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 McGovern
Among 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
A 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
Bu 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.
An Eyewitness Account of the February 28th, 1947 Incident
Allan J. Shackleton
Recently 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 Ross
Skillfully 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 ****
In 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 Islands of Taiwan
A Guide to Penghu, Green Island, Orchid Island, Kinmen, Matsu, and Taiwan’s Other Outlying Islands
Richard 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.
A Pail of Oysters
Vern 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. Pickering
Pioneering 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.
Song of Orchid Island
In 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.
A Taste of Freedom
Memoirs of a Taiwanese Independence Leader
An 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
Amid 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
What’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.