History of Kaohsiung

Mother Earth Travel > Taiwan > Kaohsiung > History

Kaohsiung, the second largest city in Taiwan and one of the largest ports in the world, has had a chequered past. It has been inhabited by many different peoples over the years, had many different names, and been under the control of a number of different world powers. No wonder this city can boast such a diverse and colourful culture.

The first known inhabitants of the Kaohsiung area were Austronesians, the forefathers of the modern Aborigines. These people migrated to the island from the area of present day Malaysia. The first such group is thought to have settled along the shores of southwestern Taiwan as early as 4000 B.C. Further waves of immigrants were to arrive, the last group settling a mere 1000 years ago.

These people were fishermen and small-scale farmers, for the most part. They lived in small villages along the coast and existed in peaceful harmony with their surroundings. Thus began the agriculture and fishing that have come to be such an important part of Kaohsiung's economy.

Some academics believe Taiwan to be the ancestral home of all modern Austronesians, that is, the indigenous peoples of New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the surrounding areas because of the diversity and richness of the languages spoken by the modern Taiwanese Aborigines. However, much of that line of thought remains speculation without more proof to either confirm or disprove the theory.

These Austronesians, however, were not the first inhabitants of Kaohsiung. Archaeological digs have turned up evidence that the area was inhabited even earlier than 4000 B.C., but by whom and for how long is still unknown. What is even more puzzling is what became of these mysterious people.

The first traceable mark of Chinese culture in Taiwan appears in the 12th and 13th centuries A.D. In 1206 the island became a protectorate of the Chinese Empire under Genghis Khan, but there was not really a Chinese government on the island until much later. In the meantime, the Aboriginal people continued to dominate the Kaohsiung area.

In 1624 the first European settlers came to Kaohsiung with the arrival of the Dutch. They colonised the island, setting up their headquarters in Tainan with further forts established in modern Zuo Ying. While the north was contested by the Spanish, the Dutch held the southern part of the island firmly in their grasp until they were forcibly expelled in 1661 by the forces of the Chinese general Cheng Cheng-Kung, also known as Koxinga. Cheng was a Ming loyalist who planned to use the island as a base of operations in his war to overthrow the Qing Dynasty and reinstate the Ming Dynasty.

Cheng established Wan Nien County in modern Zuo Ying and extended the agricultural activities around the Kaohsiung area. In May 1662 Cheng Yung-Hua became the first governor of the region. Kaohsiung became known as Wan Nien Chow in 1664. With the implementation of the imperial examination system in 1666, Chinese culture and civilisation branded its mark on both Kaohsiung and Taiwan.

Kaohsiung was renamed Takao in the late 1600s and became inundated with immigrants from Mainland China. The Qing Dynasty brought Taiwan under its direct government in 1684 and Kaohsiung again underwent a name change to become Fengshan County, part of Taiwan City. It was now a prefecture of Fukien, a Mainland province. Kaohsiung was first opened as a port during the Qing Dynasty.

In 1895 Taiwan was ceded to Japan as part of the Treaty of Shimonoseki which concluded the war between Japan and China over Korea. The Japanese did a great deal for the city of Kaohsiung in terms of urban development. Other development projects such as the massive construction undertaken on the harbour provided the city with the wonderful infrastructure it boasts today. The Japanese named the area Kaohsiung Town on 1 October 1920 and upgraded it to Kaohsiung City on 25 December 1924. At the end of World War II, Taiwan was returned to China. In 1979, on 1 June, Kaohsiung became a special municipality ruled directly by the Republic of China.