Book review: “Why Taiwan Matters” by Shelley Rigger

I started writing this post a year (or two?) ago, and have picked it up time and time again, trying to add to it. I want to preserve these different starts. The book was originally published in 2011 and Taiwan has gone through significant societal events since 2012. Even though the book it did not cover up to current events, I still believe it is a significant book for anyone who needs an introduction to Taiwan. An updated version of the book was published in 2013.


I’ve had this post sitting as a draft for at least a year now. At some point I completely forgot about it, until recently while I was helping some friends plan their first trip to Taiwan. Between conversations about food and landmarks, I kept feeling that something was missing. Taiwan is not just about what is there now. To understand Taiwan and to truly appreciate Taiwan is to know its history and know how it became the Taiwan of now. Then, I remembered my copy of “Why Taiwan Matters” and immediately lent it to my friends.


After reading the original version of “Why Taiwan Matters” by Shelley Rigger in English, I browsed through the Chinese translation. For those interested, the title is 《台灣為什麼重要?美國兩岸研究權威寫給全美國人的台灣觀察報告》. The translated version has a separate Chinese preface (which can be previewed at the site). Rigger explains that for the book to be translated into Chinese and sold in Taiwan seems a bit awkward, but her friends reassured her that Taiwanese would not read the the book to learn more about Taiwan, but to understand how other people see Taiwan. I wholeheartedly agree. She also mentions that it is possible for people to disagree with parts of the book and some people may not recognize the Taiwan she describes in the book, but she has written what she knows about Taiwan, what she experienced and saw. Taiwan flows with different ideas and opinions, and it is great for Rigger to recognize that.

“Why Taiwan Matters” by Shelley Rigger is an extraordinary book about Taiwan. Rigger has done an incredible job organizing the facts about Taiwanese history. But I think more important than that is Rigger’s ability to understand really describe the feelings of the Taiwanese. Rigger clearly states the identity issues surrounding Taiwanese. Especially at points in the book where attitudes and emotions of Taiwanese people are described, it was very clear that Rigger understands the Taiwanese people.

From the very beginning of the book, from reading the preface, I knew this book was different. Unless a person had lived through the martial law era or experienced the educational system mandated by the KMT, a person may not be able to understand the conflict within Taiwan. Spending time in Taiwan or living for a time in Taiwan does not mean a person can understand the deeply felt issues with being Taiwanese. Unless a person experienced the unfair situation that the World Health Organization placed upon Taiwan, one would not understand the Taiwanese people’s constant fight for international recognition. But Rigger has done that. She has chosen quotes and interview excerpts that reflect these aspects of Taiwanese life.

In slightly over 200 pages, Rigger really does cover it all. The book explores Taiwan’s history, industry, politics, culture. Three chapters are devoted to exploring cross-strait issues: economics, identity, and interference to international recognition. The examples in each section really do serve the purpose of showing the reader how Taiwanese live with these concerns and what some people are doing about it.

I think what separates this book from other (English) books I have read about Taiwan is that it is not meant to be an academic book. The facts and analysis are based on academic works, but there are not pages and pages of footnotes to sift through. Even the sources section at the end of each chapter is written in a narrative form. The sources do point the reader to more academic works for further reading.

This book is a must-read for anyone who will be going to Taiwan to visit, to study, or to work. Anyone who will spend any time in Taiwan needs to be handed this book. Hopefully the book will be a starting point to understanding Taiwan’s past, present, and future.

It’s best to rely on news sources from Taiwan for information about Taiwan. Unfortunately most are not in English. Two sources in English are Taipei Times and Thinking Taiwan. Austin Ramzy has been reporting for the New York Times from Taipei, so the NY Times Sinosphere blog has seen an increase in reports about Taiwan. Social media sources include Taiwan Voice on Facebook (in English) and Sunflower Movement 太陽花學運 on Facebook (not always in English); both update on social-political issues.

Do you know the World Cup country names in Chinese?

Since the world is now focused on World Cup events, it’s a great time to learn some World Cup related words in Chinese. Unfortunately, the FIFA website is not available in Chinese (traditional or simplified). The next best place to check out scores would be google Taiwan. Clicking on the World Cup graphic of the day will lead to the scoreboard, entirely in Taiwan Mandarin.

