The history of Taiwan–3. Pirates, traders, and foreign invaders

Posted: 2013 年 10 月 12 日 in The history of Taiwan

Pirates, traders, and foreign invaders

During the 15th and 16th centuries, Taiwan became a haven for marauding pirates and freewheeling traders form both China and Japan who preyed on the East China coast. The distinction between pirates and traders was largely gratuitous in those days because both groups operated illegally in Taiwan. The island suited their needs. Its industrious inhabitants produced an abundance of food and other vital supplies. Better yet, the populace governed itself along clan and village lines without interference fomr Peking or elsewhere.

Because it was close the the trading centers and shipping lanes of China, Japan, and Hong Kong, yet free from their political control, Taiwan turned into a pirates’ paradise. When times were good, they traded. When times were bad, they raided. Now ersatz Rolex and Cartier watches and “pirated” editions of Western best-sellers go for a fraction of their original prices in Taiwan, bolstering the island’s reputation as a haven for modern “pirate” manufacturers and publishers. Old habits are hard to break.

The Japanese first attempted to annex Taiwan in 1593 after the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豐臣秀吉) unsuccessfullly tried to conquer China by way of Korea. Hideyoshi’s designs on Taiwan fared no better. The island proved too unruly to control from afar.

Nevertheless, Europeans next tried to take the island. The Dutch turned to Taiwan after they failed to wrest Macao from their bitter rivals, the Portuguese. In 1624, they established a settlement on the southern coast and built three forts. Fort Zeelandia (熱蘭遮城), near Tainan, is a tourist attraction.

Fort Zeelandia, now Fort An-ping


Under the Dutch

In classic colonial fashion, the Dutch imposed heavy taxes and labor requirements on the Chinese residents of Taiwan and imported zealous missionaries to convert them to Christianity. The Dutch East India Company gained the exclusive commercial rights to the island and imported opium from Java in the Dutch East Indies. The Dutch taught the Chinese to mix tobacco with opium and smoke it. The habit rapidly took root in Taiwan, then spread to Amoy (廈門) and the mainland. Two centuries later, opium would play a notorious role in the terminal decline of the Ching Dynasty, and would become the catalyst for war between China and Britain.

For a while, the Dutch lived in relative harmony with the local residents of Taiwan. Their missionaries’ religious intolerance ignited a revolt in 1640, but that was easily suppressed. Meanwhile, the Spanish had built two garrisons (Fort San Domingo, 淡水紅毛城) on the northern end of Taiwan. The jealous Dutch, wishing maintain complete control over the island’s foreign trade, drove the Spanish out of Taiwan in 1642. That same year also marked the beginning of the Manchu conquest of the mainland, an eventuality that exerted lasting impact on Taiwan.

Fort San Domingo in Danshui



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