Video Length 2:03
Who Should Read It
Anybody with an interest in a comprehensive yet concise history of Taiwan.
Why Should We Read It
Taiwan is not simply just an island extension of Chinese culture and hegemony, and its nuanced and complicated history will shed light into how Taiwanese people see themselves.
What Will We Learn
We will gain a better understanding of how geography and centuries of international politics have forged Taiwanese identity today.
"...many factors have shaped the island's (Taiwan's) history, and continue to influence how Taiwanese identify themselves today."
On the international stage, Taiwan is a unique and singular case of legal ambiguity. Depending on who we ask, it is either an independent nation, a rogue province, or the true government in an unsettled civil war. Taiwan has powerful friends and frenemies, but if the political winds change direction, then it may be alone against an overbearing neighbor in China. Mr. Johnathon Manthorpe's book Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan takes a bold stand in this delicate and uncertain situation: China's territorial claim to Taiwan is not rooted in historical facts but in imperial hubris. His position is not political posturing. If we can accept that Taiwan is not a just simple extension of Chinese culture and hegemony, then we can begin to appreciate that many factors have shaped the island's history, and continue to influence how Taiwanese identify themselves today.
"He (Mr. Manthorpe) takes great care to emphasize that Taiwan's past is best explained through the lens of its strategic location between China, Japan, and Southeast Asia."
Mr. Manthorpe's academic effort in Forbidden Nation spans the entirety of Taiwan's history, starting with its earliest archeological findings and its first mention in the Chinese historical record. He takes great care to emphasize that Taiwan's past is best explained through the lens of its strategic location between China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. For centuries, conquering armies (the Dutch East India Company, the Japanese shogunates), have attempted to leverage its location to their advantage, or ignored Taiwan (as the Qing dynasty did) at their peril. These military maneuvers and political intrigues spawned social upheaval, and Taiwan inevitably became a destination for refugees seeking respite from famine and war. Such chaos emboldened centuries of marauding pirates and headhunting aboriginal tribes, and their prominent influence on Taiwan's history are also intimately explored in Forbidden Nation.
"No empire, dynasty, or pirate navy had ever been able to govern simultaneously both mainland China and Taiwan, and this remains true in contemporary times."
No empire, dynasty, or pirate navy had ever been able to govern simultaneously both mainland China and Taiwan, and this remains true in contemporary times. This is obvious when considering the Taiwan Republic of 1895 and Japanese colonial rule of the early 20th century. It becomes poignantly true with the example of Mao Zedong's Communist China and Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang after World War II. In fact, from the perspective of islander families who had by now been present for centuries, or even millennia, Chiang Kai-shek represented just the latest transplant government in a long line of militant foreign powers imposing its rule on Taiwan. When did Taiwan first get to determine its own destiny, free of geopolitical meddling? From pirates to colonialists to military dictators, one can argue that Taiwan has yet to exercise that chance.
"The make-up of contemporary Taiwanese identity demands a more nuanced exploration of its past, something that no one book can hope to achieve. "
Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan ends with a brief discussion of Ma Ying-jeou's electoral victory to the Taiwanese Presidency in 2008. By then, Taiwan had not only continued to be a priority issue for historical players like China and Japan, but also has caught the attention of more distant powers like the United States. Contemporary analysis of Taiwan often focuses on its relationship with China, and for good reason. As Mr. Manthorpe demonstrates, it would be a mistake to simply summarize Taiwan as an unresolved question of a long Chinese civil war. The make-up of contemporary Taiwanese identity demands a more nuanced exploration of its past, something that no one book can hope to achieve. To that end, Mr. Manthorpe's efforts to offer a comprehensive and concise account of Taiwan's history is an admirable and laudable first start to this conversation.