分組 gives the group standings. Country names can be tricky because they are typically transliterated, unless there’s an historic name. These standings are no longer valid, I took the screen shots after the June 18th games. If you’d like to review the phonetic symbols, you can take a look at my post on 注(ㄓㄨˋ)音(ㄧㄣ)符(ㄈㄨˊ)號(ㄏㄠˋ).


A 組 Group A
巴(ㄅㄚ)西(ㄒㄧ) Brazil
墨(ㄇㄛˋ)西(ㄒㄧ)哥(ㄍㄜ) Mexico
克(ㄎㄜˋ)羅(ㄌㄨㄛˊ)埃(ㄞ)西(ㄒㄧ)亞(ㄧㄚˇ) Croatia
喀(ㄎㄜˋ)麥(ㄇㄞˋ)隆(ㄌㄨㄥˊ) Cameroon
B 組 Group B
荷(ㄏㄜˊ)蘭(ㄌㄢˊ) Netherlands
智(ㄓˋ)利(ㄌㄧˋ) Chile
澳(ㄠˋ)洲(ㄓㄡ) Austrailia
西(ㄒㄧ)班(ㄅㄢ)牙(ㄧㄚˊ) Spain


C 組 Group C
哥(ㄍㄜ)倫(ㄌㄨㄣˊ)比(ㄅㄧˇ)亞(ㄧㄚˇ) Colombia
象(ㄒㄧㄤˋ)牙(ㄧㄚˊ)海(ㄏㄞˇ)岸(ㄢˋ) Côte D’Ivoire
日(ㄖˋ)本(ㄅㄣˇ) Japan
希(ㄒㄧ)臘(ㄌㄚˋ) Greece
D 組 Group D
哥(ㄍㄜ)斯(ㄙ)大(ㄉㄚˋ)黎(ㄌㄧˊ)加(ㄐㄧㄚ) Costa Rica
義(ㄧˋ)大(ㄉㄚˋ)利(ㄌㄧˋ) Italy
英(ㄧㄥ)格(ㄍㄜˊ)蘭(ㄌㄢˊ) England
烏(ㄨ)拉(ㄌㄚ)圭(ㄍㄨㄟ) Uruguay


E 組 Group E
法(ㄈㄚˋ)國(ㄍㄨㄛˊ) France
瑞(ㄖㄨㄟˋ)士(ㄕˋ) Switzerland
厄(ㄜˋ)瓜(ㄍㄨㄚ)多(ㄉㄨㄛ) Ecuador
宏(ㄏㄨㄥˊ)都(ㄉㄨ)拉(ㄌㄚ)斯(ㄙ) Honduras
F 組 Group F
阿(ㄚ)根(ㄍㄣ)廷(ㄊㄧㄥˊ) Argentina
伊(ㄧ)朗(ㄌㄤˇ) Iran
奈(ㄋㄞˋ)及(ㄐㄧˊ)利(ㄌㄧˋ)亞(ㄧㄚˇ) Nigeria
波(ㄅㄛ)士(ㄕˋ)尼(ㄋㄧˊ)亞(ㄧㄚˇ)與(ㄩˇ)赫(ㄏㄜˋ)塞(ㄙㄞ)哥(ㄍㄜ)維(ㄨㄟˊ)納(ㄋㄚˋ) Bosnia and Herzegovina


G 組 Group G
德(ㄉㄜˊ)國(ㄍㄨㄛˊ) Germany
美(ㄇㄟˇ)國(ㄍㄨㄛˊ) USA
迦(ㄐㄧㄚ)納(ㄋㄚˋ) Ghana
葡(ㄆㄨˊ)萄(ㄊㄠˊ)牙(ㄧㄚˊ) Portugal
H 組 Group H
比(ㄅㄧˇ)利(ㄌㄧˋ)時(ㄕˊ) Belgium
韓(ㄏㄢˊ)國(ㄍㄨㄛˊ) Korea
俄(ㄜˋ)羅(ㄌㄨㄛˊ)斯(ㄙ) Russia
阿(ㄚ)爾(ㄦˇ)及(ㄐㄧˊ)利(ㄌㄧˋ)亞(ㄧㄚˇ) Algeria

淘汰賽 are the elimination games. Unfortunately fans in Asia have been staying up until dawn to be able to watch these games.


