This story appears in the September 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine, Israel edition.

Between Past and Future 

Photographs by Eddie Gerald

Various names for the island of Taiwan remain in use today, each derived from explorers or rulers during a particular historical period. The name Formosa dates from 1542 when Portuguese sailors sighted an uncharted island and noted it on their maps as Ilha Formosa ("beautiful island"). The name Formosa eventually "replaced all others in European literature" and remained in common use among English speakers into the 20th century. Use of the current Chinese name became official as early as 1684 with the establishment of Taiwan Prefecture. Through its rapid development the entire Formosan mainland eventually became known as "Taiwan".

During the 1950s and 1960s, after the government had withdrawn to Taiwan upon losing the Chinese Civil War, it was commonly referred to as "Nationalist China" to differentiate it from "Communist China". It was a member of the United Nations representing "China" until 1971, when it lost its seat to the People's Republic of China. Over subsequent decades, the Republic of China has become commonly known as "Taiwan", after the island that comprises 99% of the territory under its control. In some contexts, especially ROC government publications, the name is written as "Republic of China (Taiwan)", "Republic of China/Taiwan", or sometimes "Taiwan (ROC).