Taiwan in the frame

Among the proselytizers, merchants and adventurers from Europe who inserted themselves into Taiwan’s early modern history, George Psalmanazar is notorious. Centuries before the Chinese Communist Party began faking news about Taiwan, this (most likely) French-born hoaxer, who claimed to be a Formosan and invented his own language to prove it, was regaling eighteenth century London with tales of annual mass sacrifice, floating villages and laws permitting the cannibalization of adulterous wives.

While Psalmanazar later admitted his fraud and actually helped to edit genuine accounts of Taiwan, his real name, birthplace and other key details of his life remained a mystery. It wasn’t until 1968 that the first comprehensive account of The Great Formosan Impostor was published.

The book’s author, Father Frederic Foley, made a valuable contribution to documenting Taiwan’s postwar history. In several curious ways, Foley’s life parallels the subject of his biography — most obviously in the pair’s shared Jesuit background. Yet, unlike Psalmanazar, who is well-known among Formosaphiles, Foley remains relatively obscure.

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