Taiwan is a key focus for Camphor Press, and we’re delighted to offer this selection of books about this fascinating country. A disputed island with a history of colonialism, uprisings, waves of immigration, and now renown as a technology giant, Taiwan is home to vibrant, chaotic cities and serene mountain escapes, tropical beaches, and both Chinese and indigenous culture. A young democracy with an international outlook, Taiwan is still searching for its place in the world under pressure from its larger neighbor. Our books about Taiwan will give you an insight into the complexities and delights of the country.
Among the Headhunters of Formosa
Janet B. Montgomery McGovernAmong the Headhunters of Formosa is not only a rare account of Japanese-ruled Taiwan – a time when the country was off-limits to travellers – but also a valuable description of Taiwan’s aboriginal tribes by a daring, globe-trotting American anthropologist. Janet Blair Montgomery McGovern was initially drawn to Taiwan by its great beauty, first seen on a voyage to Japan. After several years in Kyoto teaching English and studying Buddhism, she secured a position at a government school in Taipei, and enjoyed an incredibly action-packed stay in Taiwan from 1916 to 1918.
Barbarian at the Gate
From the American Suburbs to the Taiwanese Army
T.C. LockeA personal and compelling account of life in the Taiwanese army. T.C. Locke, the author, renounced his US citizenship to take up Taiwanese nationality, enduring trials that would test the most stubborn hearts. The consequences of this decision were to reverberate throughout his life, and at no time was this truer than when he was called up to do the duty asked of all able-bodied young men: military service. Barbarian at the Gate is the story of the two years Locke spent in the army, and his own transition from outsider to guolairen, someone who has “been through it” and gained an understanding of one side of life that few born outside Taiwan will ever experience.
Bu San Bu Si
A Taiwan Punk Tale
J.W. HenleyBu San Bu Si—”not three not four.” To the Taiwanese people, it’s an idiom used to describe the punks, lowlifes, and losers of society—the ones who don’t fit in, and never will. It’s what they would call someone like Xiao Hei. Talented and self-destructive, young and reckless, Xiao Hei is the guitar player for Taipei punk band Resistant Strain. He and his band mates don’t just play punk. In the vein of the music’s more nihilistic Western progenitors, they take it as a lifestyle. Gritty yet heartfelt, punchy but insightful, Bu San Bu Si throws readers headlong into the Taipei underground metal and punk scene, showing you a side of Taiwan few outsiders will ever see.
The Chinese Invasion Threat
Taiwan’s Defense and American Strategy in Asia
Ian EastonWhat would a Chinese invasion of Taiwan look like? In this meticulously researched and persuasively argued book Ian Easton makes the case that Chinese success is far from assured, and that the risks for China in such an undertaking are huge. With access to restricted PRC manuals and ROC assessments of the strategic and tactical situation, Easton looks at the resources both sides have at their disposal and scenarios for invasion, taking into account the weather, crossing the Taiwan Strait, missile and aerial bombardments, potential landing beaches, and the all-important position of the United States.
Elegy of Sweet Potatoes
Stories of Taiwan’s White Terror
Tehpen TsaiIn 1954 Tehpen Tsai was arrested on suspicion of being a communist. Forty years later with the end of martial law and the democratisation of Taiwan he was finally able to write his account of life as a political prisoner. Elegy of Sweet Potatoes is a thinly-fictionalized version of Tsai’s experiences: names are changed, dates are fudged, but the narrative here is true to life. A compelling story full of rich description, pathos, and odd moments of humor, it is essential reading for anyone looking to understand the realities of martial law in “Free China”.
George H. KerrFormosa Betrayed is a comprehensive first-hand account of the 228 massacre that has served as a foundational text for generations of Taiwanese democracy and independence activists. Kerr was a United States expert on Taiwan and lived there both during the Japanese era and the subsequent Nationalist Chinese takeover. The book had an explosive effect among overseas Taiwanese students; for many, it was their first encounter in print with their country’s dark, forbidden history. A 1974 Chinese-language translation increased its impact still more. It is a powerful classic that has withstood the test of time, a must-read book that will change the way you look at Taiwan.
