Where is it?:
A group of islands east of China, across the Taiwan Strait and resting in the China Sea with the Philippine Sea to the east. Taiwan actually comprises 21 islands and 64 islands in the Penghu group, with land area slightly smaller than the Netherlands, and mountainous peaks covering some two-thirds of the island. A territory claimed by China but which operates with an autonomous government.
Taipei, located at the northern tip of the island and central to the largest metropolitan area. Founded in the early 18th century and built out with extensive urban planning after the Japanese took control of Taiwan in 1895 (Chinese Kuomintang took over in 1945). A vibrant economic center as well as a political hub. The city proper has more than 2.6 million people, with a nearly 100 percent literacy rate, and is mostly populated by Hoklos, mainland Chinese, Hakka Han Chinese and indigenous Taiwanese.
The "white sun in a blue sky" corner of the crimson flag of Taiwan was actually designed by a Chinese revolutionary in Hong Kong in 1895. The flag was officially adopted by the Taiwanese government in 1921. The 12 points in the star represent two-hour blocks of the day continuously moving forward. The colors of the flag are meant to stand for nationalism, democracy and social well-being. The national anthem is "San Min Chu I," or formally "Zhonghua Minguo guoge," taken from a speech by the first president of China, Sun Yat Sen, in 1924. The national flower is the plum blossom.
The Hokkien dialect of Min Nan is spoken by about 70 percent of those in Taiwan, though Mandarin Chinese is the official language. Hakka dialects are also spoken.
More than 23 million people. The vast majority are Buddhist and Taoist, with a Christian minority (4.5 percent) and a slimmer margin of minority religions. The country's fertility rate is one of the lowest in the world.
Taiwan has been populated with indigenous peoples as far back as 15,000 years. Early colonial settlers were the Dutch and Spanish, who were expelled by Chinese migrants in 1664. Taiwan became a Chinese province in 1887. Japan gained control of the island in 1895 following the first Sino-Japanese war. It returned to Chinese rule in 1945 at the end of World War II. The civil war between the Kuomintang (now a party headquartered in Taiwan) and the Communists resulted in mass migration of the nationalists to Taiwan. Shortly after the Communists declared the People's Republic of China in 1949, Chiang Kai-shek established a provisional Republic of China government in Taipei. Free island-wide elections were held in 1986. Economic and social ties blossomed with China even though the countries have been at political impasse about China's "one China" goal of pulling Taiwan rule into the mainland. On the other side is a Taiwan independence movement that wants to attain international recognition as a sovereign state.
The robust capitalist economy, with decreasing government ownership, has made Taiwan one of the Four Asian Tigers (the highly developed economies of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea). Key exports are electronics and machinery. China is Taiwan's second-largest import partner after Japan; its greatest export partners are China and Hong Kong. Just over one percent of the population lives below the poverty line. The currency is the New Taiwan dollar.
Service for a two-year obligation is compulsory for men ages 19 to 35. A voluntary enlistment system is being put in place through 2015; those who don't volunteer will at least need to complete basic military training or complete alternative service. More than 10 million Taiwanese are fit for military service. Military expenditures have been rising, with a pledge to push and maintain defense spending at 3 percent of GDP or higher. The United States is a partner of Taiwan in pledging that it will protect the island from any attack by China, unless it's preceded by a declaration of independence, and also sells warplanes and other weapons to Taiwan, angering China.
Type of government:
A multiparty democracy, unlike the communist nation that lays claim to the island. The president is elected for a maximum of two four-year terms. The voting age is 20.