In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Taiwanese Democracy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Electronic Resources
  • Early Democratization Era to 1990
  • Later Democratization Period
  • Accounts of Different Presidencies
  • Presidential Elections
  • The Legislature
  • Local Politics
  • Political Parties
  • Media Environment
  • Political Communications
  • National Identity and Nationalism
  • Political Culture
  • Social Movements
  • Taiwanese Democracy in Comparative Perspective
  • Taiwan’s Democracy and China

Chinese Studies Taiwanese Democracy
Jonathan Sullivan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0120


In the second half of the 20th century, Taiwan evolved from a colonial backwater under one-party rule to become an exemplar of equitable economic development and peaceful democratization. Democratization processes in Taiwan proceeded incrementally over a prolonged period punctuated by electoral milestones. Although generally peaceful, political liberalization required significant effort on the part of activists and the opposition movement to pressure the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) into adopting reforms. Concessions by the KMT were soon followed by further demands from the opposition, generating momentum toward democratization that eventually overwhelmed conservative elements within the party. In 1986, opposition activists with disparate concerns and interests came together to form the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the first organized opposition party. To do so was technically illegal under martial law, but the DPP was allowed to field candidates in the 1986 legislative election and martial law was rescinded a year later. Following the death of President Chiang Ching-kuo in 1988, Lee Teng-hui was selected by the KMT to be interim President. He was officially elected to the Presidency not by universal suffrage but by the rubber-stamp National Assembly in 1990, the final time that the Republic of China (ROC) President would fail to be chosen by universal suffrage. After a protracted struggle between relatively conservative and reform-minded factions within the KMT, which resulted in the formation of the breakaway Chinese New Party (NP), President Lee accelerated both the indigenization of the KMT and democratic reform, including bowing to widespread demands (from the Wild Lily student movement, for instance) for the President to be chosen by direct election. Lee himself later became the first ROC president to be elected by popular vote in 1996. A DPP candidate, Chen Shui-bian, won the presidency in 2000, marking the first change in ruling parties. Political competition in democratic Taiwan is intense. Major parties are well organized and highly motivated. By the standards of many consolidated democracies, the electorate in Taiwan is highly engaged. The Media Environment is well developed and relatively free, and civil society actors are politically involved. Support for democracy remains strong and widespread at the individual level. In short, on several salient indicators, Taiwan’s democracy is a success story, despite continuing concerns about corruption, media ownership, and inequalities and inefficiencies within the political system. In the existing scholarship on Taiwan’s democratic transition and democratic practice, debates continue around the extent to which democratization was led by top-down or bottom-up processes; the extent to which Taiwan’s democracy “works” or whether it is uniquely susceptible to political crises; and the issue of how to enjoy the fruits of democratization in the shadow of a complex relationship with China.

General Overviews

There are several valuable accounts that put the democratization period in historical perspective. Jacobs 2012 provides a masterful synopsis of the colonial and authoritarian periods, with less detailed coverage of the post-transition era. Similarly, Chao and Myers 1998 is a detailed historical analysis of the one-party era, including the emergence of the opposition movement and movements within the KMT which in combination created pressures for reform. Roy 2003 is a concise and useful chronological account of Taiwan’s political history, albeit less sophisticated than the previous two. Fell 2008 is a four-volume collection of seminal articles and chapters on various topics relating to Taiwanese politics.

  • Chao, Linda, and Ramon Myers. The First Chinese Democracy: Political Life in the Republic of China on Taiwan. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

    A careful historical study of the martial law period and analysis of the initiation and development of democratization processes.

  • Fell, Dafydd, ed. The Politics of Modern Taiwan. 4 vols. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2008.

    A four-volume compendium of major academic articles published on Taiwanese politics. In lieu of a dedicated handbook, Fell’s collection is the best point of entry for students of Taiwan’s democratization.

  • Jacobs, J. Bruce. Democratizing Taiwan. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004225909

    A concise analytical account of the democratization processes in Taiwan from the origins of Taiwanese resistance to the Japanese colonialists to Ma Ying-jeou’s first term. Adept and detailed study by an eminent historian of Taiwan.

  • Roy, Denny. Taiwan: A Political History. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003.

    Chronological survey of Taiwanese political developments in the 20th century. A useful reference work, with some good analytical parts, and particularly good coverage of the Japanese colonial era.

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