The Formosa Fraud

Graham Earnshaw

More than 300 years ago, the island of Taiwan was a topic of hot controversy in London, thanks to a stupendous fraud perpetrated by a Frenchman claiming to have been born on the island. He made highly controversial claims about the life and the history of Taiwan, then called Formosa, and his book on the subject was a publishing sensation in London in 1704. His name, George Psalmanazar, was fake, and he never told anyone what his real name was or where he came from. But his Formosan stories of mass killings of young boys, of people living underground, of elephants and camels and gold mines was for a time widely accepted, including even by the Bishop of London who invited Psalmanazar to teach his (fake) Formosan language at Oxford University. This is the story of one of the great frauds in literary history.