Formosa Files

Formosa Files

FORMOSA FILES -
THE AMAZING HISTORY OF TAIWAN
This top-rated history podcast tells stories from the history of Formosa (Taiwan) from circa 1600 C.E. - 2000 C.E., via interesting, lesser-known short stories presented in a non-chronological order.

The Formosa Files podcast
is sponsored by the
FRANK CHEN FOUNDATION
(陳啟川先生文教基金會)
Website: https://www.frank-chen.org.tw/

HOSTS: John Ross is an author and co-founder of publisher Camphor Press, which specializes in books on Taiwan and China in English, while Eryk Michael Smith has worked as a writer and journalist for multiple media outlets in Taiwan, including the island's only English-language radio station ICRT (FM 100.7). Both Ross and Smith have lived in Taiwan for well over 20 years and call the island home.

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-Formosa Files Podcast

Email us at: formosafiles@gmail.com

Recent Episodes

At the turn of the 20th century, Japan was on a roll. After taking Formosa and Penghu from Qing China in 1895, Japan beat mighty Russia in 1905. Eager to show the world its newfound economic strength – and to highlight the successful development of its new colony – the Japanese parliament voted vast sums of money to sponsor the Japan-British Exhibition. It was held in London from May to October 1910. Among the most “wild” displays the Japanese brought to London was a recreated Paiwan village, with live Indigenous Paiwan Formosans!

NOTE: This episode was first released in September 2021.

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The southern peninsula of Taiwan was a "ship graveyard" for a very long time as unseen rocks and reefs gashed holes in the sides of vessels and left them stranded, or on the seafloor. The Western powers and Qing authorities both agreed that a lighthouse at the far southern end of Taiwan would be a good idea, and so it fell upon English engineer Michael Beazeley and fellow employees of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs Service to set off from Takao (Kaohsiung) overland into "savage" territory to find and buy a piece of land for a lighthouse. Here's the illuminating origin story of the famous Eluanbi Lighthouse at Kenting.

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You're hiking in the hills of Taichung in the early 1990s and suddenly come across ... an orangutan? What's more, this massive great ape is um ... in need of some, um ... "affection," and gets handsy. An unlikely scenario, right? But, that story is true! There was a time when Taiwan was gripped by a craze for baby orangutans. These apes, however, grow rather fast, and some of them were subsequently "set free." Here's that wild story, plus some others related to the "bad old days" when Taiwan was not a safe haven for many kinds of wild animals.

NOTE: This episode was first released in Season One -- Formosa Files S1-E13, Nov. 21, 2021

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This week we have another snippet from the audiobook of John's 2020 book, Taiwan in 100 Books. This extract tells the tale of Janet Montgomery McGovern, a feisty anthropologist who managed to cut through the red tape and official disapproval from Japanese colonial authorities in Formosa during her residence from 1916 to 1918, and headed up into the hills to learn about Taiwan's Indigenous Peoples -- most of whom had already given up headhunting by then. We'll also hear a "rose-colored glasses" 1921 travel account of a very brief visit to Taiwan by Englishman Owen Rutter. Enjoy!

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No, we're not talking about romantic adventures; in this episode, the "dating" we're discussing is the days, months, and years kind. Why is it about to become the year 112 in Taiwan? Why is 2023 not just the year of the rabbit, but the year of the water rabbit? Why do some people in Taiwan have three birthdays? Enjoy the last Formosa Files podcast in Min Guo 111. And Happy New Year!

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Eryk calls John for a chat about Yen Chia-kan (嚴家淦, Yan Jiagan) the president of the Republic of China (Taiwan) for three years following the death of Chiang Kai-shek in 1975. Who was C.K. Yen, and why isn’t he better known? Here’s the story.

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We generally don't discuss politics very much on this podcast, but, when one of the world's most well-established international experts on politics in Taiwan is gracious enough to be willing to chat – we're gonna talk politics. While this might be perhaps too 'deep' for some, if you've spent some time in Taiwan and are interested in the political scene here, this short chat provides an interesting look at groups beyond the big party players. For more info on SOAS University of London, and Dr. Dafydd Fell's books, visit www.soas.ac.uk

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Ever heard of Count Maurice Benyovszky? He's not well known in Taiwan, but after this Polish-Slovakian-Hungarian semi-nobleman had a chance encounter with this island in 1771, he wrote a travel account that remained influential into the twentieth century. And the best part? Most of what he wrote is almost certainly fiction! His fanciful stories, however, included a call for Europeans to colonize Formosa. Finally, a century after his death, Benyovszky's tall tales would be part of the inspiration and justification for Japan’s “joining the big kids’ table” with its moves to conquer Taiwan.

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A fighter for women's rights, human rights, freedom of speech, and democracy, you can disagree with Annette Lu's politics (or with some of her very controversial comments) ...but you can't deny the impact this outspoken woman has had on Taiwanese society and history. Here's the story of how the daughter of a poor shopkeeper went from legislator, to Magistrate of Taoyuan, and finally, Vice-President of the Republic of China (Taiwan).

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We travel back to 1920s Taiwan, first in the company of Terry’s Guide to the Japanese Empire and then follow a Tokyo travel bureau itinerary for Japanese tourists to the island. Ride the rails with us as we visit Shinto shrines, sugar factories, former “savages,” and scenic spots (not just any scenic spots but the official “Eight Views of Taiwan”). And we look at perhaps the most interesting aspect of colonial sightseeing: free guided trips to Japan for Indigenous Taiwanese leaders. These propaganda trips were meant to demonstrate why resistance to the Empire was futile, but they were not always home runs.

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Between the late 1600s and mid-1800s, there was no Western presence on Taiwan. There were, however, a couple of special Western visitors of whom the wonderfully-named Joseph-Anne-Marie de Moyriac de Mailla was the most notable. This Jesuit priest was a hardcore scholar who spent 45 years in China. Emperor Kangxi gave de Mailla and fellow Jesuits a mission: "Go map my empire... including Taiwan!" This is the story of what the esteemed Jesuit priest saw when he visited Formosa in 1714.

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The Saisiyat Indigenous people in Hsinchu and Miaoli counties have a famous story about magical “little people” or “dwarfs” called the Koko’ ta’ay. The legend goes that tensions between the tribe and the “dwarfs” led to an incident that killed off the little people, and which called down a curse on the Saisiyat. While most dismissed these stories as a myth, new research seems to indicate that that there were, in fact, “Negrito” people, such as can still be found in small bands in the Philippines and elsewhere, on Taiwan at least 5000 years ago - which could see the history books rewritten and the Koko’ ta’ay folklore recognized as being based on real experience!

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