How Zheng Chenggong Defeated the Dutch in Taiwan

Article excerpt

Written on several levels, Lost Colony is at the same time a Ming-Qing transition history, a Chinese maritime and naval history of the seventeenth century, and a global historical argument about the relative places of Europe and Asia in world history. Extensively researched in Chinese, Dutch, and English sources, the book tells the engaging story of Koxinga (Zheng Chenggong), a Ming loyalist who failed to remove the Qing from Nanjing in 1659 but did defeat and remove the Dutch from Taiwan in 1662.

Born of a Chinese father and a Japanese mother, Koxinga was trained early as a samurai in Japan and later as a Confucian scholar in China, where he passed arduous stages of the imperial examinations. This complex background, including his difficult relationship with his larger-than-life father, challenged Koxinga to become a major force during the Ming-Qing transition period.

Koxinga's father, Zheng Zhilong, was the founder of a great Zheng family legacy on the Fujian coast. Elements of his colorful tale are recounted in the early part of the book. In 1625 he pushed the Dutch from their fort in the Penghu Islands in the Taiwan Strait eastward to Taiwan itself, where the Dutch reestablished their premises in swampy area farther from the center of their desired trade connections along the Chinese coast.

The book is replete with stories of how natural phenomena, such as typhoons and storms, affected and helped determine military outcomes, as in Koxinga's first campaign, in 1658, to take Nanjing from the Manchu Qing. Koxinga's force included something like 150,000 troops on ships, the largest naval force put together in Chinese history up to that time. The force was devastated by storms en route to engagement and was forced to turn back. Koxinga's second campaign to take Nanjing, in 1659, is a fascinating study of early military success followed by failure. Koxinga did not heed the advice of his leading field commanders. His decisionmaking process led to defeat in this second campaign against the Qing.

The core of the narrative goes on to the page-turning saga of Koxinga's subsequent campaign to take Taiwan from the Dutch, including their fortress Zeelandia, near present-day Tainan. Koxinga succeeded in taking the fortress and driving the remaining Dutch back to Batavia (currently Jakarta) over the course of a bitterly contested nine-month siege. …