What does Formosa Mean?
From the formation and evolution of Taiwan’s various names, one can observe a global trend in development of Taiwan’s early history. Beginning in about the 16th century, this major navigational intersection in the East Asian sea was being called many different names by Chinese traveling back and forth in neighboring waters: Dongfan, Jilong, Beigang, Tai-oan, and Taiwan. Japanese named it Takayamakuni or Takasago, and at that time, Western countries also began to label Taiwan as “Illha Formosa,” which means beautiful island, on their maps and in their texts. Through the dissemination of these maps and written documents, Taiwan first entered the world historical stage.
On some of the numerous charts and maps printed in the latter half of the 16th century and the first decades of the 17th century, the region of Taiwan and Ryukyu was drawn as two or three separate islands, or in some instances even as a string of small islets, which made it difficult to pinpoint Taiwan’s actual location. However, without doubt, the names that appeared on charts to label this series of islands, such as Liuqiu, Daliuqiu, Xaioliqiu, Formosa, and the like, all referred to the region comprising present-day Okinawa and Taiwan.