According to government figures, over 95% of Taiwan's population of 23.4 million consists of Han Chinese, while 2.3% are Austronesian Taiwanese aborigines. The category of Han Chinese consists of the three main groups: Hoklo, Hakka, and mainland Chinese. However, acculturation, intermarriage and assimilation have resulted in some degree of mixing of the Han and Taiwanese Aborigine blood lines. Although the concept of the "four great ethnic groups" was alleged to be the deliberate attempt by the Hoklo-dominated Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to defuse ethnic tensions, this conception has become a dominant frame of reference for dealing with Taiwanese ethnic and national issues.
Despite the wide use of the "four great ethnic groups" in public discourse as essentialized identities, the relationships between the peoples of Taiwan have been in a constant state of convergence and negotiation for centuries. The continuing process of cross-ethnic mixing with ethnicities from within and outside Taiwan, combined with the disappearance of ethnic barriers due to a shared socio-political experience, has led to the emergence of "Taiwanese" as a larger ethnic group, except on the island of Kinmen whose populace consider themselves as Kinmenese or Chinese, and as well as inhabitant of Matsu Islands whereby they also consider themselves as Matsunese or Chinese.
The word "Taiwanese people" has multiple meanings and can refer to one of the following:
The earliest notion of a Taiwanese group identity emerged in the form of a national identity following the Qing Dynasty's ceding of Taiwan to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895 (Morris 2002:3–6). Prior to Japanese rule, residents of Taiwan developed relationships based on class solidarity and social connections rather than ethnic identity. Although Han often cheated Aborigines, they also married and supported one another against other residents of the same ethnic background. Taiwan was the site of frequent feuding based on ethnicity, lineage and place of origin (Lamley 1981; Harrell 1990[citation not found]; Shepherd 1993:310–323).
In the face of the Japanese colonial hierarchy, the people of Taiwan were faced with the unequal binary relationship between colonizer/colonized. This duality between "one" and "other" was evident in the seven years of violence between the Japanese and groups of united anti-Japanese Han and Aborigines (Katz 2005). Only later did the Japanese attempt to incorporate Taiwanese into the Japanese identity as "loyal subjects", but the difference between the experience of the colonized and the colonizer polarized the two groups (Fujii 2006:70–73).
The concept of "race" was utilized as a tool to confirm and facilitate Japanese political policies. A system of household registers (koseki) based on the notion of race to separate and define groups of subjects. From within the group of "non-Japanese" the government divided Han citizens into "Han" and "Hakka" based on their perception of linguistic and cultural differences. The Japanese also maintained the Qing era classification of aborigines as either "raw" or "cooked" (Brown 2004:8), which to the Japanese embodied the social ramification of ethnic origin and perceived loyalty to the empire (Wolf & Huang 1980:19).