Sephora+Pantone Color of the Year & Eye Makeup Tips

The year is already halfway over, and I am just now writing a post about Sephora+Pantone Color of the Year. I was really happy when I saw that the color was Radiant Orchid – a hue that is a purple and pink mix. Specifically, I was excited to see the eye shadow palette. It has a total of 25 colors to complement Radiant Orchid. Purple colors bring out the best in brown eyes!

Now my problem with following eye makeup tutorials, like the ones Sephora provided for the palette, is that I always seem to get confused about the placement of colors. It look me a while to realize that the eye makeup directions I find in the U.S. are most likely not written for my Asian eyes. So, I need to go elsewhere for proper directions. The best place I found for English directions were from bun bun makeup tips.
She has a whole series on Asian eye makeup:
Eye Makeup Tips For 14 Different Types of Asian Eyes
Tutorial: Where to Apply Contour Eyeshadow Color on an Asian Eye
Eyeshadow Tutorials for Asian Eyes Part 1: Where to Apply Eyeshadow
Eyeshadow Tutorials for Asian Eyes Part 2: Vertical Gradient Method
Eyeshadow Tutorial for Asian Eyes Part 3 – Defining the Outer V
Eyeshadow Tutorial for Asian Eyes Part 4 – Defining the Contour Area
Eyeshadow Tutorial for Asian Eyes Part 5 – Horizontal Gradient Method

I have to review these techniques every once in a while. Then I can decode other eye shadow tutorials to figure out the appropriate placement of colors. I pretty much look at other eye shadow tutorials for guidelines on mixing and matching colors, but follow techniques that work for my eyes.

Wu’er Kaixi, when asked “What do you want to see in the future between China and Taiwan?”

I am not a nationalist. I’m an anti-nationalist. I have big problems with nation-state politics. I’m a victim of nationalism, as a Uighur [the mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic minority native to the western Chinese region of Xinjiang]. Many people in the world who are victims of nationalist oppression become nationalist themselves. I see that, and I try to prevent that. For me, the way to prevent that is to have a bigger principle, bigger guidelines to make sure that when you have to take a side on unification or independence, when this kind of issue is proposed, you know how you’re going to cast your vote.

So on the question of Taiwan and mainland China’s unification, or [Taiwan’s] independence, for me the answer is whatever is better for people’s freedom. It’s as simple as that.

If we had to choose today, if Taiwan is independent or unification, it is very clear. I would join the majority of Taiwanese people here for independence. The reason Taiwanese people say we aren’t sure, we want to maintain the status quo, is that the status quo is that the mainland’s missiles aren’t dropping on our heads. That is the status quo they want to maintain.

It’s not that they like the idea that Beijing claims Taiwan as part of them. It’s not so much that they like that China prevents Taiwan from entering any international arena. It’s not that they want to reserve a chance to one day go back to China. It’s not that. It’s just that we don’t want war.

from Q. and A.: Wu’er Kaixi on Tiananmen’s Hopes and Taiwan’s Achievements –

Modern Chinese art at the Cantor Arts Center

The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University currently has an exhibit titled “Within and Without: Transformations in Chinese Landscapes” that will run through January 12, 2015. It is a great opportunity to view modern art from Chinese artists.

There were a few paintings that I really liked. One was a large piece by Gu Wenda (谷文達) called “遺失的王朝G十六,” with a large character and a mountain landscape. The character took up most of the scroll, overpowering the landscape on the bottom. It is the opposite of classical scrolls, where the landscape is the main focus and words play a supporting role. “午夜的太陽” by Liu Guosong (劉國松) is an example of his “space paintings.” The sun or celestial being is much larger than land. In this case, it was the sun. The main focus of the painting is on a bright orange-red sun rather than the land below.

A painting by Qui Shihua (邱世華), called “untitled (landscape no QSH 22)” looks like white canvas, but then a landscape starts to appear. I wondered if my eyes were seeing beyond white or if was I imagining a landscape. “Sky Moat” by Lu Fusheng (盧輔聖) consisted of clean lines forming a mountain. However, it played on traditional paintings because it was blue all over. The ratio of white (paper) to blue (mountains) favored the mountains.

