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Romanization and
Language Planning in Taiwan

Wi-vun Taiffalo Chiung

2. Socio-political background

Taiwan is a multilingual and multiethnic society. There are more than twenty native languages in Taiwan, including indigenous languages, Hakka, and Holo Taiwanese (Grimes 1996). Generally speaking, there are currently four primary ethnic groups: indigenous (1.7%), Hakka (12%), Holo (73.3%), and Mainlanders[1] (13%) (Huang 1993:21).

In addition to being a multiethnic society, Taiwan has been colonized by several foreign regimes since the seventeenth century. In 1624 the Dutch occupied Taiwan and established the first alien regime in Taiwan. Roman script was then introduced to Taiwan by the Dutch. In 1661 Koxinga, a remnant force of the former Chinese Ming Dynasty, failed to restore the Ming Dynasty against the new Qing Dynasty, and therefore he retreated to Taiwan. Koxinga expelled the Dutch and established a sinitic regime in Taiwan as a base for retaking the Mainland. Confucianism and civil service examination were thus imposed to Taiwan since Koxinga's regime until the early twentieth century. The Koxinga regime was later annexed by the Chinese Qing Dynasty (1683). Two centuries later, the sovereignty of Taiwan was transferred from China to Japan as a consequence of the Sino-Japanese war in 1895. At the end of World War II, Japanese forces surrendered to the Allied Forces. Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Chinese Nationalist (KMT[2] or Kuomintang) took over Taiwan on behalf of the Allied Powers under General Order No.1 of September 2, 1945 (Peng 1995:60-61). Simultaneously, Chiang Kai-shek was fighting against the Chinese Communist Party in Mainland China. In 1949, Chiang's troops were completely defeated and then pursued by the Chinese Communists. At that time, Taiwan's national status was supposed to be dealt with by a peace treaty among the fighting nations. However, because of Chiang's defeat in China, Chiang decided to occupy Taiwan as a base and from there he would fight back to the Mainland (Kerr 1992; Peng 1995; Su 1980; Ong 1993). Consequently, Chiang's political regime Republic of China[3] (R.O.C中華民國) was renewed in Taiwan and has remained there since 1949. The relationship between language, orthography and political status was shown in Table 1



Political status

Spoken Languages

Writing Systems**


Indigenous society


Tribal totem


Dutch colonialism


Sinkang (新港文)

Classical Han (文言文)


Koxinga colonialism


Classical Han



Qing colonialism


Classical Han

Koa-a-chheh (歌仔冊)




Japanese colonialism



Classical Han

Colloquial Han (in Taiwanese)

Colloquial Han (in Mandarin)


Kana-Taiwanese (臺式假名)         


R.O.C colonialism


Chinese (Mandarin)



* Taiwanese means Hakka-Taiwanese and Holo-Taiwanese in this table.

** The order of listed writing systems in each cell of this column do not indicate the year of occurrences. The first listed orthography refers to the official written language adopted by its relevant governor.

Table 1. Relation between language, orthography and political status in Taiwan.


National Language Policy[4] (國語政策) or monolingual policy was adopted both during the Japanese and KMT occupations of Taiwan. In the case of KMT’s monolingual policy, the Taiwanese people are not allowed to speak their vernaculars in public. Moreover, they are forced to learn Mandarin Chinese and to identify themselves as Chinese through the national education system (Cheng 1996; Tiun 1996). As Hsiau (1997:307) has pointed out, “the usage of Mandarin as a national language becomes a testimony of the Chineseness of the KMT state;” that is, the Chinese KMT regime is trying to convert the Taiwanese into Chinese through Mandarin monolingualism. Consequently, research such as Chan (1994) and Young (1988) has revealed that a language shift toward Mandarin is in progress. Huang (1993:160) goes so far as to suggest that the indigenous languages of Taiwan are all endangered.


[1] Mainly the immigrants came to Taiwan with the Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT regime around 1945.

[2] KMT was the ruling party in Taiwan since 1945 until 2000, in which year Chen Shui-bian, the presidential candidate of opposition party Democratic Progressive Party was elected the new president.

[3] Republic of China was formerly the official name of the Chinese government (1912-1949) in China, but was replaced by the People's Republic of China (P.R.C) in 1949.

[4] For details, see Huang 1993.