan has been inhabited by various Austronesian peoples since antiquity (the general consensus is that Austronesians have lived in Taiwan for 6000 years)[17]. These peoples, prior to the late-1500s CE, had virtually no direct contact with the outside world (meaning they were stuck on the island of Taiwan)[18]. Medieval Chinese, Dutch and Spanish writings support the claim made in the previous sentence[19]. The Chinese themselves, perhaps the closest Great Power to Taiwan geographically, only visited the main island of Taiwan a few dozen times (on record, at least) throughout the first 4500+ years of their 5000-year history[20], prior to the late-1500s CE.

The "Out of Taiwan" Hypothesis[edit]

It is widely hypothesised that Taiwan was the (most recent) traditional homeland of all Austronesian peoples, based on linguistic theories[21]. It is also hypothesised that several of Taiwan's tribes originated from Southeast Asia and were "thrown into Taiwan" while sailing through the Philippines, due to strong currents[22]. The latter theory is supported by close cultural similarities between the Yami (Tao) tribe of Orchid Island (Lanyu), Taiwan, and some tribes living in the Northern Philippines (which is geographically very nearby to Orchid Island). It is possible that both of these theories are true.

According to the most widespread theory, which is commonly known as the 'Out of Taiwan Theory' (the name is probably inspired by the more famous 'Out of Africa Theory'), Austronesians emigrated from Taiwan several thousand (or hundred) years ago and colonised many distant archipelagic lands, including Madagascar, Easter Island (Chile), Hawaii (US), Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Hainan (PRC), the Torres Strait (Australia), and New Zealand. Before these Austronesian peoples lived in Taiwan, they are believed to have lived in Southern China, with the Baiyue peoples possibly being the ancestors of the modern Austronesians.

The main premise of the theory is that Taiwan was the last common location occupied by all of the various Austronesian peoples, who can be roughly classified together thanks to linguistic similarities. Notably, Taiwan's various tribes (16 officially recognised, perhaps 4–5 more unrecognised) are extremely linguistically diverse while occupying a small area, relatively speaking. In contrast, vast lands such as Indonesia and New Zealand are much less linguistically diverse. This has led some researchers to believe that Taiwan or Southern China must be the "entry point for Austronesians into Southeast Asia".

Of course, this theory could be completely or partially inaccurate, as high linguistic diversity doesn't necessarily indicate that Taiwan is the original homeland of the Austronesian peoples.

European Colonisation of Taiwan[edit]

The earliest recorded foreign colonisation activities in Taiwan, at least based on Western media sources, were those conducted by the Dutch East India Company, the official trading company of the Netherlands at the time, between 1624 and 1662. The Spanish Empire also colonised Taiwan from 1626 to 1642, before its assets were seized by the Dutch (Netherlands) and annexed into Dutch Formosa. During this period, an Indigenous Austronesian coalition, known as the Kingdom of Middag, established itself in Central-Western Taiwan. However, the details of this kingdom, which was made up of several Plains Aboriginal tribes, have been poorly recorded.

Chinese Colonisation of Taiwan[edit]

Chinese pirates who had no official affiliation with the Chinese government allegedly began visiting Taiwan, using the island as a base of operations, at some point between 800–1600 CE. The operations of these pirates have been poorly recorded, but the most famous pirate is probably Zheng Chenggong, also known as Koxinga, who invaded Taiwan in 1661, destroyed Dutch Formosa in 1662, and established the Kingdom of Tungning in Southwestern Taiwan in 1662. The Kingdom of Tungning itself was destroyed when the Qing Imperial Dynasty of China annexed the entire island of Taiwan, including the independent kingdom, in 1683.

According to official Western records, Taiwan has only been part of China during the following periods: 1683 until 1895, and 1945 until the present. During the first period of Chinese rule in Taiwan, China was under the administration of the ethnic-Manchu Qing Dynasty. During the second period of Chinese rule in Taiwan, China (on Taiwan) has been under the administration of the Republic of China. Taiwan has never been under the administration of the People's Republic of China, and Taiwan has never ceased to be under the administration of the Republic of China. However, the Republic of China on Taiwan currently functions as a multi-party democracy.

Perspective of the Indigenous Taiwanese[edit]

The rural Indigenous Taiwanese currently have autonomy within their domiciles in the mountainous interior of Taiwan, but several groups believe that the Government of the Republic of China has been encroaching on their territory[23], and disrespecting their wishes. It is often easy to forget the Indigenous Taiwanese, given how quiet their voice is compared to the voices of the Pan-Blue Taiwanese, Pan-Green Taiwanese, and the Chinese Communist Party. The Indigenous Taiwanese have had a similar history to the Aboriginal Australians. The Indigenous Taiwanese are disadvantaged members of society, experiencing lower average standards of living[24].

