At a Glance
• A multilingual land
• Makeup of Han, Austronesian and immigrant cultures
• Declining birth rates and aging population
Over 95 percent of Taiwan’s population is of Han Chinese ancestry, with the remainder composed of indigenous Austronesian peoples and recent immigrants. Han Taiwanese are the descendants of immigrants that arrived in two main waves—first, in the 17th century after the Manchu invasion of the mainland, and later, in 1949, when the Republic of China government relocated to the island. Austronesian peoples, meanwhile, have inhabited the island for millennia. Since the late 1990s, an increased number of marriages between ROC citizens and people from mainland China and Southeast Asia has further diversified the nation’s ethnic makeup.
Mandarin, the official language, is almost universally spoken and understood, while large segments of the population also speak other Sinitic languages, mainly Holo and Hakka. In addition, Taiwan’s indigenous groups have their own Austronesian languages while immigrants speak a variety of tongues.
Longer lifespans combined with one of the lowest birth rates in the world have made Taiwan a rapidly aging society. People over 65 now exceed 10 percent of the population. Policies have been enacted at the national and local levels to create a supportive child-rearing environment, improve preventative health care and provide a comprehensive social security net for the graying population.
The Hakka Museum in New Taipei City hosts a celebration of the "Ripped Sky Festival," which has been designated National Hakka Day to honor the group's contributions to a multicultural Taiwan. (Courtesy of Taiwan Today)
Seeking refuge from upheavals during the transition between the Ming 明 and Qing 清 dynasties, the ancestors of Taiwan’s Han 漢 peoples began migrating from China’s southeastern provinces to the island in sizeable numbers in the 17th century. The majority of these early immigrants were Holo 河洛人, mostly from areas in southern Fujian Province 福建省 (e.g., Zhangzhou 漳州 and Quanzhou 泉州), as well as Hakka 客家人 from eastern Guangdong Province 廣東省 (mainly Huizhou 惠州, Chaozhou 潮州 and what is known today as Meizhou 梅州).
Immigrants from Quanzhou settled in coastal regions and those from Zhangzhou tended to gather on inland plains, while Hakka immigrants inhabited hilly areas. Clashes between these groups over resources led to the relocation of some communities, and, as time passed, varying degrees of intermarriage and assimilation took place.
The Holo people are the largest Han group in Taiwan, accounting for approximately 70 percent of the population. During the Qing dynasty (1644-1912), a large number of Holo men from mainland China married women of indigenous Austronesian groups. Hence, many in Taiwan who consider themselves Han have indigenous ancestry as well. With Austronesian and Japanese influences—the latter as the result of the half-century of Japanese colonial rule from 1895 to 1945—Holo culture in Taiwan is quite different from that in mainland China.
A traditional Holo residence typically featured red-brick walls and a red-tile roof. The most basic structure consisted of a rectangular building with a main living room sandwiched between two other rooms. Depending on a family’s wealth and size, wings were added, creating a four-sided, enclosed compound or three-sided, semi-enclosed compound with a central courtyard. Houses in the Kinmen Folk Culture Village 金門民俗文化村 best represent such traditional dwellings, whereas the Lin An-tai Historical Home 林安泰古厝 is the oldest and best-preserved example of traditional Holo residential architecture in Taipei City 臺北市.
The Hakka, who make up about one-fifth of the Han population in Taiwan, have a long history of periodic migration—hence the name Hakka, which literally means "guest people." Traditionally, their residences were made with black-brick or white-plastered brick walls and black-tile roofs. Some pre-modern Hakka residences were built with red bricks and red tiles, indicating a Holo influence.
The Hakka were also known for their communal spirit, as exemplified by their walled villages, or weilongwu 圍龍屋, large multi-family communal living structures that were designed to be easily defensible and could accommodate hundreds of people. The fortress-like structure of such buildings—with no windows on the ground level—and concentration of so many people provided collective security in earlier times when government was weak and local communities had to look after themselves. Examples of weilongwu architecture can be seen in Taichung City’s 臺中市 Dongshi District 東勢區 and Pingtung County’s 屏東縣 Neipu Township 內埔鄉.
Hakka traditions include tea-farming opera, folk songs (see Chapter 17, “Culture”) and worship of the Lords of the Three Mountains 三山國王 and yimin 義民, ancestors who sacrificed their lives to protect their communities.
