In our timeline, Taiwan was a neglected, backward place until the Japanese colonization. Despite many tries by the Dutch and Chinese governments, attempts to subjugate the various tribes and exert dominance over the island failed. The effects of Dutch rule, though not what the Dutch had in mind, served to start the process that ultimately broke the power of the aboriginal tribes. The importation of Chinese laborers in massive numbers coupled with the preexisting trickle of Chinese merchants migrating to the island ensured that the plains tribes were quickly absorbed into the Han society.
Far from becoming extinct though, many of the descendants of these tribes persist today, unrecognized by the Taiwanese government. The role of the tribes as landowners from which the Chinese rented land lasted until the beginning of the 20th century, when Japan finally ended the process and pushed the plains tribes further into obscurity. The final blow came during the early years of the KMT government. The government merged the category of “cooked savages” into the majority Han ethnicity. The ensuing years of staunch oppression of “non-Chinese” ideas pushed many families to completely give up any remaining tribal custom. To add insult to injury, the widely held (at the time) myth of the plains tribes having been pushed into the mountains by the Han where the plains tribes became the mountain tribes further marginalized the importance of the aboriginals in the history of Taiwan.
Today, as the recognized tribes are enjoying more focus from the rest of the country, the descendants of some of the plains tribes have banded together and recorded the last remaining words of their ancestors and the rituals that survive. Despite their efforts, the government has recently made it all but impossible for them to regain tribal status. This timeline serves as my attempt to explore the story of a Taiwan with a much bigger Austronesian population.
The inability of the aboriginal tribes to form an organized society has been discussed several times on this forum. The largest issue is the language and cultural barrier separating each of the thirty-odd tribes that existed then. The various tribes lived in constant warfare with each other, and their culture grew to reflect that. The plains tribes lived in walled compounds and retreated to the mountains when headhunting raids began. This effectively prevented the villages from growing too large. Coupled with extensive taboos on marriage and childbearing, the population of the lowlands was far below the upper limit their form of agriculture could support. Dutch censuses place the total number of aborigines at 100,000, about 50,000 of which lived in the plains. I have attempted in this timeline to solve this issue through the earlier introduction of Chinese technology and agriculture.
Despite contact with Chinese traders and Japanese pirates since the 14th century, many of whom married into aboriginal villages, very little of their technology was passed on. The aborigines possessed the ability to smelt iron, a skill presumed to have arrived through contact with Indonesia and the Philippines, and cultivated both rice and millet on dry fields. They had domesticated chickens, dogs, and pigs, but no draft animals. Other major crops included ramie, taro, and sugarcane. Despite the ability to smelt iron, tools were mostly made of stone. Bronze was present, though rare, and vessels were mostly carved out of wood. The Chinese in my timeline introduce the wet paddy-style cultivation of rice capable of producing higher yields as well as aquaculture and water buffalos. The aborigines knew how to create irrigated flooded fields for taro, but the low population and threat of raiding tribes prevented adoption of wetland rice.
The POD of my timeline is the arrival of an entire village worth of Han at the end of the 15th century in an area controlled by a fairly small village constantly plagued by their neighbors. As an anonymous epidemic rages from further inland, one coastal village in southern Fujian decides to wait out the plague on Kin Men Island. They leave carrying much of what they need for surviving the next half year: tools, cloth, food, domesticated animals and plants. A typhoon sweeps the boats far off course before they land on Kin Men. As they are all experienced fishermen, about half of the boats survive.
Lost at sea and with the prevailing wind driving them towards an archipelago of small islands, the villagers decide to stop at the largest visible island(1). They had stayed as a group by tying their boats together and soon, the survivors had all landed. The island proved to be unremarkable and windswept with cliffs towering above the small cove they had landed in. Further exploration proved the island to be too hilly and exposed for growing rice. The island was not deserted as the villagers had thought; there was a small community of Fujianese fishermen barely scrabbling a miserable living on the northern coast of the island. There was only one stream on the island, and, while the reefs abounded with fish, the decision was soon made to set sail again. The islanders told a story of a land to the east populated with men whose arms were black and faces were white while the women had wide, black faces and ruled over their husbands. The land, they said, was beautiful and fertile with more herds of deer than there were people in Hok-kien(2), but its inhabitants were savages who spent the day killing whoever dares approach. Despite the story, most of the villagers decided to sail for the fabled “Island of Women” (3).
On the language: Most of the Chinese terms will be in Hokkien, the language spoken by Southern Fujianese. The tribe encountered by the Chinese first speak Babuza. Since this language is completely extinct, I have attempted to use as many words as possible from existing vocabulary lists compiled during Japanese occupation. Other words I have constructed using other Austronesian languages as a base.
1) Qi-Mei, the southernmost island in the Pescadores which were settled in the 13th century by Fujianese fishermen.
2) Hokkien is the name for Fujian as well as the language.
3) Taiwan has been known to the Chinese since the 12th century as a semi-mystical place. Other names include "Greater Ryukyu" and "Island of Dogs".
Please let me know if you think the scenario for Chinese contact is too ASB. I know very little about sailing, especially in the 15th century, so any help is appreciated. I have the first chapter written and will post it soon.