Despite, or perhaps because of, its relatively small size, Taiwan has had a turbulent and diverse history that has seen it endure dictatorship during the 20th century, Japanese colonization, and being a minor part of the Qing Dynasty. But before all this, the island, then known as Formosa, was the prize of a mighty struggle between the Dutch and a Ming Dynasty pirate-nobleman almost 400 years ago. Lord of Formosa—first published in Dutch in 2015—is the story of Koxinga, or Zheng Chenggong, the son of a Chinese nobleman and a Japanese woman, and how he won Taiwan from the Dutch.
Approximately 180km east of the Middle Kingdom sits an island state commonly referred to as “The Bicycle Kingdom”. If you live in Japan, Europe, or North America and own a bicycle, there is a good chance that a number of its parts were manufactured in Taiwan. From ultra-light carbon fibre frames and the latest electric, smart and green technologies to various bike components ranging from tires, pedals, chains, saddles, grips, and even bike carriers for vehicles, Taiwan’s bicycle industry remains a global leader despite recent declines in exports and sales.
There aren’t that many English-language books about Taiwan, especially fiction. This is a pity because despite being wedged between much larger neighbors such as China, Japan and the Philippines, there is a lot to Taiwan that often gets overlooked. There are many good stories that are still waiting to be told and the Taiwan Writers Group, a collective of local and expat writers, tries to tell a few in their latest collection.
If George Psalmanazar sounds like a made-up name, that’s because it was. Psalmanazar, whose real name seems lost to history, was a turn of 18th-century Frenchman who claimed, with no small success, to be first native of “Formosa” (ahem) to visit Europe.
The Musha Incident is a dark moment in Taiwan’s colonial history (1895-1945), as well as a long-forgotten one. On 27 October 1930, the indigenous Atayal people decapitated 134 Japanese soldiers. Japanese revenge was brutal, bringing the Atayal tribe to the edge of extinction. Later, the Nationalist government labeled the Incident a heroic retaliation against Japanese invasion, but condemned the Atayal’s primal ritual of headhunting.
Taiwanese writer Wu He was not satisfied with this highly superficial and politicized discourse and determined to uncover the truth of this period of history and its legacy. The result is this novel.
Taiwan’s top court just recently ruled in favor of gay marriage, culminating in what could be Asia’s first jurisdiction to allow members of the same sex to marry. Despite many challenges that still persist politically with the ruling, it indicates a more liberal attitude toward non-heterosexual relationships than when Qiu Miaojin published the novel Notes of a Crocodile in the early 1990s.
Unlike his Malaysian-Chinese compatriots, Tash Aw and Tan Twan Eng who have become well-known for novels which fit pretty squarely into the English-language, Ng Kim Chew writes in Chinese from a base in Taiwan. Slow Boat to China is a collection of his short stories, the first book of his—as far as I can tell—to appear in English.