Last week, I stumbled across an extraordinary book. I had set it aside for review in a Taipei Sunday newspaper before fully appreciating its message. At first glance, June Yip's Envisioning Taiwan looked like a fairly conventional academic analysis of trends in Taiwanese fiction and cinema during the 1980s and 1990s. It was only when I reached the end that I realised what an extraordinary claim its author was making. It has been commonplace among academics for some time that the nation-state is not a hard and fast reality. These areas that look so brightly coloured on maps, they argue, have, in reality, simply been constructed in the minds of our forebears; people who believed that similarities of language, geography, history and perhaps ethnic makeup created entities that should be called 'nations', each with its own flag, anthem, national day, for example. But, say these academics, you do not have to go back very far to discover a state of affairs when these things did not apply. Furthermore, the future may not look like that, either. Increasingly, they claim, the world is being run by international corporations, contact is via the internet across national boundaries, and so on. The nationality we believe we belong to is fast decreasing in importance. Enter Taiwan. After chewing over ideas of uncertain identity as displayed in Taiwanese films and novels, Yip proposes that this lack of an agreed status that supposedly bedevils Taiwan may not be such a bad thing. It may, in fact, be a foretaste of a future in which strict national identities no longer exist. Far from being a territory sidelined from international affairs, as some have feared, hi-tech, multicultural Taiwan may be blazing a trail into the future of all mankind. I must admit to being a little astonished by this trumpet-call in Yip's final chapter. The book had been largely a set of arguments about a limited number of art works, none of them with a wide public appeal. And yet here was a major idea; a post-modern concept to put new wind into the sails of politicians of almost any political stripe. Did it have any basis in reality, I wondered? Possibly. But the structures of national frontiers, tariffs, taxation, armies and so on will not be easily removed. They represent, after all, not so much the creations of our eccentric ancestors as the realities of present-day power. States can take your money, send you away to die in wars against a perceived enemy, and in some cases execute you. They can neither be easily dismantled nor easily dismissed. The concept is a fascinating one, but as applied to Taiwanese mindsets rather than political realities. Even so, Yip is to be congratulated. If the idea gains currency, it could set the cat among a wide variety of pigeons.