What’s the best book you have read about Taiwan?

It can be fiction or non-fiction, old or new.

Tell us why it was so good?

No travel books.


Actually, I haven’t read that many complete books about Taiwan. In a couple of pretty important cases, I sort of “went at” a book but then quit after a while. The reason I bring this up, is that if the question were, “What’s the best book you have or have not completely read about Taiwan?” then I might have trouble making up my mind.

But as it is, I would say that George Kerr’s Formosa Betrayed is, so far, the best account I’ve read for showing some key aspects of Taiwan’s transition from Japanese possession to Chinese Nationalist possession. Some people might say that the account is too subjective, and I’ll try not to argue with that (I’m almost certainly guilty of subjectivity, too), but even if there’s a subjective quality that turns a person off, the book is worthwhile because it is an account by a knowledgeable person who was actually present during an important part of the transition.

As a companion book (sorry for breaking the one-book limit), I recommend Allen J. Shackleton’s Formosa Calling. Mr. Shackleton, who is also knowledgeable, also makes some interesting observations arising out of his experiences in Taiwan during this transition.


You’re welcome! (if the above post was addressed to me; if not, my apologies)

They both look good. That Shackleton book interests me as I would like to know more about “228”. Shackleton was a kiwi, and also wrote a memoir called “The Passing Years”.


I think it’s quite a good book. I think Shackleton had an engineering background. If remember correctly, in addition to writing about events in Taiwan at the time of the transfer, he also wrote about the Japanese railroads, especially the ones the Japanese built in the mountains.

He struck me as a calm, bright, observant sort of man.

I’ll take a look at The Passing Years.

1 Like

One I can really recommend is “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan” by Jonathan Manthorpe.
It starts with the election of Chen Shui-Bian, then goes back in history, and describes the various phases of self rule, occupation, victory and defeat.
It reads as easy as a novel, but is quite detailed, and gives a real understanding why Taiwan is in the political position it is today.


For over 400 years, Taiwan has suffered at the hands of multiple colonial powers, but it has now entered the decade when its independence will be won or lost. At the heart of Taiwan’s story is the curse of geography that placed the island on the strategic cusp between the Far East and Southeast Asia and made it the guardian of some of the world’s most lucrative trade routes. It is the story of the dogged determination of a courageous people to overcome every obstacle thrown in their path. Forbidden Nation tells the dramatic story of the island, its people, and what brought them to this moment when their future will be decided.


It would be a bit self-serving to suggest books I’ve been involved in publishing (though there really are some great titles there, and I always recommend Formosan Odyssey to newcomers), so I’m excluding those. Can I have one book each for fiction and non-fiction?

The Man with the Compound Eyes
Wu Ming-yi

From the review in the Guardian:

It is easy to see why Wu’s English-language publishers compare his latest novel to the work of Murakami and David Mitchell. His writing occupies the space between hard-edged realism and extravagantly detailed fantasy, hovering over the precipice of wild imagination before retreating to minutiae about Taiwanese fauna or whale-hunting. Semi-magical events occur throughout the novel: people and animals behave in mysterious ways without quite knowing why they are doing so; and, in a Murakami-esque touch, there’s even a prominent cat. But beyond these superficial similarities lies an earnest, politically conscious novel, anchored in ecological concerns and Taiwanese identity.

It is also superbly translated by Darryl Sterk.

Statecraft and Political Economy on the Taiwan Frontier, 1600–1800
John Robert Shepherd

While this tome is richly detailed and packed with statistics, Shepherd is nevertheless able to draw a coherent picture of the complex development of early modern Taiwan from just before the Dutch arrived to around halfway through Qing dynasty rule. It’s not a casual read, but if you’re interested in gaining a deeper understanding this period of Taiwanese history it’s a must-read. It significantly altered my perception of Taiwan and its history.


I have just started reading a book called the “Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Taiwan” (2016), it is an excellent reference book if you are interested in Taiwanese politics. The book is edited, with thirty-four authors all contributing a unique analysis on the formation of Taiwanese political movements and their history.


Anyone know if Formosa Betrayed is widely available? E.g. can I walk into Eslite and buy it?

Available to read free online:


Wow, that’s great.

Call me old fashioned but I still might prefer to pick up a “real” copy if it’s available in print.

1 Like

Nothing beats a book.

If you want an actual book book, you can order it from Camphor Press:


1 Like

The novel “Green Island” is great. Kids like “Dumpling Days.” Also recommend “Fireproof Moth” for a memoir of the 1960s and political issues.


black in Taiwan

1 Like

That is not a book.

yes it is it was on sale in Caves

1 Like

All apologies.


long time ago, I knew a few of them and it’s the only book I read about Taiwan unless we include “Lonely Planet”

This isn’t really about Taipei, but is still an interesting book, and one that received some critical attention: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taipei_(novel)