The indigenous peoples of Taiwan (traditionally known in the West as ‘Formosa’) were Austronesian peoples and it was not until the 17th century that the island was dramatically altered by colonialism (by Spain and the Netherlands), and the first of many waves of Chinese migration for the mainland. During the rule of the Qing Dynasty (1683 – 1895), the fertile plains that occupied the east coast and northern tip of the island became densely populated with Han Chinese residents, and were heavily developed for agriculture. The indigenous Taiwanese were relegated to living in the island’s extremely mountainous and forested interior and along its rugged west coast, regions that collectively became known to outsiders as the ‘Savage District’. Indeed, even though the 19th century very few Chinese or Europeans ventured into this zone, which was still essentially controlled by its indigenous peoples, while it immense natural wonders were largely an enigma to science.
Following the Sino-Japanese War (1894-5), Taiwan was taken over by Melji Japan, the recently hyper-industrialized military mega-power. The Japanese immediately announced plans to industrialize Taiwan and to impose its authority throughout the island, including upon the ‘Savage District’, or as much of it as was practicable. However, many elements of the Chinese community rebelled against Japanese rule. This resistance was sporadic, but was at times spirited, and it was crushed by 1902. The resentment of the indigenous people to Japanese rule brewed more gradually and would not peak until some years later.
Enter Karl Theodor Stöpel (1862 – 1940) was a brilliant German polymath, who became a renown traveller, adventurer, economist, ethnographer and archeologist, with major accomplishments on three continents. Born to a wealthy landholding family in the Rhineland, Stöpel worked as a banker before attending university in Heidelberg and Berlin. From 1896 to 1899, he embarked on an incredibly ambitious world tour that took him to the United States Cuba, Mexico (where he climbed Mount Popocatépetl), Hawaii, Siberia, Korea and China.
Towards the end of his tour, Stöpel arrived in Taiwan, which was experiencing the early period of Japanese occupation. He was amazed by this society that was undergoing a rapid economic-political transition, and resolved to boldly explore the island, despite the obvious dangers and uncertainties. He observed the vibrant Chinese community which was deeply distressed by their new heavy-handed overlords, and he was an eyewitness to their ill-fated attempts to overthrow the Japanese rule. More importantly, Stöpel ventured deep into the ‘Savage District’, becoming one of the first outsiders to provide a detailed scientific analysis of the region, the indigenous Taiwanese people and the land’s amazing natural wonders.
Significantly, on December 26, 1898, Stöpel, an accomplished mountaineer, became the first known person to ascend Yu Shan, Taiwan’s highest peak, which at 3,952 metres (12, 966 feet) is the fourth tallest mountain on any island. Yu Shan was then known to Westerners as Mount Morrison, and to the Japanese as Niitakayama (meaning ‘New High Mountain’) because it had recently become the tallest peak in the Japanese Empire, being 176 metres higher than Mount Fuji.
Stöpel returned to Germany and completed his Ph.D. in economics at Heidelberg in 1902, before heading to Buenos Aires to serve as the Commercial Attaché to the Germans Consulate. It was there that he completed his account of his adventures in Taiwan, and the German Scientific Association in Buenos Aires sponsored its publication in 1905.
Focusing upon the present work, here Stöpel provides one of the first, and perhaps most valuable, accounts of the mysterious interior of Taiwan, and well as granting an insight into the island just as it was coming under Japanese domination. He starts by giving an expert analysis of Meiji Japan and it ambitions in Taiwan, as well as providing a background to the current state of the island, before giving a vivid, engaging account of his tour down the east coast and into the interior, ‘unenforschten Gebeits’ (unexplored areas, as he called the ‘Savage District’). All along the way his regales the reader with fascinating vignettes and impressions of the Chinese people and their struggles against the new Japanese regime, as well as the indigenous Taiwanese who held on their culture as it was threated by the march of modernity. His relation of entering the unspoiled majestic realm of Taiwan’s highest mountains is a pleasure to read. The text is illustrated with numerous images of photographs taken by the author.
The work is divided into eight sections: 1) Japans political and economic rise and it designs on Taiwan; 2) the Importance of Taiwan; 3) the island’s Geography; 4) Taiwan’s History; 5) Stöpel’s trip into the Interior; 6) the Foothills leading up to Yu Shan; 7) the Ascent of Yu Shan; 8) the Decent of Yu Shan; and 9) the Future of Taiwan under Japanese Rule.
The work features a fine custom-made folding map of Taiwan that provides an accurate and detailed overview of its topography and settlements, noting the boundary between the well-developed areas and the ‘unenforschten Gebeits’ (unexplored areas, or ‘Savage District’). Also marked are the locations of mineral resources (gold, coal petroleum) and key crops (sugar, camphor, tea, rice, indigo, tobacco, sweet potatoes, etc.). Notably, the map traces Stöpel’s travel route from the Taipei area, in the north, the halfway down the east coast, before heading inland into the little-known interior, where he climbed Yu Shan.
A Note on Rarity
While there are quite a few examples of the work in libraries worldwide, although the work is rare on the market; we can trace only single sales record for another example from the last 25 years.
References: British Library: General Reference Collection 10057.ee.31.; Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin: Chin cd 49; L °; OCLC: 11587832; Palau 322624.