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

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.

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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.

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Nothing beats a book.

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


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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

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That is not a book.

yes it is it was on sale in Caves

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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)


A few other good books:
Missionary MacKay’s memoir
A memoir by a sailor landed on Formosa (forgot the title of this book) - have many interesting stories with insightful observations

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“Taipei People” (Pai Hsien-yung) These fictional portraits of (mostly displaced Chinese) people living in Taipei are vivid and affecting. Not really concerned with the Taiwanese, so much as Mainlanders longing for a return home, but highly recommended all the same. Definitely the most literary of the books mentioned here.

“Taiwan’s Struggles” (ed. Shyu-Tu Lee & Jack F. Williams) This is full of fascinating reflections on many vital issues. Well-written, illuminating essays about modern political and personal struggles for national identity.

“Orphan of Asia” (fiction) by Wu Zhuoliu is very good and I enjoyed his similar “The Fig Tree” (non-fiction) even more. (That said, I may’ve appreciated Orphan of Asia more had I read the Fig Tree first.) They both give a great, immediate sense of a life lived under Japanese colonial rule and then during the post-war period, high lighting the struggle for cultural identity on a personal/national level. Both are written with a degree of restraint, which I very much appreciated. (Those looking for higher drama may find them a bit dry.)

“Unbroken Chain: Anthology of Taiwan Fiction Since 1926” (ed. Joseph S.M. Lau). This collection offers many excellent short stories by a great number of authors, giving the reader a great sense of the concerns of the day. A bit uneven, but overall very good.


A new list of non-fiction books on Taiwan.

‘Forbidden nation’ is a great book, which I read a few months back.

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The best book that I have ever read about Taiwan seems to be currently unveiling itself off the starboard bow. It begins with