Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Lost Colony

Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China's First Great Victory over the West

Tonio Andrade
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 448
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7t1tm
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Lost Colony
    Book Description:

    During the seventeenth century, Holland created the world's most dynamic colonial empire, outcompeting the British and capturing Spanish and Portuguese colonies. Yet, in the Sino-Dutch War--Europe's first war with China--the Dutch met their match in a colorful Chinese warlord named Koxinga. Part samurai, part pirate, he led his generals to victory over the Dutch and captured one of their largest and richest colonies--Taiwan. How did he do it? Examining the strengths and weaknesses of European and Chinese military techniques during the period,Lost Colonyprovides a balanced new perspective on long-held assumptions about Western power, Chinese might, and the nature of war.

    It has traditionally been asserted that Europeans of the era possessed more advanced science, technology, and political structures than their Eastern counterparts, but historians have recently contested this view, arguing that many parts of Asia developed on pace with Europe until 1800. WhileLost Colonyshows that the Dutch did indeed possess a technological edge thanks to the Renaissance fort and the broadside sailing ship, that edge was neutralized by the formidable Chinese military leadership. Thanks to a rich heritage of ancient war wisdom, Koxinga and his generals outfoxed the Dutch at every turn.

    Exploring a period when the military balance between Europe and China was closer than at any other point in modern history,Lost Colonyreassesses an important chapter in world history and offers valuable and surprising lessons for contemporary times.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3953-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Dramatis Personae
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. PREAMBLE

    • An Execution
      (pp. 3-18)

      Today, fifty-year-old Frederick Coyet was to be executed for treason, a verdict he found deeply unjust. They made him kneel in the dirt in front of the gallows, facing the Batavia River. How easy it would be for a free man to simply sail away. Pay two stuivers and a Chinese water taxi would row you out to the junks and East Indiamen swaying in the Java Sea. Or you could float the other way, along canals as magnificent as those of Amsterdam, except in Holland there were no crocodiles. Cayman Canal, Tiger Canal, Rhinoceros Canal—they were lined with...

  6. ONE

    • Destinies Entwined
      (pp. 21-33)

      The first glimpse we get of Koxinga’s father, Zheng Zhilong, is as a young boy, and, characteristically, he’s misbehaving. The story goes that he and his brothers were running wild in the streets of their hometown, Quanzhou City, where their father worked for the prefectural governor as a minor functionary. It must have been May or June, when the lychees ripen, their watery white flesh sweet and floral-tinged. The boys saw a cluster of the fruit hanging from a branch jutting over a wall and began throwing rocks to knock it down. One stone flew over the wall and hit...

    • Pirate War
      (pp. 34-44)

      The fleet Putmans led wouldn’t have been possible without Chinese technology. The Chinese invented gunpowder and cannons and guns. They invented the compass. They invented the paper for Putmans’s colorful sea charts. These tools had diffused westward, adopted by Europeans centuries after they were discovered in China, which had long been the technological powerhouse of the world. But how would Putmans’s ships fare against the much larger fleet of Zheng Zhilong? Were his ships more powerful?

      The revisionist school of world history is reticent when it comes to judging Europeans’ technological, scientific, or economic prowess vis-à-vis Asians’, preferring instead to...

    • “War Is the Art of Deception”
      (pp. 45-53)
      Sun Zi

      Shortly after Putmans declined to launch another sneak attack, a messenger arrived with a challenge: “How,” Zhilong wrote, “can a dog be permitted to lay its bitch head on the emperor’s pillow? . . . If you want to fight, bring it to us here in Xiamen, where the high officials of China can watch our victory over you.”² The letter was signed by twenty-one Chinese generals.

      This was an abrupt change of tone. While Putmans had been pillaging, he’d received some letters from Zhilong, most of which had been unthreatening. He’d also received letters signed by Chinese officials. They...

    • The Wrath of Heaven
      (pp. 54-59)

      The collapse of the Ming was part of a global crisis. Historian Geoffrey Parker writes, “The mid-seventeenth century saw more cases of simultaneous state breakdown around the globe than any previous or subsequent age.”¹ These words are bold for a scholar, and Parker is a careful researcher, a historian’s historian. Yet he and others are convinced that the seventeenth century saw revolutions, revolts, and wars on an unprecedented scale. In fact, they believe that there were more wars in the mid-seventeenth century than in any other period until World War II.² They label this period the “general crisis of the...

    • The Samurai
      (pp. 60-67)

      The boy who would become Koxinga was born in Japan in 1624, precisely when the Dutch were constructing Zeelandia Castle. Three days before his birth, a sea creature with glowing eyes surfaced near his mother’s house. It heaved and tossed, thrashed and danced, sprayed water like rain. When his mother was in the final stages of labor, it disappeared. The silence was broken by a cymbal’s chime. A fragrance suffused the streets. His mother fainted and dreamt a huge fish was swimming toward her belly. A beam of light illuminated her house, rising up to the sky. Afraid it was...

