The Secret History of Taiwan

Taiwan Aboriginal skull wall. Source

I’ve been meaning to write a post on Taiwan for a long time. I decided to rush one out before it’s too late.

The intention of this post is to correct common misapprehensions about Taiwan’s fascinating history. It is not to argue that the island does or does not belong to the PRC. That is to be decided by their willingness and ability to defend themselves. As Stalin supposedly said of the Pope, how many divisions does historical truth have?

The common, misleading version of Taiwanese history goes like this: Taiwan was once a province of China. Toward the end of the Civil War, Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist forces fled there and that’s how it ended up out of CCP control.

The real history goes more as follows. Obviously this must be a brief summary so pipe up in the comments if you think I’ve missed something vital or just interesting. I’ll also get things wrong because this is partly from memory.

In the beginning

Taiwan was ruled by warring Aboriginal tribes almost until modern times. Many made a custom of headhunting and decorating their villages with impressive skull walls as pictured above. Other tribes along the coast were more peaceable and lived by fishing.

Small groups of Chinese and Japanese sometimes visited the coast, often pirates hiding out from their respective governments. At this time, Taiwan was considered a wild and barbarous place by Chinese authorities and they had little interest in doing anything with it. Han imperial expansion went in every direction but east.

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The origin of food

Source

It’s funny to think that the potato is a New World species.

We think of its role in the Irish Famine, curries, French Fries and so on, but until Columbus sailed the the ocean blue it was unknown outside the Americas.

The same goes for tomatoes. Think of those millennia of Italian history before tomatoes!

You know another New World crop? Peanuts! Alexander the Great never ate a peanut. Nor did Caesar, Charlemagne or Tamerlane. Napoleon probably had a few.

Other crops restricted to the Americas until the 1500s or so include avocado (thus premodern young people could more easily afford a down payment on a house), chili peppers (think of India again), passionfruit, strawberries, walnuts and cashews.

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