Mon, Dec 04, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan’s first Christians in the 17th Century

The first Dutch missionaries not only brought Christianity to Taiwan, but also made contributions in education, health and agriculture

By Gerrit van der Wees  /  Contributing reporter

Reverend Gravius was stationed in Siaolang (蕭瓏), north of present-day Tainan, and had extensive contact with the new immigrants from Fujian, who were trying to eke out an existence in the frontier territory that was Taiwan in those days. He observed their relatively basic method of cultivation and decided to help: in 1649, he imported 121 black water buffaloes from the East Indies, where he had observed the local population use the oxen to successfully cultivate rice. Today the water buffalo is the symbol of traditional agriculture in Taiwan.

Gravius was also responsible for the translation of the New Testament’s Book of Matthew from Dutch into the Siraya language, reportedly the only written document of the language still in existence.


Reverend Hambrouck became most famous in his role as intermediary after the landing of Cheng Cheng-kung (鄭成功), also known as Koxinga, in late April 1661. Koxinga and his 25,000 invading troops were able to occupy the countryside area around Fort Zeelandia, but not the heavily defended fort itself.

Koxinga arrested and imprisoned some 500 Dutch who lived in the 40 villages around Fort Zeelandia, and ordered Hambrouck to go to the fort and convince Governor-General Frederic Coyett to surrender. Koxinga kept Hambrouck’s wife, one daughter and son as hostages. His other two married daughters lived at the fort.

When Hambrouck met Coyett, he urged him not to surrender, but to hold out for reinforcements from Batavia to arrive. His two daughters at the castle begged him to stay. But Hambrouck wanted to safeguard the lives of his wife, son and daughter, and returned to Koxinga’s headquarters at Fort Provintia, handing Koxinga the negative answer of Coyett.

Initially, Koxinga had treated the nearly 500 Dutch who remained outside the Fort reasonably well, but as the siege of Fort Zeelandia dragged on, the situation became grim, with Koxinga imposing increasingly strict conditions on the incarcerated civilians, mostly teachers, civil servants, medical personnel and half a dozen pastors. Also, reports reached the fort that in some outlying villages, Koxinga’s troops tortured and even crucified the remaining Dutch and their Siraya supporters.


The worst was to come in mid-September 1661, when Koxinga flew into a rage and rounded up nearly 500 men, women and children (including the pastors), first torturing them by slicing off their ears, nose and hands before finally beheading them. A number of Dutch women and girls were kept as sex-slaves by Koxinga and his officers.

History books mention two possible reasons for Koxinga’s rage — the previous week 10 Dutch ships unexpectedly appeared off the coast, bombarding Koxinga’s camp and killing many of his soldiers before returning to Batavia after bad weather stopped them from landing.

The other possible reason was that to the northeast of Fort Zeelandia, Aboriginal supporters of the Dutch laid siege to Koxinga’s troops and killed 2,000 of his soldiers. Either way, the massacre brutally ended the existence of what had been a burgeoning Christian community around Tainan.

The siege of Fort Zeelandia ended on Feb. 1 1662, when Coyett finally had to surrender. To his credit, Koxinga granted safe passage to the remaining 1500 to 1600 Dutch who had lived in the fortress for nine months. Under the 18-point agreement between Coyett and Koxinga, the Dutch were allowed to “march out of Fort Zeelandia with drums beating, banners flying, guns loaded and fuses lit.” That happened on Feb. 12 1662, when they boarded the Dutch ships waiting to return them to Batavia.

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