Formosa = Taiwan. Taiwan = Formosa. So why not just use the term Taiwan, or better yet, ROC (Republic of China), as the Nationalists dubbed their stronghold of Taiwan in 1947, when they lost control of mainland China to Mao Zedong’s Communist Party, who renamed China as “The People’s Republic of China”?
Both China and Taiwan have been known by so many terms over the last 100 years, it can be hard to keep track! (Especially if you are American, and received as comprehensive a world history education as I did– i.e. not comprehensive at all.)
So, I have decided to call this blog Girl Meets Formosa, not Girl Meets Taiwan, because the term Formosa had an important connotation for my grandfather Thomas Liao (廖文毅). Formosa is the Taiwanese cultural name for Taiwan.
As the story goes, Portuguese explorers named the island of Taiwan Ilha Formosa in 1544, which means “beautiful island.” In the early 1600’s, Dutch traders ushered in the first of many colonial periods in Taiwan’s history.
The term “Formosa” is the term that my grandfather Thomas used to differentiate his ideas for a self-ruled Taiwanese government from that of the Nationalist ROC. In using Formosa, Thomas invoked the many generations of Taiwanese living on this island, separating the cultural identity from that of the rest of China.
This cultural connotation is the one that I connect to, and want to discover in my time in Taiwan. The Taiwanese experience is truly a unique one, since the island has been deeply influenced by Japanese, Western, Chinese, and other Asian cultures. My aim in using the term Formosa is to understand how Thomas Liao saw his country, and to put myself in his perspective to be able to show his vision of Formosa to the Western world.
Now, however, “Formosa” also has a pro-independence (green party) connotation in Taiwan. So I want to be very clear: I do not intend to take a political position about the current Taiwanese politics; my choice to use “Formosa” is a cultural and historical one only.
For more on the history of Formosa, Thomas, and my approach to researching Taiwan’s at times controversial history, please check out the “Formosa” page!