Immigrants Arriving in 1949
The ROC government’s relocation to Taiwan in 1949 occasioned an influx of 1.3 million people from the Chinese mainland to the island. The majority were soldiers, civil servants and teachers. Unlike earlier immigrants, these people came from all over the mainland and included not only Han Chinese but also ethnic groups from Mongolia, Tibet and southwestern China. The cultural influence of this wave of immigrants can be seen, for example, in the fact that all major regional Chinese cuisines may be found in Taiwan.
Indigenous Malayo-Polynesian peoples have lived on the island for millennia, with archeological evidence confirming their presence dating back 12,000 to 15,000 years. Their languages belong to the Austronesian linguistic family, whose speakers are known for their migratory history and inhabit an area of the globe that stretches from Madagascar Island in the west to Easter Island in the east and from Taiwan in the north to New Zealand in the south.
Though distinct from each other in many ways, the various indigenous groups in Taiwan share certain customs with one another and with Austronesian peoples in other parts of the world. These include building elevated houses, weaving with bamboo and rattan, tattooing and chewing betel nuts. These groups also have similar observances, such as coming-of-age ceremonies and harvest festivals.
Over the centuries, while the more remote indigenous groups have tended to maintain distinctive communities, others have blended in with Han society. With today’s societywide appreciation of ethnic diversity and affirmation of ethnic equality, however, many who still remember and treasure theirAustronesian heritage—including descendants of the Siraya 西拉雅, Luilang 雷朗 and Pazeh 巴則海peoples—are pushing to receive official recognition as indigenes.
As is the trend the world over, the cultures and lifestyles of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples have changed radically in the course of modernization. No longer are their livelihoods based on hunting and gathering or slash-and-burn agriculture, while many live and work in urban areas. Succeeding generations are losing fluency in their ancestral tongue as Mandarin has become the standard. Much of traditional indigenous culture, therefore, is in danger of disappearing.
To preserve and rejuvenate the cultural heritage of Taiwan’s aborigines, the Cabinet-level Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP) 行政院原住民族委員會 was established in 1996. The CIP is in charge of formulating policies and planning and implementing programs to improve the lives of indigenous groups in the areas of education and culture, health and welfare, employment and land management.
As of the end of 2011, the collective population of the 14 officially recognized indigenous groups stood at approximately 520,000 (including about 20,600 people who did not identify themselves as belonging to any one group), or about 2 percent of the total population of Taiwan. Their communities spread over 16,000 square kilometers, or about 45 percent of Taiwan’s total land area. The three largest groups—the Amis 阿美, the Paiwan 排灣 and the Atayal 泰雅—accounted for nearly 70 percent of the indigenous population.
Numbering about 191,200 and residing mainly in the valleys and coastal areas of eastern Taiwan, the Amis are Taiwan’s largest indigenous group. They are divided into the Nanshi 南勢, Xiuguluan 秀姑巒, Coastal 海岸, Taitung 臺東 and Hengchun 恆春 tribes. Each tribe has its own dialect, set of customs and style of dress. The group’s most important festival is the annual Ilisin harvest festival, which is held variously from one to seven days between July and September. It includes rituals for celebrating the transformation of boys into men and is well known for the vibrant singing and dancing of participants.
Formerly, the Amis had a matrilineal clan structure and system of inheritance. Decisions on family affairs including finance and property holdings were made by the female head of household. Public affairs involving tribal politics, consensual laws and religion were dealt with by a male leadership group that included members of different age groups. Though these practices are no longer prevalent, their influence over the Amis can still be seen today.
There are over 82,500 Atayal, whose homeland is in northern Taiwan’s central mountainous region. In bygone times, important affairs were decided by a council of elders, and social interaction was regulated by the ancient gaga system of rules and beliefs, violation of which, the Atayal believed, would result in punishment by spirits. Ancestral spirit veneration is still an important group ritual among the Atayal.
The Atayal have developed sophisticated weaving skills featuring intricate patterns and designs, which, in the past, could determine a woman’s social status. In Atayal tradition, red is a favored color for clothing, as it symbolizes blood and the vitality of life, and is believed to be imbued with the power to dispel evil. V-shaped facial tattooing was once a part of Atayal coming-of-age ceremonies, in recognition of courage among young men and embroidery mastership among young women.
