The Psalmanazar Affair and the Birth of Taiwan Studies in Europe: a Reassessment of the Historic Hoax

In: International Journal of Taiwan Studies

A history of European Taiwan studies must mention a controversial man: George Psalmanazar. He not only claimed to be a native Formosan at meetings of the Royal Society but also published a book filled with his fictitious fantasy. This study suggests that Psalmanazar’s bold imposture encouraged the Royal Society to conduct a pioneering study of Formosa/Taiwan. Rather than rely on published travelogues to study remote places, the Royal Society found a qualified witness who had been to Formosa/Taiwan to offer reliable information. Based on Samuel Griffith’s testimony, the Royal Society agreed to reject Psalmanazar’s account. However, they remained silent in public and archived the conclusion against Psalmanazar. After the affair, Psalmanazar repented by providing correct information about Formosa/Taiwan in books that he was later involved with editing in the mid-eighteenth century. Thus, Psalmanazar was not only a catalyst of Formosa/Taiwan studies in Europe but also a researcher of the island.

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