    • The General
      (pp. 68-81)

      Koxinga had two ships, or maybe just one little boat, depending on whom you believe.¹ He had little money—perhaps a thousand gold taels²—and no sure way to get more because his uncles controlled the bases of Xiamen and Jinmen and their revenues. His uncles also controlled the Zheng army and navy, leaving him just a few dozen men.

      Most important, he had little experience. It’s not true, as some sources suggest, that until this point he’d been nothing more than a Confucian scholar and had “never practiced arms for a single day.”³ But it does seem that his...

    • The Sea King
      (pp. 82-98)

      In the spring of 1655, while peace envoys ran back and forth, Koxinga and his advisors “sat down to discuss being the Sea King.”¹ They created a government. They changed Xiamen’s name to Ming Memorial State and established there the six ministries of the traditional Chinese administration: the Ministry of War, Ministry of Personnel, Ministry of Rites, Ministry of Works, Ministry of the Exchequer, and Ministry of Punishments. It was a Ming mirror site, a copy of the government that the Ming Yongli Emperor ruled a thousand miles to the west in Yunnan Province.² They founded schools and academies.³ Important...

    • Heaven Has Not Tired of Chaos on Earth
      (pp. 99-108)

      When Koxinga’s tattered army regrouped in Xiamen, the Qing began advancing through the Land of Min. To make matters worse, the Yongli Emperor, the man they’d been fighting to restore to the throne, was missing. Qing forces had chased him over the border to Burma. There was no telling if he was even alive.

      In early 1661, Koxinga summoned his commanders to a secret meeting. “Heaven,” he said, “has not yet tired of chaos on earth. . . . Although we have achieved important victories, the impostor dynasty—the Qing—is by no means ready to give up.”¹ He told...

  7. TWO

    • An Extreme and Terrifying Storm
      (pp. 111-116)

      The most terrifying storm Coyet had ever seen occurred five years before Koxinga’s invasion. It began after an unusual stillness. The light changed and a few raindrops spattered on the tile rooftops. Then the wind picked up. After dark you could hear the waves thrash the shore outside the castle, just beyond the dunes. The wind bellowed from the south, which was odd, because at this time of year it should have been coming from the north.

      The wind roared through the night and into the dark, wet morning. From the castle you could see the sea heaving to the...

    • A Foggy Morning
      (pp. 117-123)

      The last day of April 1661 dawned dark and foggy on the “earthly paradise” of Taiwan.¹ The brass cannons of Zeelandia Castle were clean and loaded, and sentries squinted into the mist. They knew—everyone knew—that Koxinga might be out there. Zeelandia City, a five-minute walk away, was nearly empty, its taverns boarded up, its houses locked and abandoned.² Most Chinese citizens had fled, hiding along the coast and waiting for boats to take them away.³

      There’d been strange reports. Chinese wearing Dutch clothes were sneaking around at night.⁴ A shaved Chinese was caught scouting in native villages. Chinese...

    • Koxinga’s Victories
      (pp. 124-136)

      According to the Military Revolution Theory, Europeans owed their ascendancy over the world—or at least those parts of the world that they controlled before 1800—primarily to their superior guns, ships, and forts. So it’s intriguing that during the first few days of Koxinga’s invasion Dutch muskets lost to Chinese lances; Dutch ships lost to Chinese junks; and a Dutch fort surrendered to a Chinese siege. What do these defeats tell us about the military explanation for European expansion?

      Let’s start with muskets. The musket was introduced in Italy in the 1550s and gradually became “master of the battlefield,”...

    • Parleys and Capitulations
      (pp. 137-151)

      Yachts had failed against junks and muskets against sabers. Dutch soldiers irrigated their grief with rice wine and muttered mutinous words—“You can’t catch a hare if your dogs don’t care”—before collapsing in the streets snoring like pigs.¹ Victorious on land and sea, Koxinga turned to his next goal: to capture the Hollanders’ chief stronghold on mainland Taiwan—Fort Provintia. Thousands of his troops were surrounding it.

      Among the tents that metastasized on a hill behind the fort, Koxinga’s own tent stood out, black with blue flames, larger than the rest.² Gunners in Fort Provintia shot a cannonball through...

    • The Castle
      (pp. 152-164)

      We celebrate the Italian Renaissance for theMona Lisa, the Sistine Chapel, and the poetry of Petrarch, but the Italians were also masters of the art of war. One of their most momentous inventions was a new kind of fortress. In the 1400s, as Europeans fired more and more cannons at more and more walls, it became clear that traditional castles were no longer effective. Medieval fortifications shattered.¹ The Italians began building different walls, lower and thicker, slanted to deflect and filled with earth to absorb cannonfire. Gradually a new architecture began to emerge, and in the early 1500s its...

