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  • Barbaren, rebellen en mandarijnen: De VOC in de slag met China in de Gouden Eeuw by Aad van Amstel
  • Leonard Blussé (bio)
Aad van Amstel. Barbaren, rebellen en mandarijnen: De VOC in de slag met China in de Gouden Eeuw. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Thoeris, 2011. 368pp. Paperback €23.50, isbn 978-90-72219-65-7.

In February 2012, a Taiwanese delegation, consisting of the minister of indigenous affairs, Sun Ta-ch’uan, and fifty-five indigenous district officials, visited Holland on a fact-finding mission. The visitors were received at Leiden University and at the National Archives in The Hague, where the archives of the former Dutch East India Company [Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC)] are kept. The objective of these Taiwanese visitors was to acquire more knowledge about their own history during the so-called Dutch colonial period in Taiwan. Starting with the establishment of Castle Zeelandia in the summer of 1624, the Dutch ran a colonial administration until they had to surrender power to the Chinese warlord and Ming loyalist Zheng Chenggong, alias Coxinga, on February 1, 1662.

During the thirty-seven years that the Dutch maritime trading company more or less controlled large parts of the island, its functionaries, merchants, local administrators, and clergymen kept diaries and travelogues and wrote various reports about their daily encounters with the indigenous peoples of Formosa, as the island was called in those days. Ironically, from that relatively short period, more written evidence has been preserved about Taiwan’s indigenous society than during the two hundred years of Qing dynasty rule, when the island was effectively transformed from an ethnically Austro-Malay culture into a Chinese frontier society. Nowadays, only some 450,000 descendants of the original island population, spread over fourteen different tribes, are surviving in the highlands and on the Pacific coast of Taiwan, while some 23 million Han Chinese, all descendants of immigrants from the mainland, make up the bulk of the population.

In the not-so-distant past, historians writing about the Dutch colonial period were limited to using an anthology of original Dutch source materials published in the Reverend William Campbell’s Formosa under the Dutch Described from Contemporary Records (London 1903), a collection of the English translations of two Dutch seventeenth- and eighteenth-century publications. Yet the situation has changed dramatically since the 1980s, when all remaining diaries of the successive Dutch governors residing at Castle Zeelandia were published by Leiden researchers in four large volumes (Blussé, Milde, and Everts, De Dagregisters van het Kasteel Zeelandia, Taiwan, [The Hague: Nijhoff, 1986–2000]). José E. Borao Mateo of National Taiwan University published in addition two volumes of English translations of all the Spanish documents that have been preserved about Taiwan, including the brief Spanish occupation (1625–1641) of the northern tip of the island (Spaniards in Taiwan [Taipei: SMC, 2000–2001]). Since 2000, another four volumes, in English, of source publications about the Dutch encounter with the native people of Formosa have been published by the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan [End Page 492] aborigines (L. Blussé and Natalie Everts, The Formosan Encounter [Taipei: Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines, 1999–2010]).

Among the important studies based on these new source publications that have recently appeared, the published PhD theses of Tonio Andrade and Ch’iu Hsin-hui should be mentioned. Andrade’s How Taiwan Became Chinese (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009) deals with the Dutch period in terms of the co-colonization of the island by the Dutch and Chinese settlers. Ch’iu’s The Colonial Civilizing Process in Dutch Taiwan (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2008) inquires into the impact of the Dutch colonial regime on the native population.

Aad van Amstel, the author of the first complete study of the frenetic Dutch activities on the Chinese coast and in Taiwan during the seventeenth century, has also extensively employed the recently published source publications but not the studies by Andrade and Ch’iu (probably because they were published while he was already finishing up his own manuscript). Employed as a language teacher in Taiwan and Guandong Province, this Dutch author became interested in the history of the early Dutch-Chinese relations when he...