Tracking Taiwan’s modern development (Taipei Times review of A Century of Development in Taiwan)

The following book review appeared in Taipei Times on November 9, 2023.

It’s no fun beginning a review with an extended whinge; but it’s not often that an academic work is so plagued with errors as to make one wince and mutter in exasperation within the first few pages.

Many are basic grammatical mistakes — some commonplace enough to be stereotypical of non-native English speakers: unnecessary definite articles, confused past-tense forms, causative verbs followed by to-infinitives.

Others involve unnatural constructions that translation software would struggle to mangle so spectacularly. Idiomatic usage is also often askew: In an otherwise excellent discussion of Taiwan’s sovereignty, which spotlights three crucial years — 1951, 1971 and 1991 — Chen Yi-shen (陳儀深) writes that “the KMT’s [Chinese Nationalist Party] waishengren bigwigs, and the party-state throwback would all go down in history.” The phrase, which is intended to convey a pejorative meaning, achieves almost the opposite effect.

Then there are the glaring inconsistencies — Chinese nomenclature and terminology rendered in different ways, often within quick succession. To take an early example: the Petition Movement for the Establishment of a Taiwanese Parliament (臺灣議會設置請願運動), as it is most commonly known in English, is initially referred to as such in a foreword by Waseda University professor Masahiro Wakabayashi, an expert on cross-strait relations. Yet, two pages later it’s the “Petition of Establishing a Taiwan Parliament” (complete with quotation marks) before reverting to the original, a further two pages on, in the book’s introduction by Peter C.Y. Chow (周鉅原), the book’s editor.

By page eight of that same introduction, it has become a mish-mash of lower and upper-casing: the petition of establishment of Taiwan Parliament movement, with prepositions and articles discarded. Finally, in chapter nine, where Academia Sinica sociologist Hsin-huang Michael Hsiao (蕭新煌) provides a history of Taiwan’s civil society movements, we get the Taiwan Assembly Petition Movement. It’s a horrendous muddle.

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