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.
The Revolutionary Politician: A Brief Overview of Thomas Liao’s (Liao Wen-Yi or Wen-I 廖文毅) role in Formosan History
Between 1950 and 1965, Thomas Liao was the leader of the Taiwan Democratic Independence Party, which was the primary opposition group to the Nationalist Chinese KMT Government in Taiwan. The resistance party fought for an independent, liberal democracy run by native Taiwanese citizens, opposing Chiang Kai-Shek’s policy of totalitarian martial law. The Independence Party was mainly run from abroad, by politicos like Liao and others who were in exile from their homeland in Hong Kong and Tokyo. From locations of relative safety, they tried to rally international support for their cause: a “Free Formosa.”
In 1956, Thomas Liao was elected President of the “Provisional Government of the Republic of Formosa,” a position loftier in title than in deed, as the provisional government of the independence party was never to gain enough international recognition or support to challenge the KMT for control over Taiwan. However, Liao became a symbol of hope for Taiwanese citizens who were persecuted under Chiang’s reign of “White Terror” (1949-1987, the longest period of martial law in history).
In 1965, Thomas Liao ended his political attempt to usher in a different style of government for Taiwan, accepting a bargain by the KMT to return home if he would renounce all of his political beliefs and activities. In return, he would be reinstated with a job, his formerly seized property, and the release of imprisoned relatives. He returned to the Liao ancestral home in Silai to visit his dying mother, and lived out the rest of his days in Silai and Taipei, working for a national bank.
More Comprehensive Historical and Cultural Info on Formosa:
- Wikipedia on the History of Taiwan
- Taiwan Culture Portal
- Taiwanted: Classifieds for Anything and Everything
- full text of Formosa Betrayed by George Kerr, available online from the New Taiwan Library
- A Google History of Taiwan using Google’s “Timeline” feature