Numbering over 53,500, the Bunun 布農 are concentrated in Taiwan’s central and southeastern mountainous regions of an average altitude of 1,000 to 2,000 meters. Millet is revered by the Bunun, who traditionally based their concept of time on the biorhythm of millet and believed that millet plants have souls and feelings. Bunun society used to have a patriarchal structure, with single households typically consisting of multifamily clans numbering up to 60 members.
Major Bunun festivals include the “millet ceremony” at harvest time as well as the millet-planting festival held between November and December, where their famed eight-part harmony Pasibutbut is sung to the gods for a bountiful harvest. The pre-hunt “ear-shooting ceremony,” or Malahtangia, is a ritual in which arrows are shot at animals’ ears in the belief, in earlier times, that this would ensure a successful hunt. These days, it marks Bunun boys’ passage into adulthood.
The Kavalan 噶瑪蘭, with nearly 1,300 members, are one of the eastern coastal peoples, most of whom have been assimilated through marriage into the dominant Han population since the latter’s arrival in the plains of Hualien 花蓮 and Taitung counties. Nevertheless, people of Kavalan ancestry are striving to revive their cultural heritage, including language, myths and shamanist practices, with Xinshe 新社 community in Hualien County’s Fongbin Township 豐濱鄉 serving as their cultural hub.
Believing that every living creature has its own spirit, the Kavalan have developed unique rituals, including the Kisaiiz group healing ceremony to dispel evil spirits. They traditionally have a matrilineal clan structure and system of inheritance, but clan chiefs—who are elected—can be male or female.
The Paiwan are about 92,000 strong. In bygone days, this group had a social hierarchy consisting of chieftains, nobles, warriors and commoners, with individuals’ place in society easily identified by their clothes and decorative apparel. Commoners tilled the land but could be elevated to the warrior class through marriage or by achievements in warfare, hunting or sculpturing. Today, the clothing designs that were once exclusively worn by chieftains may be donned by others, although the headdress still remains privileged attire.
The Paiwan are famed for their glazed bead ornamentation and skill in carving wood and stone. One of their most commonly used decorative motifs is the highly esteemed hundred-pace viper (Agkistrodon acutus) totem.
It is believed that during the Paiwan’s 15-day Maleveq celebration held once every five years, the spirits of their ancestors come down from Dawu Mountain 大武山 to commune with them. In earlier days, their reverence for ancestral spirits was symbolized by sculptures inside their dwellings.
The Puyuma 卑南, based in Taitung County and numbering about 12,600, can be divided into eight tribes, each with its own legend about its origins. For instance, while the mythology of the Nanwang 南王 tribe says their ancestors were born from bamboo, the legend of the Zhiben 知本 tribe claims that their progenitors sprang from stone.
In traditional Puyuma society, property ownership was matrilineal, with the eldest daughter inheriting the family’s wealth. Shamanistic practices were common with "white" shamans healing the sick and "black" shamans inflicting curses. A communal trakuban building served as the tribal political center and as a school for males, who, before marriage, underwent military training and were tasked with defending the community. Some young men still wear head wreaths in recognition of having attained manhood.
Puyuma women are known for their skill at producing exquisite embroidery. Geometric patterns of dancing figures executed in cross-stitch style are among the features that make Puyuma embroidery unique.
The Rukai 魯凱 number over 12,300 and are concentrated in Kaohsiung City 高雄市as well as Pingtung and Taitung counties. Traditionally, they had a patriarchal hierarchy with chieftains, nobles, warriors and commoners. The lily was symbolic of nobility, and only highly regarded commoners recognized as spiritually pure or brave had the honor of adorning themselves with the flower. Still, commoners could elevate their social status by bringing in large harvests or by marrying up.
As part of the annual Tsatsapipianu harvest festival held in August, Rukai men bake millet cakes on stone slabs and divine the harvest in the coming year based on the qualities of the cakes. The climax of the Tsatsapipianu is a rope swing ceremony for eligible young men and women. The higher and longer a woman can be swung by her beau, it is said, the greater the couple’s chance of having a blessed marriage.
The Rukai share many cultural traditions with the neighboring Paiwan, including similar attire, headdresses and beliefs connected to the hundred-pace viper. The two groups also had well-defined social hierarchies with noble and powerful clans holding higher positions in the community. But unlike bilineal Paiwan society in which the eldest progeny—regardless of gender—inherited the family property, among the Rukai, the eldest son was the designated heir.
