For those of you into Taiwan books, the Southern Materials Center has both reprints and new stuff on Taiwan. Their bookstore is at: 羅斯福路三段 283 巷 14 弄 14 號 (14 Roosevelt Rd. Lane 283, Alley 14). It’s the lane behind McDonalds across from the side gate of National Taiwan U.).(website)

One of the series they have put out is a monograph series from the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines that contains some really great material. I have two of the books, In Search of the Hunters and Their Tribe: Studies in the History and Culture of the Taiwan Indigenous People, and Natives of Formosa: British Reports of the Taiwan Indigenous People, 1650-1950. The first consists of academic articles that range across a variety of topics, from aboriginal peoples in the 19th century, to Japanese anthropology in the service of colonialism, to naming patterns and boat design. Really great stuff, hugely informative. The other volume I have contains excerpts from British consular officials, missionaries, sailors, and travelers who visited Taiwan for one reason or another. For example, the sea cliffs of the wild east coast were widely held to be among the world’s most beautiful sights. Here one seaman quotes himself, and another writer:

“When that most prosaic but useful publication, the China Sea Directory, ventures upon superlatives, there is generally some tolerably good reason for it. (here follows my description as above), and then “the highest sea precipice in the known world lay unveiled before our eyes. It was superb…the studendous cliffs of the Yosemite Valley in California,…the grand sea-wall of Hoy, in the Orkneys,…the glories of the iron-bound coast of Norway, all fade into nothingness beside the giant precipices of Formosa. We kept close to the land, the appearance of which if anything, increased in grandeur. The gigantic wall of rock was cleft every few miles by huge gorges…forming as they did a practicable highway into the interior, which is otherwise well-nigh inaccessible, owing to the denseness of the vegetation.”

In the nineteenth century Sauo was among the few places that were accessible on the east coast, so everyone ended up at Suao at one point or another in their journey. Hence there are many descriptions of Suao:

“I proceed now to give a brief sketch of Suao Bay and vicinity….On the western side of the bay, on a small stream, lies the Chinese town of Su-ao, or Saw-o, in the local pronunciation. It is a wretched town of about fifty houses. I had hitherto always held Kelung to be the filthiest town in the universe, not deeming it within the bounds of possibility that a place could be worse than it; but a visit to Suao forced me to confess my mistake.”

Relations with the aborigines of the interior were marked by violence on both sides. From the report above:

“We were told that the Chinese had on three previous occasions, in 1858, 1862, and 1866, made attempts to form a settlement in the valley, but had in time been driven out by the savages. Shortly after the second of these attempts was made, the settlers were surprised by night, and about a hundred were killed. A low enclosing wall of earth, surrounded by a ditch, and which had formerly been crowned with a bamboo stockade, remained as evidence of the Chinese occupation; and the European leader of the latest colonizing scheme, referred to in the extract above, was greeated on his first landing by the sight of some thirty-five skull-less skeletons, arranged in a row on the beach — a striking evidence of the failure of the last preceding attempt at Chinese colonization.”

At NT$600 each, these are quite affordable, by comparison with the hefty prices out there for the latest academic works (how can profs ever build a library nowadays? By skipping meals for months at a time?). Next time you’re in Taipei, drop by SMC and have a look.