2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

An Examination of the Development of Ethnic Identity from the Migration of Plains Aborigines in Central Taiwan in the Nineteenth Century

Li-wan Hung

Assistant Research Fellow, Institute of Taiwan History, Academia Sinica

This article reviews the factors influencing the migrations of the plains aborigines in Central Taiwan in the nineteenth century and the consequent formation of ethnic identity among the tribes. Historical data from government archives, local records, contemporary books, travelogues, expedition diaries, and old household registers are analyzed to determine the migrations of plains aborigine tribes in the Miao-li (苗栗), Chang-hua (彰化) and Yun-lin (雲林) areas. Three major migrations are documented, one in 1804 and two in 1823. Rather than abandoning their former settlements, the plains aborigine tribes further explored and expanded their territories in collaboration with other tribes in the same region. Concerted effort among specific regional tribes gradually paved the way for the development of a certain shared ethnic identity among these minorities.

From the perspective of regional tribes and the development of tribal relationships, this study concludes that the driving forces behind the migrations of plains aborigines were a mixture of both internal changes and external pressures. At first, plains aborigine tribes were all independent with little interaction. They viewed other tribes as outsiders and their cultures as exotic. But beginning from the mid-seventeenth century, the Ch’ing government expanded and strengthened their control of the frontier and of the aborigines. This, together with the rising dominant status of Han immigrants, greatly affected the plains aborigines. Unable to remain individual and independent tribes, they gradually developed a greater ‘we-group’ awareness as plains aborigines, regarding the Han as the ‘other’ in contrast to this developing plains aborigine identity. The growing domination of Han immigrants had rendered the plains aborigines as minorities in a disadvantageous position, forcing them to seek new territories. In face of their common Han competitors, a shared ethnic identity grew among the tribes. Hence, the interaction between internal changes and external influences led to the migrations of the tribes and fostered the development of a shared ethnic identity among the plains aborigines.


Keywords: plains aborigine, Hans (Han immigrants), ethnic identity, migration, minorities