Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Book Review: Selya, Development and Demograpic Change in Taiwan

Development and Demographic Change in Taiwan, 1945-1995.
Roger Mark Selya
Singapore: World Scientific. 457pp.

Roger Mark Selya's well written and excruciatingly detailed work Development and Demographic Change in Taiwan: 1945-1995 is a book no Taiwan bibliophile should be without. More than just a dry compendium of dull facts, Selya not only portrays and explains Taiwan's social change, but also provides a massive list of references, as well as exploring the arguments on the issues. The book is augmented by copious maps and tables. Selya is a geographer at the University of Cincinnati.

A typical Selya paragraph is a miniature encyclopedia. Consider, for example, the malaria programs:
Large-scale antimalarial chemotherapy programs were begun under the Japanese Administration, a practice that was continued after 1947 (Liang, 1991). Chemotherapy programs did keep malarial parasite infestation rates low, reduced the potential economic damage the disease could impose on families, and reduced the suffering of the individuals (Liang, 1991). However, one major drawback to this approach was that the transmission of malaria was not interrupted (Chuang, 1991). Thus, in 1952 some 1.2 million people, or 15.4% of the population, were infected with malaria; some 2196 people died of malaria that same year, making this disease the tenth leading cause of death....
The numerous references not only aid the reader in understanding the debates, but also encourage further exploration of the issues.

The book consists of seven major sections covering major demographic topics: Introduction; Growth, Distribution, Composition, and Structure; Fertility; Mortality, Morbidity, and Public Health; Migration; Population Policies; and Summary and Conclusion. Each section discusses major issues in that area. For example, under Mortality, Morbidity, and Public Health, there are discussions of major diseases, accidents, and suicides. Not only are the changes discussed, but the evolution of policy is presented, enabling the reader to understand how Taiwan came to be the way it is today. They also point out continuing problems any current resident of the island will be aware of....

...In this regard Lin (1992) has calculated that little would be gained in increased life expectancy at birth for women through the elimination of 50 percent of the mortality due to cardiovascular diseases and cancer. In contrast, men would gain some 1.27 years, if motor vehicle deaths were reduced by 50 percent.

Nor is Selya afraid to withhold judgment or praise when necessary. Speaking of Taiwan's motor vehicle accident rates, "the highest motor vehicle fatality rate of any industrialized country," Selya tartly observes:

"What is especially disturbing about accidents in Taiwan is that common sense policies and practices if but implemented could lead to a radical decrease in both the number of accidents and accident related mortality."

Something we foreigners here say every day, except we usually add a string of expletives after that sentence. But further on Selya gives credit where credit is due:

"In contrast to accidents, Taiwan has adopted or instituted simple and effective methods for preventing suicides. It is no longer possible to buy sleeping pills across the counter, for example."

This volume is an absolute gold mine of information. For example, we learn on page 333 that back in 1991 then-premier Hau Pei-tsun directed the Council on Labor Affairs to study the idea of bringing workers over from China and legislation was actually initiated in the Legislative Yuan. Fortunately the idea was killed. Another fascinating topic is that of differential disease rates among spatially close populations. For example, thalassemia, a genetic blood disease, is quite prevalent in south China, but is not common at all among Taiwan Han populations, only 5% for the alpha and 1% for the beta -- but among the aborigines some groups are as high as 17% and as low as 1.2%. Another interesting moment occurs when Selya defines the four "ethnic" groups in Taiwan: foreigners, aborigines, Mainland Chinese, and Taiwanese. Of course foreigners do not form an ethnic group, he explains, but they can be treated as one for demographic purposes.

This is a thoroughly useful and practical book that surveys almost every aspect of Taiwan's demographic change in the postwar period. I highly recommend it to any student of Taiwan's history, and to anyone interested in comparative studies of demographic change.


Anonymous said...

The section on mortality is really interesting and the special section on Aboriginal births, deaths and economics opens up some interesting avenues for discussion.

A 5-Star read.

Anonymous said...

A majority of Taiwanese office workers based in China want to return to Taiwan to
work, while many of their peers in Taiwan want to go to China, according to the results of an online poll released Saturday.

TicoExpat said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Michael.

Just yesterday as I watched the Spiral Road -for Rock Hudson's sake, they do not make them like that anymore- I was wondering if that was Taiwan like -well, Formosa at that time- and what the first doctors had to cope with here...

Like a favorite book of mine, the tales of a US traveler in early 19 century down Central America.

Anonymous said...

Hey Michael, have you seen the World Games chairman throwing a temper tantrum and leaving a ceremony because of ROC flags appearing?

Who is this guy and why does he act like a grounded 13 year old storming off in anger? Why does he look like he's playing according to China's "You've provoked me and I'm ANGRY" playbook? So nuts...

Anonymous said...

So why is it the host country can't display it's own flag?

The 2005 World Games were held in Germany:

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

Michael Fahey said... fact you can buy sleeping pills over the counter in Taiwan although I'm not sure how deadly they are. Sleeping pill prescription are also incredibly common and people can and do OD on them all the time. For whatever cultural reasons, poisoning oneself with carbon monoxide by burning charcoal seems to be the most popular and available way to off oneself in Taiwan these days.