The Saisiyat 賽夏, numbering 6,100 and scattered across Miaoli 苗栗 and Hsinchu 新竹 counties, are best known for their Pas-ta-ai ceremony that commemorates the spirits of the Ta-ai—a short-statured, dark-skinned people who they say were the earliest inhabitants of Taiwan and passed on many of their skills to the Saisiyat. Legend has it that because Ta-ai men sexually harassed Saisiyat women, the enraged Saisiyat men killed virtually all of them. Afterward, the Saisiyat experienced years of poor harvests. To placate the spirits of the dead Ta-ai, ritual chanting and dancing are performed four nights in a row once every other year.
The Saisiyat are a patriarchal society. Traditionally, each clan is represented by an animal, plant or other totem and marriage must be between members of different clans. During the Qing dynasty, the Saisiyat adopted Chinese surnames derived from their clan totems, such as Feng 風 (wind), Ri 日 (sun) and Xia 夏(summer). Saisiyat culture contains strong influences from the Atayal. Some members of the Saisiyat can speak both the Atayal and Hakka languages due to their geographic proximity to neighbors who speak those languages.
The Sakizaya 撒奇萊雅 are a small group with a population of about 630 who live on the Qilai 奇萊 plain in Hualien County. Because they have closely interacted with the Amis for a long period of time, the customs and attire of the two groups became essentially identical, but only about 30 percent of the Sakizaya language overlaps with that of the Amis. It was not until 2007 that the Sakizaya were officially recognized as a distinct indigenous group.
Fusion with the Amis is said to have come about when the Sakizaya fled their coastal plain homeland and sought refuge in the mountains after losing a battle against Qing troops in the 19th century. Only by disguising themselves as Amis did they avoid being annihilated.
The social organization of the Sakizaya is matrilineal. Upon marriage, the husband moves to live with the wife’s community. To this day, Sakizaya elders still perform the rice-giving Miamaivaki ritual for welcoming young people into the ranks of adults.
The Seediq (or Sediq) 賽德克 were officially recognized as one of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples in 2008. Numbering over 7,700, they are mostly concentrated in Nantou County’s 南投縣 Ren-ai Township 仁愛鄉. The Seediq are famous for their courageous uprising against the Japanese colonial rulers beginning with the Wushe Incident 霧社事件 in 1930 (see Chapter 3, “History”).
The Seediq are renowned for the intricacy of their weaving and embroidery, with a preference for star-like and other geometric patterns against a white background. Traditionally, face tattooing was a prominent cultural feature of the Seediq, symbolizing men’s courage and skills in hunting and women’s domestic virtues and exquisite skills in embroidery. Some among their society are still guided by an ancient gaya or waya set of rules for everyday life, including family affairs, religious ceremonies and social roles.
The Sisin is regarded by the Seediq as a sacred bird, whose songs, traditionally, were interpreted as guidance for making important decisions such as those regarding hunting or marriage.
With a population of about 710, the Thao 邵 people’s homeland is in the environs of Nantou County’s Sun Moon Lake 日月潭. One of their legends has it that their ancestors discovered the lake while chasing a white deer and moved there after seeing the area’s beauty and natural abundance. Later, they began to cultivate crops on earth-covered bamboo rafts floating on the lake and became adept at carving hollowed-out tree-trunk canoes. Among the Thao’s unique preserved traditions is the pestle song and dance, mostly performed by women, during which the rhythm is set by tapping pestles on stone.
The Thao are a patriarchal society. Decisions regarding ceremonial rituals are made by the chief, a hereditary position passed on from father to eldest son. In the corner of many Thao homes hangs an ulalaluan—a basket containing ancestors’ clothing arranged in chronological layers—in which ancestral guardian spirits are believed to dwell.
The homeland of the Truku 太魯閣, who number almost 27,700, stretches from Hualien County in the vicinity of the famous Taroko Gorge 太魯閣峽谷 into the mountainous western borderlands of Nantou County. Three to four centuries ago, it is said, an increase in population prompted a group of Truku to set off eastward from their original haunts in Nantou in search of more cultivatable land and hunting grounds. They climbed over Mount Qilai 奇萊山 in the Central Mountains 中央山脈 and settled in Hualien’s Liwu River Valley 立霧溪谷.
