Taiwanese immigrants Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

During the late twentieth century, Taiwanese became one of the largest and most prosperous immigrant groups from Asia, settling in new Chinatowns and suburbs.

Following the course of Chinese history, immigration from the island of Taiwan to the United States was primarily a late twentieth century phenomenon. Almost no immigrants came from Taiwan until after Chiang Kai-shek established the Republic of China on the island. In earlier centuries, Taiwan was a remote island belonging to the Chinese Empire and populated mostly by Austronesian aborigines and Han Chinese who had come from Fujian Province on the Chinese mainland. In 1895, Japan wrested control of the island, which it retained until it was defeated in World War II.Taiwanese immigrantsTaiwanese immigrants[cat]IMMIGRANT GROUPS;Taiwanese immigrants[cat]EAST ASIAN IMMIGRANTS;Taiwanese immigrants

Mainland Chinese Immigration to the United States

In contrast to later Taiwanese immigration, large numbers of Chinese from mainland China immigrated to the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century. Most of them came from Hong Kong immigrantsHong Kong and Guandong (Canton) Province and settled in and near San Francisco. By the time the U.S. Congress enacted the first Chinese exclusion laws during the 1880’s, approximately 300,000 Chinese had immigrated to the United States and lived in Chinatowns;numbersChinatowns throughout the nation. Chinese immigration was sporadic in the following decades until Chinese Exclusion was repealed in 1943. This change was, to some extent, due to the U.S. speaking tour of Soong Mei-lingSoong Mei-ling, the wife of the president of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-shekChiang Kai-shek. With the end of World War II, China reclaimed Taiwan from Japan. After Mao Zedong’s Communism;Chinacommunists took power in China in 1949, Chiang’s Nationalist forces found refuge on Taiwan, where Chiang set up aquasi-independent government. As a result of these calamitous events, the first wave of immigration of Chinese from Taiwan began slowly. Meanwhile, emigration from mainland China was forbidden by the new communist government.

Late Twentieth Century Immigration from Taiwan

With the Republic of China ensconced on the island of Taiwan, Taiwanese immigration to the United States began in earnest. This immigration included two groups of Chinese. The first consisted of ethnic Chinese who were native to Taiwan. These were people whose families had arrived in Taiwan from the mainland in previous centuries and who spoke a language derived from the southern Fujian dialect. The second group comprised Chinese who had more recently arrived with Chiang Kai-shek in response to the communist takeover and spoke Mandarin.

Immigration from Taiwan was prompted by several factors. Because U.S. immigration quotas for Asia had grown less restrictive, Chinese immigrants began coming from all parts of China. At the same time, the looming threat of Taiwan’s being invaded by the vastly larger People’s Republic of China prompted emigration. Also, the great economic prosperity that Taiwan attained during the 1960’s and 1970’s also made it economically feasible for many Taiwanese to send their children to study in the United States.

The first stage of immigration from Taiwan occurred between the years immediately after World War II ended until 1965. This stage consisted mostly of Foreign students;Taiwanesestudents coming to the United States to study for higher degrees. Massachusetts’s Wellesley College was a particularly attractive destination for elite Taiwanese women, as it was Madame Chiang Soong Mei-ling (Madame Chiang)Chiang Kai-shek’s alma mater. Three-quarters of these Taiwanese students remained in the United States after graduating, often taking well-paying jobs.

The second stage of Taiwanese immigration began after U.S. passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (also known as the Hart-Celler Immigration Reform Act). This law eliminated national quotas for immigration and instituted preferences for skilled workers. As a result, many Taiwanese professionals and technical workers immigrated to the United States with their families. After arriving in the United States, Taiwanese immigrants helped to create new and more Chinatowns;and Taiwanese immigrants[Taiwanese immigrants]spacious Chinatowns in New York City;Taiwanese immigrantsNew York City’s Flushing and Queens neighborhoods and in Monterey Park, California. Many of them settled in prosperous new suburban neighborhoods in other cities.

In 1979, the United States switched from recognizing Taiwan as the official government of China to recognizing the People’s Republic. However, the [a]Taiwan Relations Act of 1979Taiwan Relations Act passed during that same year allowed entry for up to 20,000 Taiwanese starting in 1982. With the Republic of China liberalizing its own emigration policy in 1980, a third stage of Taiwanese immigration began.

During the 1980’s, American newspapers began reporting on a new kind of Taiwanese immigrants–Parachute children;Taiwanese“parachute children”–children whose parents remained in Taiwan to continue their successful businesses while sending their children to attend public schools in the United States while living on their own. A 1990 study undertaken by the University of California at Los Angeles estimated that as many as 40,000 Taiwanese “parachute kids” were studying in the United States. Most lived in wealthy California suburbs.

Twenty-first Century Trends

By the early twenty-first century, Chinese immigrants from Taiwan were almost equally divided between native Taiwanese and Chinese from the mainland who had arrived in Taiwan after World War II. Divisions between these groups have lessened within Taiwan and are little evident in the Taiwanese communities of the United States.

Between 1984 and 1999, an estimated 200,000 Taiwanese immigrated to the United States, at a rate of about 13,000 per year. By the year 2008, the total number of Taiwanese immigrants in the United States was estimated at about 500,000.Taiwanese immigrants

Further Reading
  • Chang, Iris. The Chinese in America: A Narrative History. New York: Penguin Books, 2004. History written by the acclaimed author of The Rape of Nanking (1997), who was herself the daughter of immigrants from Taiwan. Building from her own experience, Chang tells the story of the Chinese, including Taiwanese, settling in the United States.
  • Chang, Shenglin. The Global Silicon Valley Home: Lives and Landscapes Within Taiwanese American Trans-Pacific Culture. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2006. Scholarly study of Taiwanese-born engineers who commute between homes in Silicon Valley and Taiwan.
  • Chee, Maria. Taiwanese American Transnational Families: Women and Kin Work. New York: Routledge, 2005. Research on Taiwanese immigrant families in which the husbands remain in Taiwan to work based on questionnaires, interviews, and “snowball” sampling.
  • Chen, Hsiang-shui. Chinatown No More: Taiwan Immigrants in Contemporary New York. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992. Case studies of Taiwanese immigrant life in Queens, New York.
  • Gu, Chien-juh. Mental Health Among Taiwanese Americans: Gender, Immigration, and Transnational Struggles. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2006. Sociological study of mental health experiences of recent Taiwanese immigrants.
  • Ng, Franklin. The Taiwanese Americans. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. Part of the New American series, covering the experiences of Taiwanese Americans in the United States.

Asian immigrants



Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

Chinese immigrants

Hong Kong immigrants

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

Parachute children

Yang, Jerry

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