I also had the opportunity to attend a lecture by lecture by Gu Wenda. I first became familiar with Gu Wenda’s work when I read about his installation “forest of stone steles”. Through the lecture, I became more aware of his exploration of the juxtaposition between east and west, and of language. In “the mythos of lost dynasties”, a fabricated seal script explores the understanding of these characters. As it is, seal script is only legible to calligraphers or scholars; people who know Chinese might know basic ones that are taught as examples. Gu created a script that is completely illegible, whether one knows Chinese or not. It might look like seal script and has the style of seal script, but it is not.

The “forest of stone steles” is another one of my favorites in the exploration of language. Many of the celebrated works of calligraphy come from steeles. However these stone steeles that Gu has made is another play on words. Tang dynasty poems were translated to English, then the English was transliterated to Chinese. The written Chinese characters are supposed to sound like the English translation. But, as with all transliterations, the sounds are not exact, especially since multiple characters put together make up one English word. Again, it’s a poem that is not understood in that particular language – the characters put together do not make any sense.



北捷運殺人事件 MRT (Taipei Metro) stabbing incident 05.21.2014 (will update as neccessary)

Perhaps 05.21.2014 started out like any other day in Taiwan. I had heard about the 豪雨 that had passed. 豪雨 are sudden storms that can have typhoon (hurricane) force winds and a riduculous amount of rain. It’s never fun being caught in one and can also cause flooding issues. An earthquake centered in 花蓮 happened at around 8 am in the morning, measuring at 5.9 on the Richter scale. Earthquakes of that magnitude are not surprising, and I haven’t heard of any major injuries or damage.

What I did not expect was finding out that a second year college student had stabbed passengers on 捷運 (Taipei Metro; MRT) at around 4 pm just as rush hour was starting. Four people have died and twenty-one were injured. Violence like this is uncommon in Taipei and all of Taiwan.

This is especially scary because people take 捷運 all the time – to work, to school, just as a general mode of transportation. It is usually a place where the hospitality and generosity of Taipei can be seen. Designated seats for the elderly sometimes sit empty because no one wants to take those seats. The stations and trains are clean. There are designated train cars for bikes. People wait for passengers on the train to exit before boarding.

I’m in complete shock and had to stop looking at news articles and pictures. There was blood on the train and on the platform. There is video footage, but I decided against looking at it. I read some first-person accounts of the incident and they are frightening. There were some courageous uncles who used umbrellas to try to keep the assailant at a distance.

Unfortunately this type of situation is one of the few times Taiwan makes on the global news. It looks like many papers decided to publish the Associated Press article on this incident; I don’t remember seeing that many papers publish the AP or Reuters articles on the Sunflower Movement. This is also the type of situation where the Taiwanese media starts showing poor journalism ethics and sensationalizes the incident. I’m going to try to choose the better articles, but sometimes it might not be possible because it may be the only article that mentions something important.

4 People Killed in Taiwan Subway Stabbing Spree – Associated Press
Taiwan Student Detained After Four Killed in Subway Attack – Bloomberg
MRT attacker kills 4 people, injures 22 – Taipei Times

Blaming the Sunflower Movement for the 521 Massacre – Thinking Taiwan
Sunflower Activist Terrorizes Taipei Subway, 4 Dead – Dallas Blog
This is really scary. I did read in the Taiwanese media that some politicians were trying to blame this on the Sunflower Movement. The stabbing and the Sunflower Movement are completely unrelated. I was glad that J. Michael Cole wrote an essay regarding this issue on Thinking Taiwan. However, I did not think this falsehood would be published in English.

北捷隨機砍人 21歲大學生:從小立志做大事 – 新頭殼newtalk
不要進去! 染血婦逃出大喊:裡面有人有刀 – 聯合報
走開走開!雨傘哥、白髮伯 勇擋凶嫌 – 聯合報
北捷砍殺案鄭嫌 法官複訊後裁定收押 – 新頭殼newtalk
我是江子翠人,我想活在更好的社會 – 想想Thinking Taiwan
Fw: [討論] 由台北江子翠捷運案討論犯罪心理學 – 看板 PublicIssue – 批踢踢實業坊
精神醫學會:悲劇後面都有求援的聲音 – 新頭殼newtalk
民眾為北捷亡者獻花:會讓台灣變更好 – 新頭殼newtalk