SOAS University of London

Centre of Taiwan Studies

Book Launch: Narrow Gauge Railways of Taiwan: Sugar, Shays and Toil

Michael Reilly

Date: 4 October 2018Time: 7:00 PM

Finishes: 4 October 2018Time: 9:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: KLT

Type of Event: Book Launch


At the time of the handover of Taiwan to Japan in 1895, internal communications on the island were almost non-existent. The Chinese had built a railway line, the first successful one in Imperial China, but on the gauge of 3ft 6in, rather than the standard gauge of 4ft 81/2in., reflecting the limited opportunities for traffic, the high costs of construction and the geographic challenges. Despite formidable mountain ranges, hostile tribes and the island's notorious earthquakes and typhoons, over the next 40 years railways were to go on to play possibly a greater role in national development than in any comparable country. Built to bring sugar cane from the fields, timber from the mountains, coal from mines and salt from the flats, at its peak Taiwan’s railway network was almost 5000 km in extent. But less than one-fifth of this was on the 3ft 6in gauge, the remainder being on narrower gauges, nearly 1300 km of it hand-powered tramways or ‘push-cart lines’ on 495mm. gauge or thereabouts. Collectively, these lines were to lay the foundations for the island's subsequent economic growth and opening up, ultimately providing a comprehensive transport network which served the needs of the island into the 1960s and beyond. They remain largely unknown outside Taiwan and this book is an attempt to bring their attention and their impact on Taiwan's development to a wider audience.

CTS - IMG-20180112 - Michael Reilly

Author Bio

Michael Reilly is a Non-resident Senior Fellow in the Taiwan Studies Programme at Nottingham University.A former career diplomat, he spent over 30 years working for the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, principally handling UK policy towards East and South East Asia. He has had diplomatic postings in Korea, the Philippines, to the OECD and to Taiwan. His final FCO appointment was as Director of the British Trade and Cultural office in Taipei from 2005-2009, the de facto British ambassador to Taiwan.Upon leaving Taiwan he joined BAE Systems, initially as Director, Far East, responsible for strategic advice on the company’s business development in North East Asia, before going on to serve as the company’s Chief Representative in China, based in Beijing, from 2011 to 2014. He retired from BAE Systems in 2015, since when he has pursued academic research, principally on the EU’s relations with Taiwan, but also on Taiwan’s railway history. In 2016, he was a Visiting Fellow at Academia Sinica in Taipei under the auspices of the Taiwan Fellowship programme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan). He has a PhD in Economic History from the University of Liverpool and a diploma in Korean from Yonsei University in Seoul.

Organiser: Centre of Taiwan Studies

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