Most of the Indigenous Taiwanese seek more autonomy within Taiwan. Additionally, most of the Indigenous Taiwanese seek more political power within Taiwanese politics, and within world politics. Indigenous Taiwanese have power through cultural exchanges, through their music and popular culture, and through their activism and advocating of human rights and environmental preservation. Within Australia, the Indigenous Taiwanese are perhaps most recognised for the song "Return to Innocence"[25], released by the German band Enigma in 1994, which contained accidentally-stolen Taiwanese chants sung by Difang Duana of the Amis tribe of Taiwan.

Whilst the Indigenous Taiwanese are usually not fans of the Pan-Green Taiwanese nor the Taiwanese Independence movement, because they view those peoples as invaders in their land, they also view the Pan-Blue Taiwanese as invaders in their land, and they especially do not have a good view of the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese government based in Beijing which wants to annex Taiwan[26]. Therefore, even though the Indigenous Taiwanese are certainly not on the same page with the Pan-Green Taiwanese, they are willing to ally with the Pan-Green Taiwanese against the Chinese Communist Party, as was demonstrated in January 2019[27].

Yet still, the Indigenous Taiwanese living in rural areas are often in the habit of voting for the Kuomintang party, due to the failures of the Democratic Progressive Party to properly address and include the Indigenous Taiwanese within its own historical narrative[28]. Whilst the Indigenous Taiwanese are generally not in support of the Kuomintang's main political objective, which is to reunify with China and absorb Taiwan into China, the Indigenous Taiwanese seem to be complacent with voting for the Kuomintang in order to fix immediate problems, and as long as the Taiwanese "status quo" doesn't change and the Communists are left out of the equation.

The Government of the Republic of China recognises 16 distinct Indigenous Taiwanese tribes or ethnic groups[29], but there are several more unrecognised "plains tribes"[30], which have largely been assimilated into the Han Taiwanese, living along the eastern plains of Taiwan. The Government of the Republic of China, under the administration of Tsai Ing-wen and the Democratic Progressive Party, gave a formal apology to the Indigenous Taiwanese for the first time in history on August 1st, 2016[31], with a Pan-Green perspective. Previously, the Kuomintang had avoided the Indigenous Taiwanese worldview, though having officially recognised them.

For the past 400 years, each regime that came to Taiwan has brutally violated indigenous people's existing rights through military might and land looting... a simple verbal apology is not enough.

— Tsai-ing Wen, President of the Republic of China, August 1st, 2016, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-36940243

The above quote from Tsai Ing-wen shows the hallmarks of a typical Pan-Green approach to Taiwanese history. There is a specific mention of "400 years [of history]" and of successive foreign regimes invading Taiwan and colonising the island, stealing the land from the Indigenous Taiwanese, who are of Austronesian descent. Traditionally, the Pan-Blue Coalition and the Chinese Communist Party would ignore these facts, and the CPC even officially purports that "Taiwan has belonged to China [for] 1700 years"[32], a claim which is not backed up by any concrete evidences; both groups perceive Taiwan to have been part of China "since ancient times".

Taiwanese Immigration to Australia[edit]

Chinese Taiwanese immigration to Australia[edit]

The first reliable records of ethnic Han Chinese migration to Australia date back to 1818, beginning with people like John Shying[33]. The first major wave of Chinese—mostly Cantonese—immigration to Australia occurred during the 1850s–1860s, as a result of the Victorian Gold Rush[34]. This history of Chinese immigration to Australia is only slightly relevant for modern Taiwanese Australians. Although many Taiwanese still have connections to China, especially those Taiwanese Australians who have grown up surrounded by Chinese Australians, the history of Chinese Australians doesn't exactly cover the history of Taiwan specifically, as a distinct region.

For Taiwanese people who identify as Chinese, the history of Chinese immigration to Australia is relevant. However, for Taiwanese people who do not identify as Chinese, this history is largely irrelevant. Prior to 1895, Taiwan was united with China, so there wasn't a strong sense of a distinct Taiwanese identity, certainly not a "national identity". Though it is likely that a small number of Taiwanese did migrate to Australia via Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Southern China during the 1800s, these people were probably considered to be Chinese by themselves and others, and not Taiwanese, given the circumstances of that time period.

Historical Taiwanese Australian community[edit]

Prior to 1895, the Taiwanese Australian community, if such a thing did exist, would have been merely an extension of the Chinese Australian community. Then, at some point during the early-1900s, the United Kingdom, and Australia as well, recognised Taiwan (Formosa) as being a Colony (Dependency) of Japan. Therefore, Australia would have begun considering the Taiwanese as subjects of the Japanese Empire, but probably would have been aware of the widespread Taiwanese self-identification as ethnic Chinese or even as citizens of China. Later, from 1945 onwards, Australia would consider the Taiwanese to be ethnic Chinese and also Chinese nationals.