Truku chiefs are elected and are duty-bound to represent their tribal villages in external affairs, mediate internal disputes and maintain social harmony. Regarded as the teachings of Truku ancestors, the gaya rules of conduct used to be strictly observed in the belief that violation of them by even one person could bring extensive punishment upon an entire clan or tribe. Ceremonies are held every year to praise and seek the blessings of ancestral spirits.
In bygone days, facial tattoos were a noted feature of the Truku, and only adults who had mastered hunting or embroidery skills were allowed to wear them. Among Truku traditions that remain important today are weaving and knitting, along with knife-making techniques and shamanistic practices.
Numbering about 6,900, the Tsou 鄒 people are concentrated mostly in Chiayi County’s 嘉義縣 Alishan Township 阿里山鄉 and are divided into northern and southern subgroups that have variations in dialect and customs. Their social and political organization is characterized by a patriarchal structure and well-organized clans. In earlier times, public affairs were conducted by men in the kuba, a sacred building where rituals were held and young men had to stay to receive training before getting married.
The Homeyaya harvest ceremony held in July or August is the Tsou’s most important celebration. Skilled at hunting and preparing animal hides in bygone times, they observed taboos against hunting bears or leopards. The Miyatjgu ceremony of one of the Tsou tribes, which had been discontinued for many years, was revived in 1993. It is based on a belief that ancestral spirits bringing peace, health, beauty and other blessings reside in sacred shell beads. Priests are the keepers of the beads, which are brought out into public view only for the annual ceremony.
Another important tradition is the Mayasvi or victory ceremony, conducted when warriors returned triumphant from war. In the present day, it is held every year in February or August involving participation of the whole tribe. Celebrations of newborns, coming-of-age rituals and restoration of the kuba are all conducted at this time. The three-day, two-night ceremony opens with dancing and singing to welcome the gods, and ends at midnight of the last day when the deities are again sent off.
Orchid Island 蘭嶼 off Taiwan’s southeast coast is home to about 4,300 indigenous people officially known as the Yami 雅美, but who, in their own language, refer to themselves as the Dawu (or Tao) 達悟, which means “the people.” Unlike the indigenous peoples of Taiwan proper, their traditional livelihood and culture are tied to the ocean. Unique aspects of their customs include loincloths worn by males as daily attire and a hair-swinging dance performed by women.
The Mivanwa and Mangegen are two of the most important rituals for the Yami. The former is held in February or March to pray for an abundance of flying fish, while the latter seeks blessings for a new boat. Though flying fish are an important part of their diet, the Yami have designated times and seasons for catching and eating the fish to avoid depleting the stock. A large-size, canoe-style Yami boat, which has a capacity of 10 adults, is constructed by putting together 21 to 27 wooden planks without using a single nail.
Traditional Yami homes are houses of stone and wood built in depressions hewn out of stony hillsides facing the ocean. This enables them to withstand fierce typhoon or gale winds, to remain cool in the summer and to retain heat in the winter. Traditional society is patriarchal, but with no formal social or political hierarchy. Social affairs are handled by the male heads of household and fishing groups, while disputes are settled by the immediate family and relatives of parties to the argument.
Immigration and Emigration
The National Immigration Agency 入出國及移民署 under the Ministry of the Interior is in charge of affairs related to emigration and immigration. Between 1991 and 2011, the number of foreign nationals (not including people from mainland China) living in Taiwan jumped from around 30,000 to 466,206, mainly due to the arrival of blue-collar guest workers beginning in the early 1990s as well as an increase in marriages between ROC citizens and foreign nationals. In January 2012, foreign labor accounted for about 80 percent of the total foreign population in Taiwan.
Marriages of ROC citizens to foreigners peaked in 2003 at 54,634 couples, accounting for one in every three marriages. In 2011, this figure dropped to 21,516, or one in every 7.7 marriages, with 62.57 percent of non-ROC spouses from mainland China (including Hong Kong and Macau) and 22.71 percent from Southeast Asian countries.
In 2010, about 16,000 ROC citizens emigrated to other countries. Statistics show the United States was the top destination, followed by Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The official population statistics of Taiwan indicated that there were 3.12 million people living on the island in 1905. Forty years later the population had nearly doubled to 6.09 million, and as of 2011 grew to 23.22 million. Although a baby boom after World War II greatly increased the population, subsequent policies and family planning slowed growth. The population growth rate in 1960 was 3.46 percent, which declined to 1.28 percent in 1985 and further dwindled to 0.27 percent in 2011.
