An island is a paradox; it is simultaneously isolated and open, restricted and free, with the surrounding sea serving sometimes as a protective barrier, other times as a vital passage to other lands and cultures. Situated off the southeast coast of the Asian continent, with Japan and Korea to the north and the Philippines to the south, halfway between Shanghai and Hong Kong, Taiwan not only occupies an important strategic position in the western Pacific region but also is a nexus of diverse linguistic, economic, social, and cultural crosscurrents from Asia and other parts of the world. Over centuries of clashing and converging, these influences have shaped and continue to shape the society on the island. If its small size—only 13,885 square miles, half the size of Ireland but comparable to Switzerland or Holland—has historically been a cause of Taiwan's marginalization, this is compensated for by an openness and an ability to adapt to the new. During the past four centuries, Taiwan has evolved dramatically from a little-known island to an entrepôt, an outpost of the Chinese empire, a Japanese colony, and, today, a nation-state with 23 million people and one of the largest economies in the world. Taiwan not only has come to embody an internationally acclaimed economic miracle but also is rightly proud to be a hard-won, mature democracy.