As Taiwan tends to be overshadowed by its powerful Asian neighbors, China and Japan, its historiography has also been dominated by China- or Japan-centric perspectives. Tonio Andrade’s How Taiwan Became Chinese, however, considers the history of Taiwan before it became embroiled in the tug-of-war between China and Japan in the early twentieth century. Andrade describes Taiwan in the seventeenth century as a land populated by aborigines who hunted deer to meet their own needs and engaged in small-scale trade with the outside world. The lack of interest of the Chinese and Japanese in maritime trade and overseas expansion left a vacuum of power that was filled by the Spanish and Dutch, who set up colonies in Northern and Southern Taiwan, respectively. While the Spanish established a colony in the island, the Dutch did not send their own countrymen to live in Taiwan, but rather encouraged Chinese farmers to cross the Taiwan Strait and settle there as farmers. This key process, which Andrade terms “co-colonization,” made the difference between the short-lived Spanish colony and the Dutch colony, which managed to form a relatively stable relationship with both the settler Chinese and the aborigines, until Ming Dynasty loyalist Zheng Chenggong fought and defeated the Dutch. After Zheng’s death, the Qing state occupied Taiwan, but its attitude towards Taiwan was alternately one of general prejudice or indifference. It was not until China ceded Taiwan to the Japanese after being defeated in the 1895 Sino-Japanese War, that China began to believe that its full sovereignty extended to Taiwan.
Andrade places the island of Formosa (the name by which Taiwan was also known) in the context of three primary points of analysis: international and colonial trade networks, complex ethnic and cultural relationships, and geographic conditions of East Asia in the seventeenth century. In this light, Andrade successfully demonstrates the ways in which colonial policy in Formosa was affected by conditions in other colonies. In this regard, the book illustrates Formosa’s role in the early history of global trade and diplomacy. Rather than suffering from simplistic geographic determinism, the book compellingly illustrates Formosa’s involvement in world trade and diplomacy. As an early and unstable colony of European maritime powers, Formosa frequently caused headaches for Spanish and Dutch administrators at home, as evidenced by official correspondence. Yet, despite the difficulties of dealing with unfamiliar and strong aborigines, who unlike the Aztecs and Incas were immune to Old World diseases, foreign powers were evidently cognizant of the benefits of having Formosa as a colony to facilitate participation in East Asian trade. Co-colonization was the Dutch way of creating a more stable colony on Formosa, but the presence of the Chinese was a double-edged sword. On one hand, there was a steady supply of Fujianese farmers starved of land who wanted to work in Formosa. On the other hand, at the end of the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese population living in Formosa enabled Zheng to attack the Dutch under the pretext of freeing his Chinese subjects from their Dutch colonial yoke.
Andrade’s narrative style is engaging and lively, using personal narratives and sources from the Dutch East India Company. While this is a work about the economic relationships that underlie and arise out of colonialism, to a lesser extent it also accounts for the significance of cultural practices. For example, Andrade discusses how Dutch administrators on Formosa donned the trappings of feudal lords and used their symbolic power to negotiate peace among different aborigine tribes. Andrade also uses personal narratives to reconstruct episodes, usually from European perspectives, that offer glimpses into aborigine life, seventeenth-century battles, and cultural encounters.
Even though “Taiwan” and “Formosa” are interchangeable now, Andrade vacillates between the terms when talking about Dutch or Spanish rule; while this does not detract from the value of his work, it can be particularly jarring. Furthermore, the discussion of “becoming Chinese” inevitably has a cultural element, but this is not the focus of Andrade’s book. Here, the process of “becoming” refers to the political and economic incorporation of Taiwan into Chinese administration, rather than about cultural assimilation by force or incentive, a focus that...