Sun, Jan 28, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The Swede who lost Formosa

Governor Frederick Coyett was punished by the Dutch East India Company for losing Taiwan to Koxinga, but in his 1675 book he accuses his superiors of not taking the threat seriously or providing enough help

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Busts of Koxinga, left, and Frederick Coyett made by Huang Hung-cheng in 2010.

Photo: Ting Wei-chieh, Taipei Times.

JAN. 29 to Feb. 4

Frederick Coyett languished for nearly a decade on the remote island of Pulau Ai in the eastern part of present-day Indonesia.

Born into Swedish nobility, Coyett’s glory days came to an end when, as governor of Dutch-ruled Formosa, he surrendered the colony to Ming Dynasty loyalist Cheng Cheng-kung’s (鄭成功, or Koxinga) forces on Feb. 1, 1662.

Koxinga spared Coyett’s life, but the irate Dutch sentenced him to death for the mishap. He was later pardoned and exiled to Pulau Ai in 1666. From there, he began writing his account of the events, Neglected Formosa, in which his intentions are made clear in the very first sentence: “[This book is] about the intentions and preparations of the Chinese to invade the island of Formosa, and the careless and inefficient precautions taken by the Dutch authorities to defend that possession.”

According to the book’s preface, Neglected Formosa was only available in Dutch and German for more than 250 years until a Japanese version appeared in 1939. Scottish missionary William Campbell translated portions of the book and incorporated them into his 1903 work Formosa Under the Dutch, but a complete translation to English was not completed until 1975. The first Chinese translation was published in the 1950s.

“This is a book of vindication by the man who was made to bear the blame for the loss of Formosa by the Dutch in 1662,” writes anthropologist Inez de Beauclair in the introduction to the 1975 edition.


Born in Stockholm, Coyett joined the Dutch East India Company in his early 30s and made his way to Taiwan as vice-governor of the Dutch colony based in present-day Tainan. He is said to be the first Swede to visit Japan and Taiwan.

Coyett was promoted to governor in 1657. After his banishment, it was only through the intervention of his relatives that he regained his freedom in 1674, returning to Europe in 1675. Since Neglected Formosa was published in Amsterdam right before he arrived, it’s safe to assume that he wrote it during exile.

The first portion recounts Koxinga and his father’s anti-Qing activities and also provides an overview of life in Taiwan and Dutch colonial activities. Coyett first describes Koxinga as “no less brave than his courageous father … nourishing the same implacable hatred toward the [Manchu rulers of China].”

In 1652, a Jesuit priest warned the Dutch that Koxinga had his eye on Formosa and was planning to incite the Han Chinese inhabitants to revolt against the colonizers. An anti-Dutch uprising led by Kuo Huai-yi (郭懷一) took place, and the company instructed the governor to “keep an eye on Koxinga.”

Coyett writes that in the ensuing years he would send periodical warnings to company headquarters, but a rival managed to convince company officials that Coyett’s “fear for a war was only imaginary and was caused by [his] cowardice.”

In 1653, the Dutch built Fort Provintia in response to the rebellion, but Coyett criticizes it as “too feebly built” — capable of dealing with uprisings but unable to withstand a siege or hold out against cannon fire.

As governor, Coyett tried to make peace with Koxinga, sending him and his commanders presents and heeding Koxinga’s request to reopen trade between China and Taiwan. At the same time, he requested that the Dutch East India Company repair several dilapidated fortresses and build several more — but no help came as his superiors claimed financial difficulties.

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