The best books on Taiwan’s history

John Grant Ross Author Of Formosan Odyssey: Taiwan, Past and Present
By John Grant Ross

The Books I Picked & Why

Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China's First Great Victory Over the West

By Tonio Andrade

Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China's First Great Victory Over the West

Why this book?

Few stood against many as the fate of Taiwan hung in the balance. This is a gripping account of the 1660s clash between Ming loyalist Koxinga and besieged Dutch colonists at Fort Zeelandia. Written by a historian with a flair for narrative, Taiwan’s most exciting historical episode is recounted in fascinating detail, with twists and turns, and wide zooms out for comparisons of European and Chinese technological prowess. It’s an accessible book yet so richly informative and dramatic that it rewards multiple readings. 


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Accidental State: Chiang Kai-Shek, the United States, and the Making of Taiwan

By Hsiao-ting Lin

Accidental State: Chiang Kai-Shek, the United States, and the Making of Taiwan

Why this book?

How did Taiwan become the country it is today, how did it become the Republic of China? Hsiao-ting Lin, a leading Taiwanese historian and an archivist at Stanford’s Hoover Institute, convincingly argues that the Nationalist state in Taiwan under Chiang Kai-shek came about in large part from happenstance. The book draws on both English- and Chinese-language archival materials, including newly released official files and personal papers to explain what happened to Taiwan in the crucial years following World War II; it also examines what didn’t happen but might have, such as the island being placed under temporary American trusteeship. Accidental State is unbiased and nuanced history, and packed with fun but intelligent counterfactual nuggets.


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A Taste of Freedom: Memoirs of a Taiwanese Independence Leader

By Ming-Min Peng

A Taste of Freedom: Memoirs of a Taiwanese Independence Leader

Why this book?

For a readable work about a political figure, it’s hard to beat this moving autobiography of a reluctant hero and his journey from bookish youth to renowned scholar to political dissident. Alongside the personal story, it gives a broad sweep of Taiwanese history; the increasingly militaristic Japanese rule of the 1930s, the disastrous early years of KMT rule, and the decades of White Terror political suffocation. The book was originally published in 1972 in English, two years after the author’s daring escape from house arrest in Taipei to freedom in the West. 


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A Culinary History of Taipei: Beyond Pork and Ponlai

By Steven Crook, Katy Hui-Wen Hung

A Culinary History of Taipei: Beyond Pork and Ponlai

Why this book?

Despite the title, this is a history of the food of Taiwan, not just Taipei. The “ponlai” in the subtitle refers to a strain of rice developed in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period, stickier and quicker maturing than the indica rice cultivated previously; and this specificity gives a good indication of the admirable depth the book goes into. There’s great breadth too, the authors covering almost everything you might be curious about, whether aboriginal crops or traditional banquet culture, religious food offerings, food folklore and prohibitions, the evolution of basic ingredients, and the origin stories of iconic dishes.


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Playing in Isolation: A History of Baseball in Taiwan

By Junwei Yu

Playing in Isolation: A History of Baseball in Taiwan

Why this book?

Taiwan’s national sport helped forge a national identity and provided succor when the country was becoming increasingly isolated on the international stage. Between the years that saw the PRC take the China seat at the United Nations and Washington switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, Taiwan’s Little Leaguers enjoyed one of the greatest sporting runs of all time; from 1971 to 1981 they went unbeaten at the annual LLB championship in Williamsport. A whole generation of Taiwanese grew up rooting for these schoolboy teams, and among them was author Junwei Yu. He describes the history of baseball in Taiwan with passion and expertise, yet is not afraid to douse nostalgia with a cold bucket of scandal. An enjoyable read, even for non-baseball fans such as myself.


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