An Eyewitness Account of the February 28th, 1947 Incident
Allan J. ShackletonRecently occupied by the Nationalist Chinese regime, Taiwan in early 1947 was a powder keg. Anger at the corrupt misrule of the new government erupted into protests and riots, which quickly became an island-wide uprising. The response from the Nationalists was brutal and overwhelming – a weeks-long massacre in which local leaders and intellectuals were systematically slaughtered. Allan J. Shackleton, a New Zealand officer with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, witnessed the events first-hand, and wrote this shocking account in 1948. The manuscript went unpublished for half a century but is now an important document in understanding the horrors of “228”.
Taiwan, Past and Present
John Grant RossSkillfully weaving together travels in Taiwan with a thick skein of historical insight, Formosan Odyssey is rightly considered a classic among books about Taiwan. John Ross is your knowledgeable, personable guide through the weird and wonderful crannies of the island, from an uncomfortable interview with an enthusiastic scholar of foot-binding to trenchant observations on the unusual things that made him fall in love with the country. His serious research on the Dutch era or Japanese forced labor camps is offset by the wit that runs through the book and the writing which shines off the page. A delight to read, and a book to share with others who are interested in Taiwan.
An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa
& Memoirs of ****
George PsalmanazarIn one of history’s most audacious hoaxes, a mysterious George Psalmanazar arrived in England in 1702 claiming to be a native of the island of Formosa. His An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, published two years later, was a sensation, filled with wild inventive descriptions of a place he had never visited. His posthumously-published autobiography, Memoirs of ****, describes not only the hoax and his unmasking, but his successful later life as a writer and editor.
The Hell Screens
Alvin LuChêng-Ming, a Taiwanese American, rummages through the used-book stalls and market bins of Taipei. His object is no ordinary one; he’s searching obsessively for accounts of ghosts and spirits, suicides and murders in a city plagued by a rapist-killer and less tangible forces. Chêng-Ming is an outsider trying to unmask both the fugitive criminal and the otherworld of spiritual forces that are inexorably taking control of the city. Vengeful and anonymous spirits commandeer Chêng-Ming’s sight, so that he cannot distinguish past from present, himself from another. Images from modern and colonial Taiwan – an island of restless spirits – assail Chêng-Ming even as they captivate the reader.
The Islands of Taiwan
A Guide to Penghu, Green Island, Orchid Island, Kinmen, Matsu, and Taiwan’s Other Outlying Islands
Richard SaundersRichard Saunders is the perfect host for a visitor to this beautiful island. He has written five travel guides to various aspects of Taiwan, including volumes on hiking and day trips, with a sixth book coming soon. The Islands of Taiwan is the guide for anyone holidaying on one of the many outlying islands, containing as it does the perfect blend of sights to see, places to eat and stay, and intriguing asides on the flora, fauna, history and culture of each destination. Whether you’re visiting Kinmen for the military history and kaoliang liquor, Penghu for windsurfing and seafood, or Orchid Island for diving and Aboriginal culture, The Islands of Taiwan is the only guide you’ll need.
The Jing Affair
D.J. SpencerThe Jing Affair is Taiwan’s standout Cold War novel, a page-turning action thriller describing the bloody resistance to a combined military coup and invasion. With all signs pointing to an imminent betrayal of Taiwan to China by secret police chief General Jing, the call goes out to implement Contingency Plan S; long-dormant, pro-independence Taiwanese leaders and fighters assemble in the hills, while out in the Taiwan Strait aboard a U.S. Navy carrier, Taiwanese-born air force pilot Johnny Hsiao prepares for a daring undercover mission.
Local Politics in Rural Taiwan Under Dictatorship and Democracy
J. Bruce JacobsBrings together some thirty-five years of field research in one rural Taiwanese township. The first field study took place in 1971-1973 with annual follow up studies from 1976-80. The present edition updates and extends the original study through 2006. Over these years Taiwan’s political system has undergone many changes. Taiwanese now have reached the highest summits of government—previously reserved only for Mainlanders. Similarly, up and down the party and governmental hierarchies, Taiwanese have risen to positions of leadership and the Nationalist Party no longer dominates the country.
