Formosan Odyssey: Taiwan Past and Present, by John Ross

Until the early twentieth century, Taiwan was one of the wildest places in Asia. Its coastline was known as a mariners' graveyard, the mountainous interior was the domain of headhunting tribes, while the lowlands were a frontier area where banditry, feuding, and revolts were a way of life. Formosan Odyssey captures the rich sweep of history through the eyes of Westerners who visited and lived on the island -- from missionaries, adventurers, lighthouse keepers, and Second World War PoWs, to students coming to study martial arts. It finishes with the story of Taiwan's economic miracle, the political transition from police state to vibrant democracy, and its continuing stand-off with China.

The author's travels, made around the island in the wake of the devastating 921 earthquake, and his experiences from five years of living in a small town, provide an intimate picture of modern Taiwan.

The island is a storehouse of Chinese and indigenous cultures, a fascinating mix of the new and the traditional, and likewise Formosan Odyssey is a smorgasbord of delights that both the general reader and any "old Asia hand" will find informative and amusing.

The Taipei Times published a review of the book on July 21, 2002.


book cover
  1. The 9/21 Earthquake
  2. The Tooth-Pulling Preacher
  3. To the Mountains
  4. Taipei
  5. The Shoe Man
  6. The Dutch
  7. Amazons and Trojan Horses
  8. The Mariners' Graveyard
  9. Culture Shock
  10. Gods and Ghosts
  11. Tracking Matsu
  12. Peach Town
  13. Cannibals
  14. Japan's Showcase Colony
  15. The Hell Camp of Kinkaseki
  16. The White Terror
  17. Island Fortress
  18. Liquid Gold
  19. Snakes and Lagers
  20. Searching for Paradise
  21. Harnessing Chi
  22. The Miracle
  23. Bibliography

Formosan Odyssey is distributed by Lai Lai Books and is available at Eslite, Hess and Caves bookstores, and at the CKS airport bookstore. The retail price is NT$390. If it is not available at the local branch of these bookstores you can ask them to order it for you (at no extra charge), or .