At various times many nations, including Chinese, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, English, American, French and Japanese, have all been interested in Formosa.

In the middle of the seventeenth century the Dutch ruled it for thirty-eight years and their settlements, "Zeelandia" at Anping and "Providentia" at Tainan, are monuments to their occupation. The Spaniards established settlements at Tamsui and Keelung. The contribution of the Portuguese was in giving the Island the name by which it is most commonly known, "Formosa". They called it "Ilha Formosa", the beautiful isle. However, it is also well-known by its Chinese name of "Taiwan". In 1683 the Island came under the rule of the newly-established Manchu dynasty, and was administered off and on under the provincial government of Fukien. Meanwhile a steady stream of Chinese immigrants from Fukien and Kwantung Provinces pushed the aborigines into the mountain fastnesses.

Very little history seems to be recorded about Formosa in the eighteenth century but in the nineteenth we find Western nations and the Japanese jockeying for privileges in the Island which seemed to have rich possibilities. In the eighteen-seventies Japan landed an expeditionary force on the pretext that the aborigines, who were wild head-hunters had killed some shipwrecked Japanese sailors. The force was after withdrawn on account of British and American objections. In 1881 the French blockaded the Island for a few months. Japan's chance came again in her quarrel with China over Korea and the Island was formally ceded to Japan in 1895 in the Peace Treaty ending the Sino-Japanese war. Nevertheless, the local inhabitants refused to recognise the cession and proclaimed a Republic of Taiwan. They held out for six months before the Japanese could take possession and it was not till shortly before World War II that the aboriginal head-hunters were finally subjugated.

The success of the head-hunters in holding out was largely due to the high and exceedingly steep and craggy mountain backbone that runs down the length of the Island, several peaks being about 13,000 feet high. The Island is about 250 miles long from north to south and about 90 miles wide, covering an area of about 14,000 square miles and supporting a population of 6,500,000. The mountain range lies more to the east coast leaving the west a more or less gently sloping plain to the sea; a condition which enables irrigation for rice-growing to be carried out very easily. The rivers are wild and turbulent and especially in the typhoon season often do much damage.

The Island is surprisingly fertile and has a heavy rainfall. Keelung, the chief port, in the north, is said to be one of the wettest ports in the world. The Island also possesses many natural resources such as coal, limestone, lumber, silica, clays, sulphur, salt, asbestos and oil-fields producing both crude oil and natural gas. The Japanese in their fifty years of occupation built a very tight and closely-interlocked industry. For instance, a fertiliser industry was built up (the phosphate rock having to be imported), which greatly increased the crop yields and enabled two rice crops to be obtained a year. It also increased the production of sugar cane, which was the basis of a very large sugar industry producing 17,000,000 tons annually. But the following auxiliary manufactures also make their contribution to the manufacture of fertiliser as well as to other industries: Sulphuric acid (from sulphur), nitrogen (from the air), and calcium carbide (from coal and limestone using cheap electricity). Nevertheless the Japanese allowed the Formosans to take part in private industry and thus a wealthy and highly cultured class grew up.

To assist industry an excellent communication system was of course established including railways (double track for large distances) and concrete roads. Three harbours, (mainly artificial) were built at Keelung in the north, Takao in the south and Karenko in the east. A harbour was also under construction on the west coast, but has been abandoned since the end of the war. A canal five miles long had also been dug connecting the important centre of Tainan with the sea. Worthy of note is the mountain railway to Mt. Alisan for the lumber industry, a railway which clings to the sides of precipices, spans chasms and literally spirals and zig-zags to climb a total of 9,000 feet on its fifty-mile run.

The electrical supply was abundant and cheap, being obtained mainly from water-power which did not require very great civil engineering works. It was distributed over the Island at 140 kilovolts. There was also an abundant supply of coal for the steam stations.

The Portuguese had rightly named the Island "Beautiful Isle" as it abounded in scenic beauty. A train journey from Taipei, the capital, to Takao, a distance of over two hundred miles, was a continuous delight where rural scenes with the red houses dotting the green velvet of the rice fields, alternated with the wild grandeur of the rugged mountains and fast-flowing rivers. The Island also contained numerous hot springs which the Japanese had developed to the full as beautiful holiday and recreation resorts. The chief of these were at Cho San and Hokuto, north of Taipei. Even the run on the wide concrete road twenty miles long connecting Taipei with Keelung was one of distinct beauty and charm. As the Island was practically divided in two by the Tropic of Cancer, it had in the main a warm, balmy climate, which owing to its insular character did not have extremes of temperature.

The towns were beautifully laid out and well planned. The more important buildings were built of concrete and/or brick, with the upper stories overhanging the foot-path or side-walk to give protection to the pedestrian from the sun. The Chinese authorities had allowed these to be blocked by stalls, bicycle racks and cars.

The residences were built Japanese style in particular areas in each town. They had outer sliding window-walls which were frequently divided from the sliding walls of the rooms by passage-ways. This arrangement of walls allowed the interior of the house to be made wide-open to the outside and the rooms were very cool in summer. In winter they proved to be rather draughty, cold and damp, but as this kind of weather was only of short duration, this disadvantage was outweighed by the long period of warm and hot weather. Charcoal braziers sat in the middle of the rooms in winter for warmth. The people followed the Japanese custom of removing one's shoes at the entrance porch to the house and putting on slippers. The floors of the rooms were covered in "tatami", a reed mat laid over other reeds to give a slight cushioning effect, and the whole being mounted on a wooden frame. The "tatami" were made up in standard sections, one metre by two metres, and the size of the room was determined by the number of "tatami" that could be made to fit in. Continuing the Japanese custom, the rooms became bedrooms by bringing in a thin mattress, the covering for the sleeper being a kind of quilt or American "comforter". Mosquito nets were also used, the daytime furniture consisting merely of a low table and cushions having been moved to one side.

The Japanese had done much to clear the Island of disease and had trained the Formosans in habits of cleanliness and health. So much so that when the Chinese took over the Formosans were horrified at the way the streets were allowed to become so dirty. Similarly by means of harsh laws the Japanese had trained the Formosans to become very honest, a habit that seems eventually to have become part of their character.

The Island had suffered much from bombing during the later stages of the war, and as it shared with Manchuria the distinction of being now one of China's most productive and industrialised possessions, U.N.R.R.A. - C.N.R.R.A. offices were set up to assist in the relief and rehabilitation. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration operated under a basic agreement with the Chinese Government which set up the organisation known as the Chinese National Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, or CNRRA for short.

Under this agreement all UNRRA goods became the property of CNRRA when they came off the ships' slings in Chinese ports, UNRRA retaining the right to see that the goods reached the destination for which they were intended. The allocation of goods was the joint decision of UNRRA-CNRRA committees. In general, each UNRRA official had his Chinese counterpart in CNRRA. Thus both UNRRA and CNRRA had an Industrial Rehabilitation Officer, an Agricultural Rehabilitation Officer, a Medical Officer, etc.. When it came to details, UNRRA and CNRRA seemed to have different objects in view, and although personal relationships were always outwardly very friendly, official relationships sometimes suffered considerable strain.

The Japanese then, had made a rich prize for the Chinese, and the following chapters relate how this prize is faring now that China's age-old customs are being applied to this industrial prodigy of modern Japan.