Overseas Taiwanese

Thousands of Taiwanese fled the island following the 2-28 massacres in 1947. In more recent years, thousands more have gone abroad to pursue higher education; the majority of these emigrants do not return (although Taiwan’s booming economy has boosted the percentage in recent years, of those returning), as they have found greater freedom and economic opportunities elsewhere. Today, there are 25,000 native Taiwanese and their descendants living in the PRC; some are former soldiers who were stranded on the mainland after 1949, while others are post-2-28 exiles. Another 80,000 Taiwanese liven in Japan, while over 200,000 reside in Europe, Southeast Asia, Oceania, Canada, Australia and Latin America. The largest group of overseas Taiwanese, some 500,000, live in the United States.

Until 1987, Taiwanese could only go abroad for graduate study, and males could only do so after completing military service. Male children over age 12 were not permitted to leave the island. Now, the authorities allow undergraduate study abroad as well. In 1986, 7,000 Taiwanese went overseas for graduate work, 93% of them to the United States.

Overseas Taiwanese have achieved distinction in many fields, including the arts, science and technology, business, public administration, and sports. Taiwanese American have won the Nobel Chemistry Prize and the Miss U.S.A. contest; they have also played a major role in the development of the Silicon Valley electronics industry in California. Taiwanese American are showing growing sophistication at participating in the U.S. political process as well. In Japan, a Taiwanese man became one of the country’s best baseball players and a Taiwanese woman one of the country’s golf greats.

Taiwanese living abroad remain concerned about developments on the island, and have played a critical role in bringing to light the KMT’s human rights abuses. For many years, it was only in the safety of overseas communities that Taiwanese could openly discuss such subjects as Taiwan independence.

The KMT has subjected Taiwanese studying abroad and overseas Taiwanese to surveillance, conducted by "professional students," campus KMT chapters, overseas representative offices and embassies, freelance spies, and pro-KMT overseas Chinese associations. Those who speak out may find themselves unable to return to Taiwan, even if they remain Taiwan citizens, and even if they do no more than speak. The KMT continues to maintain a blacklist against some 600-1,000 overseas Taiwanese critics, whom it regularly slanders as "terrorists." The Taiwan government has banned a number of non-Taiwanese human rights advocates as well. Since the late 1980s, a number of blacklisted Taiwanese have entered Taiwan clandestinely, including the president of the World United Formosans for Independence; the authorities have prosecuted several of them for "illegal entry" into their own country and for advocating independence. Overseas activists have also received threats of reprisals against relatives living in Taiwan.