Book review: Why Taiwan Matters: Small Island, Global Powerhouse, Shelley Rigger (2013)

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Prior to reading this book, I didn’t know much about Taiwan except a) lots of electronic items are made there b) it was previously a colony of Japan.  My interest in Taiwan was heightened recently upon the recent election of Tsai Ing Wen, partly due to her status as the first woman to do so – I didn’t really understand why this event was seen as controversial.

Fortunately this book provides a very comprehensive introduction to Taiwan’s social, political and economic history, as well as putting together interesting theories as to how Taiwan might be able to move forward vis-a-vis the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Whilst the author explains everything from an impartial perspective, her passion for the country and belief in its future is evident throughout.

I felt that the book did a particularly good job on fleshing out how the different ethnic groups have come to coexist and how this has informed the people’s perceptions on what it is to be Taiwanese.  It also highlighted the importance of democracy to the country, as well as how this is a key issue of contention with the PRC.  The section that I found the most interesting was the section on the Taiwanese economy; it is impressive how Taiwan was able to leverage its economic power to build cross-strait relations, despite the volatile nature of political relations. This use of economic power to build relations does draw some parallels with Japan, the key difference between the two nations being that Taiwan was the source of wartime aggression whereas Japan was the perpetrator. As a previous scholar of Japan, I feel the book has helped to inform my knowledge of Taiwan, China and wider regional relations. Similarly, it has reinforced the strategic relevance of states such as Taiwan and Japan to the US in terms of East Asia relations.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in Taiwan’s development and its relationship with the PRC in particular.

P.S You can hear the author Shelly Rigger discuss her book here, worth a watch!