Blog / Culture

Taiwan’s Evolution into a Captivating Travel Destination

In recent years, Taiwan has emerged from the shadows of being primarily a business travel hub to become an enticing vacation destination for individuals from Europe and North America.

Business travelers in Taiwan in 1962. Via Wikimedia Commons

A Century-Long Quest to Attract Travelers

Taiwan’s quest to allure foreign tourists began over a century ago during the era of Japanese rule, which commenced in 1895. Back then, colonial authorities embarked on an endeavor to introduce the charms of the island known to Westerners as Formosa.

Portraying Taiwan: A Complex Narrative

Early 20th-century Taiwan was an undeveloped frontier, and Japan’s aspiration to attract Westerners wasn’t solely driven by economic motives. Tokyo sought international recognition for civilizing this once unruly and disease-ridden society.

Taiwan Newspaper Written in Japanese
Japan left a heavy imprint on Taiwan: A Japanese-language newspaper published in Taipei just after colonial rule ended in 1945. Photo credit: Steve Crook

The Foreign Lens on Taiwan: An Initial Perspective

Foreign observers, some British and American journalists included, perceived Taiwan as a challenging mix of Han Chinese settlers and indigenous Austronesian tribes. Han Chinese were often portrayed as energetic but disorganized and superstitious, while indigenous communities were depicted as formidable, sometimes resorting to violence against intruders.

Shifting Eras: Turmoil and Transformation

During and after World War II, Taiwan underwent significant turmoil, with Japan’s rule ending in 1945 and Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT regime relocating to the island in 1949. This period was marked by political upheaval rather than a focus on Taiwan’s distinct culture, ecology, and landscapes.

The Cultural Awakening: Discovering Taiwan’s Richness

In the 1990s, two pivotal shifts occurred. Taiwanese, now economically secure and eager to explore the world, began to question why foreign tourists weren’t exploring Taiwan’s temples or embarking on high-mountain treks.

Hinoki Village
Hinoki Village in Chiayi preserves Japanese-style bungalows built during the colonial period for forestry executives and their families. Photo credit: Steve Crook

Rediscovering Taiwan: Cultural Self-Confidence

Furthermore, democratisation allowed many Taiwanese to explore their own homeland, realizing that Taiwan wasn’t merely a fragment of China but a unique blend of Austronesia, China, Japan, and other influences. This newfound cultural self-confidence fueled a desire to introduce Taiwan to the world. Recognising the significance of positive foreign perceptions, Taiwan’s government actively promoted tourism. Tourist arrivals surged from 2 million in 2004 to nearly 12 million before the pandemic.

Traditional folk performing arts, Ci Feng Mazu Temple, Pingtung City, Taiwan

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Hehuan Mountains, Taiwan

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