The Settlement Geography of Taiwan

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A. Foreword

There are two kinds of settlements in Taiwan: those of the aboriginals and those of the Han Chinese. As for the aboriginals, the Pinpu and mountain tribes live in different forms of settlement due to their different lifestyles. Pinpu tribes tend to live in compact communities for reasons of water, safety, and public ownership of the land. As for mountain tribes, those in the north (Atayal and Saisiyat) live in scattered villages, those in central、southern and eastern Taiwan (Tsou, Paiwan, Ami,) in compact communities, and Bunun(in the central Taiwan) and Lanyu-based Dawu in settlements that combine these two features.

According to a Japanese geographer, the Han Chinese in southern Taiwan tend to live in compact communities while those in the north are prone to live in scattered villages. It appears that the southern settlements are bound together by blood relationships while the northern ones are bound only by geographical considerations.

Taiwan's urban system was designed on a modern Western pattern in Japanese colonial times. However, many construction projects undertaken then were damaged during the Second World War. After 1945, because of industrial and commercial development, Taiwan's settlements gradually urbanized. With up to 80% of the population living in cities, three metropolitan areas appeared-- Taipei, Kaohsiung and Taichung.

B. Settlement by aboriginals

Before the Han Chinese came to Taiwan, the island was home to Austronesians. Based on their different levels of involvement with Chinese immigrants, the Austronesians are classified into the "Pinpu" and "mountain" tribes.

a. Keeping frequent contact with Han Chinese, the Pinpu tribes mainly reside in the plain and coastal regions of Taiwan. The Siraya live in the Chianan plain, the Ketagalon and Kavalan in the Taipei basin, and the Hoanya, Bvuza, Pazeh, Papora and Taojas in areas stretching from Hsinchu to Tachia. They use the "she" as their settlement unit; there are more than 150 shes in Taiwan. Dieting on millet and kaoliang, the Pinpus' lifestyle combines shifting cultivation and hunting. They tend to live in compact communities for reasons of water, safety, and public ownership of the land.

b. Mountain tribes use the "tribe" as their settlement unit. Those in the north (Atayal and Saisiat) live in scattered villages, those in central and southern Taiwan (Paiwan, Ami, Tsou) in compact communities, and the Bunun and Lanyu-based Tao in settlements combining these features. Their houses are usually made of bamboo-wood columns covered with thatch. The Paiwan and Bunun roof their homes with slate and the Tao often build their homes half underground.

C. Settlement by Han Chinese

a. Compact communities in the south began in the 17th century

It is recorded that Chinese settlements began in 1624 when Dutch colonists, who built their administrative centers in Tainan, recruited a large number of Chinese to open up the western plains. Those coming to the plains north of the Choshui River usually landed at Lukang and thus established many villages on the Changhua plain.

After Ming Zheng took over Taiwan in 1661, Tainan still functioned as an administrative center and land cultivation continued in the area south of the Choshui River and north of the Kaoping River, including today's Kaohsiung, Tainan and Chiayi. Zheng relied on troops to open up uncultivated lands; under this influence and for climactic reasons, most southern plain residents lived in compact villages.

b. Taiwan's settlement distribution and style were already shaped by the late 19th century

When Ming Zheng rule ended in 1683, the Ching dynasty initially prohibited the Chinese from immigrating to Taiwan. But almost a century later, in 1760, the Ching government removed this restriction and the immigrant population surged. Han Chinese settlements spread all over the plains west of the Central Mountain Range, in areas such as the Taichung basin, Pingtung plain, Taipei basin, and the plains north of the Choshui River. Back then southern Taiwan was the most prosperous region, central Taiwan was less prosperous and the north was the poorest area. At the end of the 19th century, Taiwan's settlements were mainly located around: (a) harbors or river ports; (b) interior administrative centers or transportation hubs; (c) mountain gateways.

D. Urban settlement in Japanese colonial times

During this period (1895-1945) Taiwan's urban population greatly expanded. In 1940, the urban population accounted for 44% of the total population (19.4% in big cities, 24.6% in small towns). Construction projects at this time also gave birth to new cities. For instance, railways enabled cities along the line to enjoy unprecedented prosperity (e.g. Taichung). Cities equipped with modern harbor facilities (e.g. Keelung and Kaohsiung) replaced old ones like Tamshui and Anping. In the middle of this colonial period Taiwan's contemporary urban system came into being, although in the later World War Two period many cities suffered from bombing and urban residents took shelter in the countryside until the war was over.

E. Metropolitan development after 1945

After Taiwan became the home of the ROC government more than two million people arrived from China. The urban population immediately soared and squatters' shanties were everywhere. The situation did not change until the 1970s. But also in the 70s, industrialization caused the population to move out of rural areas into metropolitan ones like Taipei and Kaohsiung. This resulted in an urban population explosion and urban sprawl. How to scatter the population and balance regional development has become a major policy focus of the government.

F. Building materials

When the Han Chinese first came to Taiwan, their building materials were usually obtained from local sources. Thus their houses might be roofed with thatch, bamboo poles, bamboo planks, lead plates or sugar cane leaves. "Sanheyuan" and "siheyuan"-compounds made up of traditional Chinese brick and tile houses built around a courtyard-were developed later.

Introduced to Taiwan in Japanese colonial times, the Western idea of city planning modernized Taiwan's settlements. At the beginning, "the Meiji style" : the brick buildings designed with stone columns and corridors were strongly Chinese. After this came to "Taisho style" : two-story red brick buildings. Later construction made use of reinforced concrete and brick and corridors were built wide, we call "the Showa style". Modern buildings with reinforced concrete continued to be the standard form of construction after 1945.

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