Lord of Formosa
Joyce BergveltThe year is 1624. In southwestern Taiwan the Dutch establish a trading settlement; in Nagasaki a boy is born who will become immortalized as Ming dynasty loyalist Koxinga. Lord of Formosa tells the intertwined stories of Koxinga and the Dutch colony from their beginnings to their fateful climax in 1662. The year before, as Ming China collapsed in the face of the Manchu conquest, Koxinga retreated across the Taiwan Strait intent on expelling the Dutch. Thus began a nine-month battle for Fort Zeelandia, the single most compelling episode in the history of Taiwan. The first major military clash between China and Europe, it is a tale of determination, courage, and betrayal – a battle of wills between the stubborn Governor Coyett and the brilliant but volatile Koxinga.
J.W. HenleyRizal, a young man from the Navotas City Cemetery, spends his days and nights among the dead, dreaming of something more. He hears of work in a fishing fleet in a far-off place — Taiwan. In a matter of weeks, he finds himself whisked away to a new world, standing on the deck of an old, rusting tub, the youngest of a greenhorn crew. The dream quickly turns nightmare. Rizal learns fast that life in the Taiwan fleet isn’t anything like it was made out to be. Gone are thoughts of earning big money, sending some home to his mother and child. The message he and his crewman receive is clear. Work, take what we give you, be grateful, and above all, be silent. Tethered to an abusive captain, Rizal fights for his life. Will he become one of the nameless dead, like those countless unclaimed remains back in the cemetery? Or will Rizal find hope amid the grimmest of circumstances?
A Pail of Oysters
Vern SneiderVern Sneider’s A Pail of Oysters is the most important English-language novel ever written about Taiwan. Yet despite critical acclaim, this exciting and controversial book has long been unavailable to readers. Unlike Sneider’s previous novel, the humorous bestseller The Teahouse of the August Moon, this 1953 publication has a dark, menacing tone. Set against the political repression and poverty of the White Terror era, A Pail of Oysters tells the moving story of nineteen-year-old villager Li Liu and his quest to recover his family’s stolen kitchen god. Li Liu’s fate becomes entwined with that of American journalist Ralph Barton, who, in trying to report honestly about KMT rule of the island, investigates the situation beyond the propaganda, learns of a massacre, and is drawn into the world of the Formosan underground.
Pioneering in Formosa
William A. PickeringPioneering in Formosa is a swashbuckling account of a young Englishman’s adventures in Taiwan during the 1860s. After six years of sailing the high seas, William Pickering joined China’s Imperial Maritime Customs service in Fujian in 1862. He was in Taiwan from 1863 to 1870, first in Kaohsiung and then in Anping (the port near the old capital city of Tainan) where he was in charge of customs and later worked for British trading companies. Published in 1898, Pioneering in Formosa is a fun, fast-paced account, combining the red-blooded arrogance of youth and deep knowledge that came from the author writing the book after additional decades of experience among the Chinese. If you read only one book about nineteenth-century Taiwan, this should be your obvious first choice.
Presidential Politics in Taiwan
The Administration of Chen Shui-bian
Steven M. Goldstein and Julian ChangIn this book we discuss some of the main themes which emerged following Chen Shui-bian’s election and seek to elucidate the major challenges that the administration faced as well as the policies that Chen established. This serves as a foundation for the individual chapters assessing the direction that the Chen Shui-bian administration has taken in regard to the major issue areas of: domestic political dynamics; socio-political “hot buttons” and foreign policy/national security. Each chapter addresses the question of how the Chen administration’s first term defined, debated and impacted specific aspects of the evolving Taiwanese polity.
The Son of Taiwan
The Life of Chen Shui-bian and His Dreams for Taiwan
Chen Shui-bianThe Son of Taiwan: The Life of Chen Shui-bian and His Dreams for Taiwan is the reissue of a 2000 autobiography (translated by David J. Toman from the original Chinese). Part memoir and part political manifesto, Chen tells the story of how the son of a poor tenant farmer overcame his impoverished upbringing to become a lawyer and pivotal member of the democracy movement, and how he went from political prisoner to legislator and mayor of Taipei (1994–1998). The memoir sees Chen in reflective mood, having unexpectedly just lost his mayoral re-election race, as he lays out his political philosophy and hopes for Taiwan. Chen would soon go on to win Taiwan’s 2000 presidential election, ending the KMT’s fifty-five-year stranglehold on the presidency.
