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How Taiwan Became Chinese: Dutch, Spanish, and Han Colonization in the Seventeenth Century (review)

From: The Journal of Military History
Volume 73, Number 4, October 2009
pp. 1319-1320 | 10.1353/jmh.0.0397

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This elegantly written book offers one of the best available syntheses of the history of Taiwan in early modern times. It uses a large number of Chinese secondary sources not usually available to Western readers.

As the title suggests, Andrade’s purpose in this study is to explain how Taiwan became part of China. This is not, however, as might be expected, another account of Chinese encroachment upon the aboriginal population of Taiwan, but rather concerns the Chinese response to the Dutch colonization of Taiwan (1624–1662), whose success, despite many difficulties, attracted a steady stream of peasants and entrepreneurs from China, a process Andrade calls “co-colonization.” This term is not meant to describe cooperation between the Dutch and Chinese, but instead refers to parallel and complementary undertakings by the two groups during the period of Dutch rule.

Chapter 1 presents the main features of the island, populated in the early modern era by some 100,000 Austronesian aborigines, who from the beginning of the seventeenth century were forced to contend with the presence of an increasing number of Chinese, most of them involved in piracy and smuggling. But everything changed when the Dutch arrived in 1624 and took control of the area around Tayouan (present day Tainan) in the southern part of the island. In Chapter 6, Andrade tells us that the Dutch decided to grant the Chinese the right to carry on farming in the fertile areas around Tayouan. The Chinese immigrants were to be considered Dutch subjects, while the aborigines were to be treated as serfs.

Once their Taiwan colony became prosperous in the 1640s, the Dutch decided to tax the Chinese more heavily, with the result that a revolt occurred in 1652. The uprising was put down with the help of the indigenous population, at a cost of some 4,000 deaths. The natives, meanwhile, met the Dutch requirement for tribute by becoming members of the United Villages, comprised of local people who had pledged allegiance to the Dutch East Indies Company or VOC, the joint stock company which was responsible for Dutch colonial policy throughout Asia. This kind of feudal relationship was made manifest in the Day of the Land, a yearly gathering of village representatives presided over by the governor to discuss matters pertaining to government.

The last two chapters focus more directly on the moment when Taiwan finally became Chinese, first by describing the rise to influence of the eventual conqueror of the island from the Dutch, the Japanese-born former pirate, Koxinga, loyal to the Ming dynasty in China. Both are topics that have already been treated at length in the earlier historiography, but Andrade adds to our understanding of events by including information from the diary of the garrisoning of the Dutch military fortress in Tayouan, De Dagregisters van het Kasteel Zeelandia.

The book ends with the well-known Chinese invasion of Taiwan in 1661 and the capitulation of the Dutch, in spite of efforts to succor the island from the Dutch base at Batavia in the East Indies. The arrival on the scene of Koxinga, who founded a new state in Taiwan and launched the process of sinicization in Taiwan, wraps up the book.

Andrade’s study draws heavily on primary sources, including archival materials, and is up to date in its use of secondary sources. The author was fortunate in that he started his research at the moment when an important series of documents were beginning to make their appearance, such as the four volumes of the diary of the garrison of the Zeelandia fortress in Tayouan transcribed and edited by Leonard Blussé and his team of scholars, and the collection of documents regarding the aborigines, The Formosan Encounter, also from Blussé and his collaborators. Particularly important are the studies currently being produced by Taiwanese scholars, such as the pléiade of Ang Kim, Peter Kang, Han Jibao (Pol Heyns), and so on. All of this taken together makes Taiwan a hot topic in the field of Early Modern History.

Copyright © 2009 The Society for Military History
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José Eugenio Borao. "How Taiwan Became Chinese: Dutch, Spanish, and Han Colonization in...



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