The total fertility rate (the average number of children born to a woman during her childbearing years) was five during the 1960s. It then fell to two in the 1980s, and by 2010 was less than one, which is among the lowest in the world. That same year, the number of babies born hit a record low of 166,886. In 2011, the total fertility rate climbed back up to 1.07 and the number of babies born recovered to 196,627; the sex ratio fell slightly from the previous year to 107.67 boys to 100 girls, while the crude birth rate dropped from 2.3 percent in 1981 to 0.85 percent.
Statistics show that the declining birth rate has been accompanied by a rising average age of marriage and a rising divorce rate. Between 1975 and 2011, the average age at marriage rose from 27.1 years to 33.6 years for men and from 22.7 years to 30.6 years for women. Meanwhile, the crude divorce rate rose from 0.4 divorces per 1,000 people in 1971 to 2.5 per 1,000 in 2011.
Taiwan is now an aging society, as the proportion of people aged 65 and older has been steadily increasing. In 1949, it was 2.5 percent of the population, and in 2011, 10.89 percent. The 15-64 age group, which comprised 56.4 percent of the total population in 1949, grew to 74.04 percent during the same period. Conversely, the proportion of those under 15 years of age has been decreasing.
According to projections made in 2010 by the Council for Economic Planning and Development 行政院經濟建設委員會, Taiwan’s population is expected to peak at 23.45 million in 2022, and then fall to 18.84 million in 2060. Between 2011 and 2060, the proportion of those aged 65 or older will increase from 10.9 percent to 41.6 percent, while the percentage of those in the 15-64 age group will decline from 74 percent to 48.9 percent and the percentage of people under 15 will fall from 15.1 to 9.4 percent. These trends create a tremendous pension burden for workers: by 2060, just 1.2 members of the working-age population will support each elderly person.
To address the aging of the population and its effects on national development, the government has been promoting a new population policy. This policy, mirroring those adopted by other nations facing a “graying” society, aims to establish a comprehensive social security net, further raise the quality of life through education, promote environmental protection and sustainable development, and formulate an appropriate immigration policy.
Measures to reverse the falling birth rate include improving pre- and post-natal care, building an environment conducive to child-rearing as well as providing care and birth subsidies. In 2011, a nationwide child care subsidy program was launched for qualifying families with children under 2 years of age. Taipei City and other local governments also implemented their own subsidy packages that include birth grants in addition to monthly child care allowances.
The written language intelligible to speakers of all Sinitic tongues is Chinese, one of the few ideograph-based writing systems still in use on a large scale. While mainland China adopted simplified characters in 1956 in a bid to ameliorate its widespread illiteracy, the ROC continues to employ traditional written characters. In addition to the official language Mandarin, large segments of the population speak Holo 河洛語 and Hakka 客語, and Austronesian languages are still used by indigenous peoples. At the same time, the study of foreign languages has taken root as the nation becomes more connected to the world community and as more immigrants have made the ROC their home.
Mandarin, known as Guoyu 國語 in the ROC, is the nation’s official language. To help people learn proper Mandarin pronunciation, the Ministry of Education (MOE) formulated the Mandarin Phonetic Symbols 注音符號 in 1913 as a standard phonetic system. This system, consisting of 37 phonetic symbols and four tone marks, is still taught in elementary schools today.
Over the years, a variety of Romanization styles have been developed to make Chinese phonetics easier to learn. The most popular among these are the Wade-Giles system, the Tongyong Pinyin system 通用拼音 and the Hanyu Pinyin system 漢語拼音. To conform to a global convergence spearheaded by the 2006 U.N. Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names, the ROC government in 2008 switched to the Hanyu Pinyin system. (For a comparison of different Romanization systems, see Appendix IV.)
With a substantive commitment to language education, the ROC offers some of the best resources in the world for foreigners wishing to learn Mandarin. The Mandarin Training Center 國語教學中心
, established in 1956 by National Taiwan Normal University 國立臺灣師範大學
, was the first institution to offer language courses for foreigners in Taiwan. Today, 35 university-affiliated institutions provide Mandarin programs. Details on Mandarin programs are available on an English-language website set up by the MOE at http://www.studyintaiwan.org
Over the last decade, there has been growing awareness of the importance of preserving Taiwan’s rich linguistic heritage. This has led the central and local governments to promote education in Holo, Hakka and Austronesian languages. Since 2001, elementary school students have been required to take courses in at least one of these languages.