Song of Orchid Island
Barry MartinsonIn the early 1970s Jesuit seminarian Barry Martinson spent a year on Orchid Island, teaching art and music to primary school children. Song of Orchid Island is his ode to this beautiful island, its close-knit community, and the twilight of age-old ways. Martinson’s poetic warmth is balanced with honest observations of poverty, hunger, and illness – this is no tribal paradise. Woven into the vignettes are anthropological details such as the intricate customs regulating the catching, preparation, and eating of the all-important flying fish; superstitions concerning malignant spirits; and the climactic boat ceremony when the iconic Yami fishing canoes are launched.
Joshua Samuel BrownCan a New Age guru save his cult without losing his soul? In an ill-conceived effort to bring his once-popular meditation group and its teachings back into the limelight, Rinpoche Edward Schwartz heads to Taiwan to fabricate an improvised “religious oppression” video – starring a group of clueless language students who think they’re taking part in an English conversation class. The video goes viral and the scheme succeeds beyond Schwartz’s wildest expectations, triggering a media-driven propaganda war between the United States and China that spirals out of control. Before long, everybody from spiritual seekers in China and America to the Chinese government itself wants a piece of Schwartz’s cult – and of Schwartz himself.
Taiwan in 100 Books
John Grant RossTaiwan in 100 Books is an accessible introduction to works on the country and and an enjoyable shortcut to understanding the country’s history and culture. It’s also a bibliophile’s elixir packed with the backstories of the authors and the books themselves; there are tales of outrageous literary fraud, lost manuscripts, banned books, and publishing skulduggery. John Ross has distilled decades of reading about Taiwan into a compelling narrative of this most fascinating of places.
A Taste of Freedom
Memoirs of a Taiwanese Independence Leader
Peng Ming-minAn astonishing life in the grip of historic events. Peng was born in the Japanese colony of Taiwan in 1923. While living in Japan he witnessed the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, and on his return to Taiwan saw the corruption and brutality of the new Kuomintang government. He established an international reputation as a legal expert, something which probably saved him from a worse fate when he was imprisoned for sedition after printing a manifesto for a democratic Taiwan. Later released under house arrest, Peng fled the country under the nose of his guards and was granted asylum in Sweden. He later moved to the United States and, after the end of martial law, back to Taiwan where he stood in the first democratic election for president, in 1996. A gripping and well-written account of a turbulent life and turbulent times.
An Account of Japan’s Island Colony
Owen RutterAmid the shelves of historical books about Taiwan, Owen Rutter’s account of his journey through Japanese-ruled Formosa is one of the most intriguing. Chaperoned every step of the way by officials determined to showcase the “enlightened” nature of Japanese colonial government, Rutter is nevertheless able to cut through the fluff to ascertain something of the true situation on the island. He praises the Japanese often, and was clearly impressed with the resources and efficiency they brought to bear in Taiwan, but reserves particularly strong criticism for the handling of the Aboriginal peoples. Through Formosa is a rare outsider’s glimpse into Japan’s showcase colony in the 1920s, and a thoroughly absorbing experience for the reader of today.
Welcome Home, Master
Covering East Asia in the Twilight of Old Media
J.D. AdamsWhat’s it like covering East Asia as a foreign correspondent? In Welcome Home, Master, American journalist Jonathan Adams reveals the gritty reality of reporting from the world’s most dynamic region. After working as a Newsweek stringer and Taipei Times “copy-monkey,” he made the leap to full-time freelancer, choosing fascinating but underreported Taiwan as his base. We track down Catholic vigilantes in a violent corner of Mindanao, experience the frenzied build-up to the Beijing Olympics, chase serious stories on algae blooms and labor relations, and pay the bills with clickbait stories on Japanese maid cafes and penis festivals.
There are a number of other good resources on the internet with details of books about Taiwan:
- A great Books about Taiwan Facebook group – you will need to be approved by an admin to join
- Taiwanderful has a good Taiwanese history reading list
- Taiwan in Cycles features an excellent list of books called Knowing Taiwan
- There’s also a discussion on Forumosa about Taiwan books