Sun, Sep 03, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Fury of the first Chinese colonists

Recruited to Taiwan from China by the Dutch government for manual labor, the new immigrants stormed Fort Zeelandia in 1652 after years of mistreatment

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

The story of Kuo Huai-yi’s rebellion was made into a Taiwanese opera in 2014.

Photo : Lin Meng-ting, Taipei Times

SEPT. 4 to SEPT. 10

After his plans for a Mid-Autumn Festival rebellion were leaked to the authorities, Kuo Huai-yi (郭懷一) could not afford to wait any longer.

Dutch officers investigating the rumors of unrest had run into his party a night earlier, where they saw “as many Chinese gathered together as there is grass in the field,” according to a letter written by then-Dutch Formosan governor Nicolaas Verburg. All of them were armed with various primitive weapons such as bamboo spears and farming tools.

The Dutch officers fled back to Fort Zeelandia, in today’s Tainan, where they waited until dawn on Sept. 8, 1652, when Kuo and his men charged into the Dutch neighborhoods. Despite being outnumbered, the Dutch had guns and the help of nearby Aborigines.

The battle lasted 12 days, with Kuo’s army decisively crushed. His head was later hung on a pole in front of Fort Zeelandia.


Before Kuo’s last stand, there were numerous clashes between Aborigines and the Dutch. But Kuo’s rebellion mostly involved Han Chinese. This is worth looking into because according to How Taiwan Became Chinese by Tonio Andrade, scholars generally agree that there were only around 1,500 to 2,000 Han Chinese in Taiwan before the Dutch arrived in 1624. Many of them were likely part-time residents, coming to Taiwan to trade, hunt and fish.

Andrade writes that at least 5,000 people participated in Kuo’s rebellion, amounting to roughly one-fourth of the Han Chinese population at that time.

How did Taiwan’s Han Chinese population increase so much in just under three decades? First of all, there was much chaos in China as the Ming Empire’s capital of Beijing fell to rebels in 1644, who in turn were driven out by the Manchus a year later.

But most sources agree that the Dutch had a lot to do with the mass migration as well.

Driven to desperation by societal unrest and natural disasters, many Fujianese answered the calls of the Dutch, who were seeking laborers to cultivate Taiwan’s fertile land by providing incentives such as transportation, tax breaks, oxen and farming tools.

“The company provided what would-be Chinese colonists had lacked: a military and administrative structure to support their efforts,” Andrade writes. “By subjugating the Aborigines, controlling pirates, enforcing contracts and providing policing and civil governance, it made Taiwan a safe and calculable place to live and do business in.”

Since it was illegal to set out to sea under the Ming, they were criminals once they left China. It would be unlikely that they would attempt the treacherous journey back home.

“Once they arrived in Taiwan, they were essentially cut off from their friends and family in China,” historian Su Beng (史明) writes in History of Taiwan’s Resistance (台灣抗爭史). “Geographically and socially isolated, they had little choice but to live the rest of their lives in Taiwan.”

Andrade writes that the Dutch relied much on these immigrants as they performed the “myriad jobs that underpinned Taiwan’s economy,” including clearing land for farming, hunting, building roads and driving ferries.

Things appeared to go well in the beginning, but changes in colonial policy soon led to souring of relations between these new immigrants and their Dutch overlords.


In the 1630s, the Dutch East India Company headquarters started urging the Dutch Formosa authorities to increase the colony’s revenue. To make matters worse, the chaos in China during the 1640s led to inflation of Chinese goods such as silk, which the Dutch relied on for trade.

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