Taiwan can be found in the Western Pacific between Japan and the Philippines. It is separated from the south coast of China by the strait of Taiwan and its geography is dominated by the Chungyang Shanmo (Central Mountain Range), formed by ancient tectonic movement and boasting over 200 peaks over 3,000m high. Yushan (or Jade Mountain) is Taiwan’s tallest peak, reaching a height of 3,952m. Foothills from Chungyang Shanmo give way to tablelands and coastal plains in the southern and western part of the island, while the shoreline in the east is quite steep.
Taiwan, which is crossed by the Tropic of Cancer, has a subtropical climate, except for the southern tip, which has a tropical climate. Winters are short while summers are hot and humid. Taiwan boasts an average temperature of 22ºC throughout the year. Rainfall is abundant, with peak typhoon season lasting from June to October.
Taiwan was one of the last frontiers to be settled by the Chinese. In the late 16th century Portuguese sailors landed on the island and fell in love with its lush landscapes, giving it the fitting name of Formosa (Beautiful Island). The Dutch took control of the southwestern part of the island in the early 17th century, dominating until 1661. They were eventually ejected from the island by Zheng Chenggong, who aimed to use the island as a base from which to drive out Manchus, the head of the new Qing dynasty in Beijing. The Manchus were victorious and took control of Taiwan, ruling for 200 years. The island began receiving visits from the French and Japanese, though after the war between China and Japan in 1895, it fell under the control of the Japanese, who used the island to invade the Philippines during World War II. Taiwan was reclaimed by China after the Japanese lost the war. A civil war was fought at this time between the communist party (led by Mao Zedong) and the KMT government, (led by Chiang Kai-shek). Mao was victorious, leading millions of refugees to flee to Taiwan, where Chiang Kai-shek established the People’s Republic of China.
Taiwan’s subtropical climate gives rise to an abundance of flora, including acacia in the lower hillside and bamboo groves and forest in the north and centre of the island. Coastal bays and tidal flats are populated by mangrove forest, while ficua, palms, teak, bamboo and camphor grow in the evergreen tropical and subtropical forests, which can be found from sea level to around 2,000m, Higher up, mixed forests bear a combination of conifers and deciduous trees, housing numerous pines, firs, and rhododendrons. Still higher is the area of coniferous forests, where the crisp fragrance of juniper, firs and spruce fills the air. The fauna of Taiwan includes the Formosan black bear, flying fox, macaque, pangolin, deer and wild boar. The island is also home to hundreds of bird species, and numerous reptiles and amphibians. Endemic animals include the Formosan serow, the Formosan lesser horseshoe bat, and the Kano mole. Unique birds include the Mikado pheasant, the collared bush robin and the yellow tit. Endemic reptiles include the Taiwan coral snake, the Taiwan keelback and the Hsuehshan grass lizard, while local amphibians include the green tree frog, Sonan’s salamander and the Central Formosan toad.
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