Blog / Culture

Yet Another Reason to Visit Taiwan: Tainan’s 400th Birthday!

Next year, Tainan is throwing a big party! The place where Life of Taiwan was established back in 2012 is set to celebrate the 400th anniversary of its first steps on a journey through history that saw it transformed from a realm inhabited by Austronesian hunter-gatherers to a European trade outpost, and eventually to today’s bastion of culture with almost two million residents. For those who know and love the city, the response to National Geographic naming Tainan as one of the world’s 30 most exciting destinations to visit in 2024 has been: What took them so long to recognise the allure of this place?

An Island Fought Over by Empires

Back in 1624, having been rebuffed in their attempts to establish a base on the coast of China, ships belonging to the Dutch East India Company dropped anchor at a sandbar on Taiwan’s southwest coast. They called the location ‘Tayouan’, likely derived from a place name used by the local Siraya indigenous people. Over the years that followed, this toponym evolved into the name later used for the entire island: ‘Taiwan’.

Within a few years of the Dutch arrival, outsiders were pouring into what’s now Tainan’s gloriously characterful Anping District. The Europeans traded with Siraya indigenous settlements to obtain deer hides they then shipped to Japan. Southeast Asian products like wood, clove, nutmeg, and pepper passed through the warehouses around Fort Zeelandia, an historic site you’re likely to visit if you sign up for one of our private guided tours of Taiwan. Vessels arriving from Europe brought satin and linen. On their return voyages, they carried carefully-packed porcelain and chests filled with silk.

To boost production of commodities they knew would be easy to sell, such as rice and sugar, the Dutch East India Company encouraged farmers from Fujian (the Chinese province closest to Taiwan) to move to the island. The subsequent waves of migration eventually turned Taiwan into a majority Han Chinese society, albeit one which retains noticeable Austronesian influences.

Becoming Chinese (For a While)

Tainan’s position as a Han society on the edge of the Chinese empire was reinforced by the events of 1661-1662 and 1683. The Dutch East India Company was attacked by an armada that was fleeing from China following the collapse of the Ming dynasty. These Ming loyalists besieged the Europeans and forced the latter to negotiate an ignominious retreat. But the regime that replaced the Dutch lasted barely two decades. Unwilling to tolerate the survival of an enclave that proclaimed its wish to overthrow the Qing emperor in Beijing and restore the Ming dynasty, Qing imperial forces struck and formally incorporated Taiwan into China. As was typical in that era of colonisation, neither the Austronesian nor Han populations were consulted.

During the Qing era, which lasted from 1684 to 1895, waves of Han migration pushed the island’s population close to three million. Tainan functioned as the capital until 1885, meaning that – like Winchester in England – in the 20th century it didn’t expand nearly so fast as Taipei, nor was it subjected to intense rebuilding. During Japanese rule, which lasted from 1895 to 1945, the development of Taipei and Kaohsiung were priorities. As a result, Tainan retains a great deal of tangible authenticity and antiquity, which is why we often call it the city that never changes, but keeps getting better! It also has a street-food scene that draws visitors from across Asia.

Anniversary Celebrations Throughout the Year

Tainan City Government — which from 2010 to 2017 was led by William Lai (Lai Ching-te), the politician many expect to become Taiwan’s next president after the election scheduled for January 13, 2024 — sees the anniversary as an opportunity not just to attract visitors but also to reinforce three core values. According to a special city government website (, these are: Cherish the Tradition (that represents Tainan and its collective memories); Define the Contemporary (which lends the city its uniqueness); and Envision the Future (where traditional culture and innovative technologies are combined to create a new developmental model).

Events celebrating aspects of Tainan’s history and its status as one of East Asia’s favourite cities kick off with the 2024 National Lantern Festival in early February. Also, to mark the anniversary, Tainan City Museum has been comprehensively renovated and updated.

At Life of Taiwan, we specialize in catering to the needs of English-speaking and European visitors. Join our luxury tours or family tours of Taiwan for an unforgettable journey across the island. Contact us today to begin planning your journey to Tainan and Taiwan. An unforgettable experience awaits!