Tue, Nov 20, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Book review: Lost Colony: The untold story of China’s first great victory over the West

In ‘How Taiwan Became Chinese,’ historian Tonio Andrade spins a gripping tale of how Koxinga wrested control of Fort Zeelandia from the Dutch

By Gerrit van der Wees  /  Contributing reporter

Miraculously, the Dutch were able to send word of the siege to Batavia. In one of the major daring feats of the episode, a small yacht named Maria under captain Cornelius Clawson was able to sail against the prevailing monsoon winds and make it to the VOC headquarters in seven weeks. A relief fleet under commander Jacob Cauw was sent and had a speedy journey back to Taiwan, but the counterattack against Koxinga failed, partially due to a typhoon and partially due to disagreements between Cauw and Coyet.

As the siege continued, supplies in the fort began to run out, while Koxinga was also aided by another defector, Hans Radis, a German sergeant who had been in Dutch service and who loved rice wine, which Koxinga gave him plenty of. Radis gave Koxinga inside information on the defense of the fortress.

FREE PASSAGE

The situation eventually prompted negotiations in which Coyet was able to ensure free passage for himself and other Dutch at the fortress. In total some 630 Dutch and 9,000 Chinese combatants were killed, in addition to several thousand Aboriginals, fighting on the side of the Dutch. In addition, Koxinga killed several hundred Dutch missionaries and teachers in surrounding villages.

However, the story doesn’t end with the fall of Zeelandia. Andrade writes that the fighting continued across a broad front from 1662 to 1668. In 1663, Dutch admiral Balthasar Bort coordinated with a Qing Dynasty fleet and defeated Koxinga’s remaining forces on Kinmen. In 1666, the Dutch had built up a fortress in the northern port city of Keelung, and, with only 300 defenders, fended off an attack by some 40 junks and 3,000 Koxinga troops. Koxinga himself had of course died in 1663, but his successors held out until 1683, when they were defeated in the Battle of Penghu by Qing admiral Shi Lang (施琅).

While Andrade’s thesis states that technology, strategy and tactics, appropriate alliances, and even the weather helped to determine the battle’s outcome, two other factors did make a more significant difference in the conflict around Zeelandia: distance and overwhelming force. Taiwan was a long distance from Batavia (several weeks of sailing) and very close to the Chinese coast. Koxinga could thus bring in large numbers of troops, reinforcements and ships within a short period of time, while the Dutch had to travel large distances.

Another incorrect conclusion by Andrade is to call this a victory by “China” over the West. At that point, 1661 to 1662, Koxinga was not representing China at all, but his own personal fiefdom along the Coast. He kept the Ming Dynasty pipedream alive in order to keep a following among the adherents of the defeated dynasty. He was a renegade on the run from Beijing. In fact, Qing rulers were trying very hard to eradicate his strongholds along the coast, and that is why he took refuge across the Strait, trying to get away from China.

These quibbles aside, Lost Colony is well written with a wealth of details that are well documented.

Gerrit van der Wees is editor of Taiwan Communique, a publication where this review first appeared.

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