The Island: A Personal Account of Taiwan’s Extraordinary Transformation
On his first morning in Taiwan in 1981, Mark O’Neill was awoken by military conscripts singing a patriotic song on the sports ground of their camp. It was a fitting introduction to martial law and the start of his 40-year journey through the island moored off the coast of Fujian province. Next came learning the Chinese language – traditional characters only, please – and the curious love affair between Taiwan and Japan, the former colonial power, remembered in statues, buildings, and sumo tournaments on television. In a history museum, he learned how Western Presbyterian missionaries invented a Roman script for the Taiwan language and created a church that challenged the Japanese and the Kuomintang that ruled the island for many decades after the end of World War II. He spent a year with a Taiwanese Buddhist charity foundation, the biggest NGO in the Chinese world, and explored the museum in Taipei which holds the most exquisite of the art treasures from Beijing’s Imperial Palace. He watched the extraordinary transformation of Taiwan’s economy, from making plastic shoes and tennis racquets to the world’s most sophisticated electronics and semi-conductors — and also the transformation of the island from one party rule to noisy democracy. This is a very readable account of the island’s 40-year miracle – touching, personal and full of humour, anecdotes and insights.