Holo is the mother tongue of the Holo population in Taiwan. Among a variety of methods for representing this language in written form, the earliest and most popular one was the Romanization system known as Pėh-oē-jī 白話字, which was first introduced by Presbyterian missionaries.
Many attempts have been made in Taiwan over the years to promote a natively formulated written system. The MOE, for instance, unveiled the Taiwanese Language Phonetic Alphabet 臺灣閩南語音標系統 in 1998. In 2006, the MOE rolled out the Taiwanese Romanization Scheme 臺灣閩南語羅馬字拼音方案 for use in Holo teaching and language textbooks. However, most native speakers of the Taiwanese dialect of Holo remain untrained in reading these systems.
The Hakka language in Taiwan has five variants, of which the Sixian 四縣 and Hailu 海陸 dialects are the most widely spoken. Sixian is prevalent in Hakka communities in Kaohsiung City and Miaoli and Pingtung counties; and Hailu is most commonly spoken by the Hakka population of Hsinchu County.
Like Holo, Hakka is primarily an oral language, and fluency in Hakka is becoming increasingly rare among young people in Taiwan. To promote the language, the Hakka Affairs Council (HAC) 客家委員會 has carried out a number of plans, including creating a database for basic Hakka language materials, publishing dictionaries of the various Hakka dialects, providing funds to schools to teach Hakka and sponsoring research on the Hakka language and culture through university programs.
The HAC also administers language proficiency tests at various levels. In 2011, nearly 8,500 people registered for the intermediate and upper-intermediate levels, an increase of more than 40 percent from the previous year. Indicative of broad interest in the language, exam passers ranged from ages 9 to 86. As an additional incentive, the HAC in 2012 introduced awards of up to NT$10,000 (US$337) per student in senior high or vocational school and above who pass the proficiency tests.
Taiwan’s indigenous languages, classified by linguists as Formosan languages, belong to the same Proto-Austronesian language family as Malay and Hawaiian. A number of Taiwan’s indigenous languages were Romanized by Christian missionaries during the Dutch colonial period in the 17th century (see Chapter 3, "History"). A notable example is the writing system developed for the Siraya who used this system for signing contracts with Han people in the 19th century. In 2005, the CIP and the MOE jointly promulgated the Romanization-based Writing Systems for Indigenous Languages 原住民語言書寫系統. To date, these writing systems are used in 14 indigenous languages and 42 dialects.
Overall, the number of indigenous language speakers has been declining largely due to an education policy in the second half of the last century that promoted Mandarin and discouraged the use of Holo, Hakka and indigenous languages in schools. As a result, younger generations of students gradually lost fluency in their mother tongues.
To help keep indigenous languages alive, the MOE has included these languages in school curricula while the CIP has conducted proficiency tests. A policy has also been instituted to encourage indigenous students to acquire language certification, whereby a student’s high school and university entrance exam score is increased by 35 percent if he or she passes an indigenous language proficiency test.
Foreign Language Education
For decades, English as a foreign language has been a required subject for students in junior and senior high schools in Taiwan. In 2005, English was made compulsory from the third grade of elementary school. In support of English learning, the MOE commissioned the Language Training and Testing Center 語言訓練測驗中心 to develop the General English Proficiency Test 全民英語能力分級檢定測驗 for five proficiency levels.
As for alternatives to English, the MOE implemented the Plan for the Promotion of Second Foreign Language Study in Senior High Schools 推動高級中學第二外語教育計畫 in 1999. By the first semester of the 2011-2012 school year, about 54,600 students had taken elective courses under this plan, including Japanese, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Russian, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Latin. The most popular choice in 2011 was Japanese.
Numerous public and private educational institutions provide the public with ample opportunities to learn foreign languages. While the most popular foreign languages taught in Taiwan remain English and Japanese, interest in major European languages has been growing. Also, a rising number of immigrants and guest workers from Southeast Asia has prompted schools to provide courses in such languages as Indonesian, Vietnamese and Thai.