George Psalmanazar’s 18th century fabulations of Taiwan – Graham Earnshaw
EXCERPTED FROM FORMOSA FRAUD
Taiwan is the topic on everyone’s lips. What’s going on there? Who does the island rightfully belong to? How important is the influence of the West? What is the real culture of the island’s residents? The debate rages.
Is this the early twenty-first century? No. It’s London more than three hundred years ago, at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
In 1704, a man appeared in England with the most extraordinary stories about Taiwan, or Formosa as it was then called. How eighteen-thousand boys are killed every year as part of Formosan religious ceremonies; the island is a major producer of gold and silver; and Catholic priests are causing trouble there.
He said his name was George Psalmanazar, and his information about Formosa – it’s culture, history, society and economy – captivated the English reading public. He published a book on the topic which went into a second edition, he gave speeches, he was fêted by the Bishop of London, he went to Oxford to teach Formosan. There was just one problem with the situation: his whole story was fake.