The history of Taiwan–4. Koxinga

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

China’s Ming Dynasty reigned for 276 years under 16 emperors. The creative arts and sciences flourished. But its glory faded under an administration that became increasingly corrupt. At the same time, Manchu leaders built a strong base of support and a huge army in the northeastern provinces. They swept south, easily advancing against the crumbling Ming armies.

Before the Manchus reached Peking, the last Ming emperor, Sze Tsung (崇禎), named a Taiwan-based pirate, Cheng Chi-lung (鄭芝龍), to command the remnants of the Ming forces. Nevertheless, large bands of marauding badits eventually stormed Peking and opened the flood-gates for the Manchu armies to move in and seize control of the govenrment. Emperor Sze Tsung hung humself, a humiliating final act in the saga of a glorious era.

Cheng, meanwhile, managed to keep the Ming army together. He also took a Japanese wife who bore him a son that he named Cheng Cheng-kung (鄭成功). The son inferited the Ming banner from his faterh. With it went a new name, Kuo Hsing-yeh, “Lord of the Imperial Surname.” He is bettern known to the West as Koxinga (國姓爺).

With an army of more than 100,000 men and an armada of 3,000 war junks, Koxinga carried on the fight against the Manchus from 1646 until 1658. At one point, he almost recaptured the southern capital of Nanking. But the overwhelming Manchu manpower finally forced Koxinga to retreat to the island bastion of Taiwan, an event that eerily foreshadowed the manner in which Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) would lead his Nationalist patriots across the Taiwan Strait 300 years later.

Koxinga’s Island

In Taiwan, Koxinga encountered the Dutch, who discounted him as a mere pirate incapable of mounting a serious threat. But Koxinga’s spies, aided by Dutch deserters, provided valuable intelligence. In 1661, Koxinga sailed down the coast with 30,000 armed men in a large fleet of war junks and forced 600 Dutch settlers and 2,200 Dutch soldiers to take up arms at the three coastal forts. The seige lasted nearly two years. Koxinga captured Fort Zeelandia and graciously permitted the Dutch governor and his surviving men to leave the island with their remaining possessions. Dutch rule in Taiwan ended a mere 38 years after it began, a trifle by the Chinese calendar.

With the Japanese, Spanish and Dutch all having withdrawn, Taiwan became the personal domain of Koxinga. He gave the island its first formal Chinese government and turned it into a Ming enclave that defied Peking long after the Manchus had established firm control over the entire mainland.

Koxinga’s reign was brief but influential. He set up his court and government at Fort Zeelandia near Tainan and developed transportation and educational systems.Great strides were made in agriculture. Tainan became the political and commercial center and Anping grew into a prosperous harbor.

Perhaps Koxinga’s greatest and most lasting contribution to Taiwan was his love for things Chinese. He ushered in a renaissance of many ancient Chinese laws, institutions, traditional customs and lifestyles. His entourage included more than 1,000 carefully chosen scholars, artists, monks and masters of every branch of Chinese culture.

Koxinga died at the age of 38 only a year after his conquest of Taiwan. He was later named a national hero and is venerated in Taiwan as a chun tzu (君子), “perfect man.”

The Manchus take over

Koxinga’s son and grandson maintained rule over Taiwan until 1684 when the Manchus finally succeeded in imposing sovereignty over the island, snuffing out the last pocket of Ming patriotism. Taiwan officially became an integral part of the Chinese empire as the Ching court of the Manchus conferred the status of fu (府;prefecture) on the island. But Ching rule remained nominal at best. The Manchu magistrates sent to govern Taiwan usually succumbed to intrigues and self-indulgent decadence.

Despite strict prohibitions against further emigration to Taiwan, colonists continued to pour across the Strait from the mainland. During the first 150 years of Manchu rule, Karl Gutzlaff, a Prussian missionary who visited Taiwan in 1831, observed: “The island has flourished greatly since it has been in the possession of the Chinese… The rapidity with which this island has been colonized, and the advantages it affords for the colonists to throw off their allegiance, have induced the Chinese to adopt strict measures… The colonists are wealthy and unruly…”

One early bone of contention between China and the West concerned the fate of shipwrecked sailors washed ashore on Taiwan. These hopelessly involuntary visitors were routinely beaten, imprisoned and often beheaded, either by the Chinese authorities or by aboriginal savages. Whenever the Western powers sued the court of Peking to intervene in such incidents, they discovered that Peking had little real authority over island affairs, and even less interest. So Western nations resorted to “gunboat diplomacy” to rescue their crews from Taiwan, and dealt with the islanders rather than with the Manchus in Peking.

History of Tainan (Koxinga’s base)

  1. patty0821 說道:

    After publishing this series of articles, it would be great to write up some sinological articles catering for learners with intermediate or lower-intermediate level. ( Pardon me if I am being nosy. )

    • benology0317 說道:

      You are right, and that’s a part of my plan. Actually, I am editing the original text a little bit, such as tagging Chinese names, to make the text more accessible to readers (if any -.-" ha!). Besides, I spent lots of time searching videos which may support the content so that readers can have a better understanding of the text. Anyway, as soon as I cover other subjects of sinology to make the part more comprehensive, and reboot my FB account to promote visibility, I may take on an intermediate-level version of sinology. Thanks a lot, and you are not nosy at all.^^


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