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Travel Guide > Asia > Taiwan > History & Politics

Taiwan's History: Disease

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Han Chinese who migrated Taiwan 400 years ago found a fertile and well-watered land in which food was easy to find, but an environment in which malaria and other illnesses were rife. A great many people - notably Koxinga and, much later, Prince Yoshihisa Kitashirakawa - died soon after arriving. One 17th-century settler wrote, "Although one can get [to Taiwan], most die of disease and those who return are few," invoking the idiom shui-tu-bu-fu (水土不服), literally meaning "unable to cope with the land and water."

The threat posed by epidemics and ignorance about their causes is a major reason why medicine gods have long been popular, and why many traditional rites were originally plague-expelling rituals. When Japan took control of Taiwan in 1895, improving public hygiene was a priority.

Visitors to 21st-century Taiwan can relax knowing that malaria was eradicated decades ago, and that dengue fever is only a danger in certain parts of the south at certain times of the year.

Type: Tip
Location: Taiwan

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