I must admit I am a typical product of Western education, completely oblivious to almost all of Asia’s history, but for the most momentous events. So when my Taiwanese-Canadian friend asked me what I would like to get for a ‘not-so-secret’ Santa I asked for a book about Taiwan. When she talks about the island’s history it is very interesting so I was curious to know more.
That’s how I got Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan by Jonathan Manthorpe. A book about Taiwan, written by a Canadian and printed in Poland, what a lovely coincidence!
I learned a lot from reading this book. Starting with how critical the position of Taiwan was to the trading routes and how really at least three countries could argue that it is closer to them geographically. I learned about the pirates who proved their worth to become admirals of the fleet. About the colonists who could never conquer the entire island.
The huge difference between the Qing rule and Japanese rule of Taiwan was staggering. It shows a completely different approach to assessing value of the island. Manthorpe initially spends a lot of time on various attempts to conquer the island. That takes probably two-thirds of the book. The last part focuses, in a lot of detail, on the events following the conflict between supporters of Mao Zedong and Chang Kai-shek. When Taiwan became the last hold of the Kuomintang. How then, the United States used Taiwan as a pawn in their relationships with China. But also how they forced the Kuomintang to rapidly democratize the country in the 1980s.
It is probably the single most successful example of democratization forced by the United States with relatively good outcomes. The push and pull between China and the United States is fascinating. But even more fascinating is the resistance of the Taiwanese, constantly living in the shadow of China. Always threatened, with rockets always targeted at their island.
Manthorpe’s writing is engaging and it draws you into the story. He provides a lot of facts but also structures the tale in a way that flows. It was a great read and one I definitely needed to expand my horizons.
What country’s history would you like to explore to expand your horizons?