Wed, Feb 05, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Textbook ‘tweaks’ sow confusion

By Lee Hsiao-feng 李筱峰

Further, when Cheng Cheng-kung retreated to Kinmen and Xiamen following his failed attacks on Nanjing and Zhenjiang, he secretly dispatched his officer Cai Zheng (蔡政) to Beijing to negotiate peace.

Cheng Cheng-kung said that he would contemplate transferring his loyalty to the Qing court. Given this, is it really accurate to refer to the dynasty he would later establish on Taiwan as the Ming House of Cheng?

Cheng Cheng-kung arrived in Taiwan in 1661. He died the following year. His son Cheng Ching came over to Taiwan in 1664 and, as recorded in the biography of Cheng Ching in the Draft History of the Qing Dynasty, he changed the name of the kingdom from Dongdu to Dongning. There are numerous references to the Kingdom of Dongning as the name of Taiwan in official Qing documents.

Cheng Ching said he established the kingdom of Dongning as a separate regime, and proudly announced that “Dongning is far out in the sea, it is not part of the territory [of China]. We have our own aristocracy, we have our own culture and these compare favorably with those of China.”

At the time, the Spanish and the British used the title “king” when referring to Cheng Ching and in 1670, in a letter from the representative of the British East India Company, he was addressed as “Your Majesty.”

Not only did Cheng Ching upgrade Tiansing and Wannian from counties to prefectures, he also brought in changes to the official ranking system in 1674, calling all subordinate officials chen (臣), or minister, a term reserved for state-level officials serving a king or emperor.

Both changes reflect the idea that he viewed the territory he controlled as a kingdom, and not simply as a state preserving the legacy of the Ming, ready to return to it should the Ming regain power in China.

Cheng Ching even stopped deferential treatment for the remaining members of the Ming dynastic lineage, taking away their state stipends. The Prince of Ningjing, of the Ming imperial line, who came to Taiwan on Cheng Ching’s invitation, was obliged to move out to new premises in the present-day Gangshan District (岡山) of Greater Kaohsiung.

None of the above historical facts conflict with the more neutral term “Cheng Family Dynasty,” whereas to use the term “Ming House of Cheng” is a distortion of history. The government seems to want to use distortions like this to “bring order to the confusion.” The “tweaks” it seeks to introduce will, instead, bring nothing more than confusion itself.

Lee Hsiao-feng is a professor at National Taipei University’s Graduate School of Taiwanese Culture.

Translated by Paul Cooper

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