However, starting from 1976, Australia began to consider the Taiwanese to be nationals of the ROC (Taiwan)[35], making a distinction between them and the Mainland Chinese living under the rule of the CPC, but considering both groups to be Chinese. The White Australia Policy had been completely abolished by 1973, and so Taiwanese (and Mainland Chinese) immigration to Australia had been gradually increasing since then[36]. The Australian Government specifically targeted Taiwanese nationals for immigration during the 1980s[37], whereas the Chinese (PRC) Government restricted its citizens from immigrating to Australia until the early-1980s.

Modern Taiwanese Australian community[edit]

The current total population of Taiwanese Australians is unknown, with only 1st-generation and 2nd-generation Taiwanese being counted in the Australian Census as Taiwanese, and with 3rd-generation Taiwanese or older families being counted as just "Australian". The current number of 1st/2nd-generation Taiwanese Australians is roughly 45,000–55,000 people. It is estimated that roughly 95%–90% of Taiwanese Australians are 1st/2nd-generation Australians, whereas only a small percentage of Taiwanese Australians are 3rd generation Australians, and whereas a negligible percentage of Taiwanese Australians are 4th-generation Australians[38].

Internment of Japanese/Taiwanese Australians[edit]

Historically, Taiwanese Australians have had a significant presence in Tatura and Rushworth, two neighbouring countryside towns respectively located in the regions of Greater Shepparton and Campaspe (Victoria)[39], in the fertile Goulburn Valley[40].

During World War II, ethnic-Taiwanese (from Dutch Indonesia) and ethnic-Japanese (from Australia and the Pacific) were interned nearby to these towns as a result of anti-espionage/collaboration policies[41] enforced by the Australian government (and the rest of the WWII Allies). Roughly 300 to 600 Taiwanese civilians (entire families, including mothers, children, the elderly, and the sick) were held in "Internment Camp No. 4", located in Rushworth but nominally labeled as being part of the "Tatura Internment Group",[42] between January 1942 and March 1946.

Most of the Taiwanese and Japanese civilians were innocent and had been arrested for racist reasons[43] (see the related article "Internment of Japanese Americans", an article detailing similar internment in America).

Several Taiwanese and Japanese people were born in the internment camp and received British (Australian) birth certificates from a nearby hospital. Several Japanese people who were born in the internment camp were named "Tatura" in honour of their families' wartime internment at Tatura.

During wartime internment, many working age adults in the internment camp operated small businesses (including a sewing factory)[42] and local schools within the internment camp. Regarding languages, schools mainly taught English, Japanese, Mandarin, and Taiwanese languages (Hokkien, Hakka, Formosan). Filipinos are purported to have also been held at the camp,[44] alongside Koreans, Manchus (possibly from Manchukuo), New Caledonians, New Hebrideans, people from the South Pacific Mandate, people from West Papua (and presumably also Papua New Guinea), and Aboriginal Australians (who were mixed-Japanese).[45]

After the war, internees were resettled in their country of ethnic origin, rather than their country of nationality. Japanese were repatriated to Occupied Japan whereas Taiwanese were repatriated to Occupied Formosa.

On January 5, 1993, a plaque was erected at the site of the internment camp at Tatura (Rushworth)[46] to commemorate the memory of wartime internment. Forty-six Japanese and Taiwanese ex-internees, as well as a former (Australian) camp guard, are listed on the plaque.

Immigrants vs. native-born[edit]

First generation immigrants from Taiwan usually share a common language, Mandarin, although many also speak Taiwanese Hokkien, commonly referred to as "Taiwanese", and to a lesser extent, Taiwanese Hakka. As with most immigrants to Australia, linguistic fluency in the heritage language quickly disappears in the second generation. Many second generation Taiwanese Australians are exposed to Taiwanese, but their level of proficiency varies. Many second generation immigrants speak Taiwanese as their heritage language and may not know any Mandarin. This is typical for many overseas Taiwanese. There are also second generation Taiwanese, especially whose families are from the Taipei Metropolitan Area, who speak Mandarin as their heritage language and know little Taiwanese. Mandarin or Taiwanese as the heritage language, however, depends on parents, and whether the individuals are exposed to Mandarin through Taiwanese Mandarin schools. Second generation Taiwanese of Hakka descent tend to speak better Mandarin as their heritage language. There are many first generation Taiwanese of full Hakka heritage who may speak all three languages. Taiwanese Australians of mixed Hoklo and Hakka Heritage may speak only Taiwanese Mandarin as their heritage language. Second Generation Taiwanese who are of mixed Hoklo Taiwanese and Waisheng Taiwanese (or other Chinese) heritage may only know Taiwanese Mandarin at most and not a word of Taiwanese.


Brisbane remains as Australia's top Taiwanese settling city; Sydney and Melbourne coming in close.

See also[edit]


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