I have put together a list of some of my favorite books on Taiwan. This list includes both fiction and non-fiction books.
Taiwan has a rich and diverse culture. The books on this list attempt to highlight the many different issues that influence Taiwanese culture. A broad range of topics are included on this list, such as environmentalism, LGBTQ+, national identity, and political justice.
There are a lot of great books on Taiwan, but I’ve narrowed it down to just 10. Maybe in the future I will make another list of other great Taiwanese books.
Formosa Betrayed is a classic first-hand account of the founding of Taiwan. It was written by George Kerr, a US diplomat stationed in Taiwan. He witnessed the 228 Incident and the corrupt killings committed by the Kuomintang (KMT) in Taiwan after World War II.
This book was ahead of its time in understanding the political situation of Taiwan and how its founding would impact its future.
It is one of the most influential books on Taiwan’s transition from Japanese colonial rule and played a role in Taiwan’s democracy movement in the 1960s and 1970s.
Taiwan: A New History
Taiwan: A New History is a collection of articles written by scholars from Taiwan, the United States, and Europe. The chapters are arranged chronologically and cover Taiwan’s political, historical, and religio-cultural background.
This history of Taiwan is unique, in that it identifies Taiwan as an island frontier zone with multiple influences. Taiwan has been colonized by Chinese, Japanese, and Europeans.
The authors in this book take note to explain that Taiwan cannot be explained without looking at its colonial past and indigenous peoples. The popular narratives concerning Taiwan’s current status become more complicated and undermine arguments made by the Chinese Nationalist Part (KMT) and Chinese Community Party (CCP). This is a great book if you are wanting to dive into Taiwan’s complete history.
The Stolen Bicycle
If you are a bicycle enthusiast. Then there is a good chance one of your bicycle parts were manufactured in Taiwan.
Wu Ming-Yi’s The Stolen Bicycle follows a self-professed “bicycle fanatic,” Ch’eng and his family’s history with bicycles. Ch’eng’s father has disappeared and he embarks on a journey, tracing the trail of his father’s bicycle in hopes of finding out the truth about his father’s disappearance.
This novel is not just a straightforward tale about a father and son, but a novel that peaks into 20th Century Taiwan. It is a novel, a history book, and a bicycle handbook all in one.
The Man with the Compound Eyes
The Man with the Compound Eyes, is another novel written by one of Taiwan’s most prolific authors, Wu Ming-Yi.
This novel is a fascinating take on the environmental impact of ocean pollution and its karmic retribution.
The book follows Atile’i a teenage boy and member of the Wayo Wayo, who inhabits a small island with almost no contact with the outside world.
Being the second son in his family, he is sent off the island due to scarce resources. Almost dying at sea, he discovers an island made of trash. This trash island is slowly drifting towards Taiwan.
The trash island collides with the coast of Taiwan and Atile’i and Alice Shih, a Taiwanese professor, become entangled in an exploration of Taiwan’s indigenous culture and environmentalism.
Green Island is a fictional take on the events that happened after the 228 Incident. It is a novel about survival, growth, and identity.
The books title refers to the beautiful Green Island, located off Taiwan’s east coast. Green Island was a place primarily used by the KMT as a prison for political prisoners.
The novel follows an unnamed narrator born during the 228 Incident. Her father disappears after speaking in favor of democracy at a community meeting and the rest of her family attempts to navigate through Taiwan’s tumultuous martial law period.
Notes of a Crocodile
Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin is a post-modern take on life as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in 1980s Taiwan.
The novel follows a woman nicknamed Lazi. She spends most of her time alone, reading and writing while she attends one of Taiwan’s most prestigious universities.
Lazi falls in love with her slightly older female classmate. The two take turns agonizingly courting and rejecting each other.
Notes of a Crocodile, published in 1994, is a seemingly futuristic text that examines many of the themes about identity and gender that are discussed today.
Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan
Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan is another take on Taiwan’s complex historical background.
Manthorpe’s perspective on Taiwan is one of a country that has had its nationhood constantly thwarted by outside forces.
He untangles the KMT and CCP claims about Taiwan always being a Chinese possession. Explaining that the assumptions that underlie the “One China” policy and the “1992 Consensus” are much more complicated than assumed.
In order to predict the future of Taiwan, you must have an accurate understanding of its past. Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan is a great introduction to Taiwan’s past and how Taiwanese identity will unfold in the future.
Two Trees Make a Forest: In Search of My Family’s Past Among Taiwan’s Mountains and Coasts
Two Trees Make a Forest is a memoir about the authors search for her maternal family history.
Born to a Welsh father and Taiwanese mother in Canada. Lee sets off for Taiwan with a handful of memories to try to uncover her heritage.
Two Trees Make a Forest explores the dispossession of language and culture, a common feature of first-generation immigrant narratives.
With Lee’s inability to communicate with locals and even her own grandmother, she turns towards using the languages of plants, history, and landscapes to describe her discovery of Taiwan.
A Pail of Oysters
A Pail of Oysters is a novel set during Taiwan’s White Terror era. It tells the tragic story of a Taiwanese teenager who attempts to recover his family’s stolen kitchen god and his involvement with an American journalist.
The book was banned in Taiwan and removed from US college campuses by student spies paid by the KMT.
Until recently, English copies of the novel were difficult to come by. It paints a balanced portrait of Taiwan under martial law. Giving credence to the democracy proponents in the KMT.
Fundamentally, A Pail of Oyster explores the experience of the Taiwanese trying to exist under the KMT and martial law.
The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China
Jay Taylor’s The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the Struggle for Modern China is a biographical account of Chiang Kai-Shek during the turbulent history of China after the Qing Dynasty.
It explores Chiang’s experiments with modernization and actions in a critical but positive light. Taylor reflects on the decisions that Chiang made based on personal prejudice, political realities and the need for survival.
The author attempts to paint an objective biography of Chiang by using his diaries, KMT political documents, and personal accounts of those who knew and worked with him.