Official name: Republic of China
Area: 35,980 square kilometers (13,892 square miles) (including offshore islands)
Highest point on mainland: Yü Shan (3,997 meters/13,114 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 8 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 394 kilometers (245 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest; 144 kilometers (89 miles) from east-southeast to west-northwest
Land boundaries: None
Coastline: 1,566 kilometers (973 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Taiwan is an island in the Pacific Ocean, approximately 161 kilometers (100 miles) from the southeastern coast of China. It lies to the north of the Philippines and southeast of the Ryukyu Islands of Japan. At 35,980 square kilometers (13,892 square miles), its area is slightly larger than the combined areas of Delaware and Maryland.
Taiwan's government, which has eluded control by China's Communist Party since 1947, claims to be the only legitimate government in all of China. Since the 1970s, however, the international community has recognized mainland China and the island of Taiwan as two separate nations.
Taiwan has no territories or dependencies.
Pacific Ocean breezes moderate Taiwan's subtropical climate, warm in the south and cool in the north. Average temperature readings for January are 16°C (61°F) in the north and 20°C (68°F) in the south, while the average July temperature in both regions is 28°C (82°F). Rainfall in Taiwan is generally heavy, averaging about 250 centimeters (100 inches) annually and much more in some regions. The northeast, or winter, monsoon brings heavy rains to the northern part of the island between October and March, while the southwest, or summer, monsoon brings rain to the south between May and September. The summer months also bring dangerous typhoons and cyclones.
High, rugged mountains and foothills occupy about two-thirds of the island, extending from north to south from its northern tip to its southern extremity. On the eastern coast, most of the mountains drop precipitously to the Pacific Ocean. Near the center of the coast, however, a narrow rift valley separates the central range from a lower, but also steep, coastal range. In the west, the high mountains descend to foothills that gradually give way to flat alluvial plains.
The Pescadores Islands are relatively flat coral reefs that support some agriculture. The main island of the Quemoy group is rocky and boulder-strewn, but still partially arable. MatSu consists of masses of igneous rocks.
Taiwan borders the Pacific Ocean to the east, the East China Sea to the north, and the South China Sea to the southeast.
Taiwan borders the Taiwan Strait to the west and the Bashi Channel of the Philippine Sea to the south.
The Pescadores (Penghu Archipelago), Taiwan's major island group, comprise sixty-four islands located roughly 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of the main island, in the Taiwan Strait. The Quemoy (or Kinmen) and Mat-Su island groups are both located less than 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the Chinese mainland. Taiwan's other islands include Lan-yü, or Orchid Island, and Lü Tao (Green Island), both of which are southeast of the main island; Ch'iMei Yü to the west; and Hsiao Liu-Chiu Yü to the southwest.
The coast is fairly smooth, except for deep indentations at the mouths of the Kao-p'ing River in the south and the Tanshui River in the north, as well as several river deltas in the southwest. The major deepwater ports are located at Keelung in the north and Kaohsiung, in the Haochiung Bay, in the south. The Central Range plunges abruptly to the sea along the eastern coast, except for an area north of T'ai-tung, where the T'ai-tung Rift Valley and a short coastal ridge farther to the east are located.
Two of Taiwan's major lakes are Coral Lake in the southwest and Sun Moon Lake near the center of the island. The latter is said to have once been two separate lakes, called Sun Lake and Moon Lake.
Taiwan's rivers flow across the long, narrow island, rising in the Central Range and descending to the coasts, so they are all short. Two of the major rivers depart from this pattern: the Tanshui drains northward toward Taipei, and the Kao-p'ing drains southward toward the southeastern coast. The third major river is the Choshui, which drains westward across the mountains and through the coastal plain.
There are no deserts on Taiwan.
The foothills of the Central Range, which lie mostly to the west, have average elevations of 1,219 to 1,524 meters (4,000 to 5,000 feet). In addition, there are a number of separate hills averaging about 1,524 meters (5,000 feet). On the western side of the island, coastal plains of varying heights meet the sea in a band of swamps and tidal flats.
The Central Range, Taiwan's dominant geographical feature, spans the length of the island along a north-south axis. It has more than sixty peaks with elevations of over 3,048 meters (10,000 feet). The highest is Yü Shan, near the center of the island. In the far north, detached from the main mountain system, a short volcanic range called Tatun Shan rises to over 1,219 meters (4,000 feet).
Dragon Cave on the northeast coast and the surrounding sandstone cliffs constitute one of the most scenic parts of Taiwan's coast and the island's most popular rock-climbing locale.
The hills that border the Central Range on the west descend to a rolling, terraced plateau with average elevations of 101 to 500 kilometers (330 to 1,640 feet).
The Shih Men Reservoir on the Tahan River, southwest of Taipei, is Taiwan's largest lake.
Taipei's stormy, humid climate has given rise to the saying "The weather in Taipei is like a stepmother's temper."
Fetherling, Doug. The Other China: Journeys around Taiwan . Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1995.
Kemenade, Willem van. China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Inc.: The Dynamics to a New Empire. New York: Vintage Books, 1998.
Rubinstein, Murray A., ed. Taiwan: A New History . Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1999.
Storey, Robert. Taiwan . Hawthorn, Australia, Lonely Planet, 1998.
Government Information Office, The Republic of China (Taiwan). http://www.gio.gov.tw (accessed June 19, 2003).
Lonely Planet: Destination Taiwan. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/north_east_asia/taiwan/ (accessed April 21, 2003).