    • An Assault
      (pp. 165-180)

      Koxinga preferred intimidation to battle. Before attacking Zeelandia Castle, he tried to terrify the Dutch. The besieged had settled into a nightly routine, with Minister Kruyf leading evening prayers and Coyet making one last inspection of the bastions before going to bed in a big, crowded house in the upper castle. Late on a windswept night not quite three weeks into the war, when everyone but the watchmen were in bed or at their spot on the floor, a gong rang out from Zeelandia City and then, all at once, horns blared, pipes blew, drums pounded, soldiers yelled, and cannons...

    • A Summer of Misery
      (pp. 181-193)

      A couple days after the battle, there was a perplexing exodus. Chinese soldiers vacated Zeelandia City and, to stay out of cannon range, waded through the bay toward Koxinga’s camp in the dunes. They didn’t try to look martial. They moved quickly, their flags rolled in their arms. Behind them trudged workers with chests, chairs, benches, and tables. The procession lasted three hours.

      Coyet was puzzled. The battle had been deadly, but Koxinga still had the advantage—tens of thousands against a thousand. “On the one hand,” Coyet’s secretary wrote, “you might think the enemy is feeling terribly defeated, because...

    • Relief from the Sea
      (pp. 194-204)

      In the age of sail, ships followed seasonal rhythms as surely as migratory birds. This was particularly true in Asian waters, where winds and currents were highly cyclical. For our antagonists on Taiwan, the cycle was north versus south. In the winter the wind blew cold and dry from the north. In the summer it blew hot and wet from the south. This meant that summer was when ships arrived from Batavia filled with supplies, personnel, and trade goods. Koxinga and Coyet both knew they’d soon spot Dutch sails on the horizon. But how many would there be? And would...

  8. THREE

    • The Fleet
      (pp. 207-217)

      Koxinga’s Eastern Capital flew into panic. Chinese officials ran through the streets without their servants or parasols, talking in anxious loud voices.¹ One could just glimpse the ships anchored outside the bay, flags flying. Chinese officials asked the Dutch prisoners over and over again (“as though,” wrote Philip Meij, “they were losing their minds”) how many soldiers might be on each one and whether they would come attack right away.

      The Eastern Capital was undefended. More than twenty thousand men had come from China to Taiwan, but already thousands had died of hunger and thousands more were too sick to...

    • A Foolish Attack
      (pp. 218-226)

      The plan was straightforward on paper. The five largest ships would sail into the bay, anchor behind the enemy’s fortifications in Zeelandia City, and fire broadsides down the streets, catching the enemy by surprise. Meanwhile, a flotilla of smaller vessels—skiffs, galleys, and ship’s launches—would sail toward the Eastern Capital to attack the dozens of Chinese junks that were anchored in the bay.

      Commander Cauw felt he should lead the attack. After all, he was the man who’d brought the fleet and all its men. But he and Coyet weren’t getting along.

      The trouble had started a couple days...

    • The Defectors
      (pp. 227-238)

      From the beginning of the war all through that summer of 1661, only four defectors had come from the Chinese side. In the fall, defectors began pouring to the Dutch side: seventeen of them in September and October (figure 23). Dutch secretaries were so busy transcribing their stories of sickness and starvation that they neglected their other work, the constant copying, recopying, collating, and organizing that filled their days. As a result, Dutch records get increasingly haphazard as the war progresses.¹

      The Dutch encouraged this flow of turncoats. They brought Chinese defectors out onto the castle ramparts and had them...

    • Koxinga Closes In
      (pp. 239-249)

      If you visit the ruins of Zeelandia Castle today in Tainan City, you might park near a hill of Chinese graves a hundred meters to the southwest. If you climb that hill, picking your way through the dense tombs, you’ll find yourself looking down at black-haired tourists posing for photographs in front of the old walls. Clearly, this hill, or one like it, would be just where you’d want to put your cannons if you wanted to attack the fortress. Beneath your feet, between the graves, you might find old red bricks with bits of seashell mortar stuck to them....

    • The Accidental Embassy
      (pp. 250-268)

      When David Harthouwer’s leaky ship sailed into an unknown bay, he had no intention of opening one of the most unlikely alliances in world history, between the Calvinist merchants of Holland and the Buddhist Qing Dynasty. It was a potential turning point in the Taiwan War, and it was pure happenstance.

      In fact, Harthouwer hadn’t wanted to command any expedition at all. He’d been begging Coyet to let him resign his post as senior merchant in Taiwan, saying that his wife and kids were in a “situation of complete desolation” and asking for permission to take them back to Batavia....

    • Acrimony
      (pp. 269-277)

      When reading official Dutch records, you usually can go for hundreds of pages and gain an impression of calm deliberation. But in the winter of 1661, spite and rancor poured from the secretaries’ quills.

      We read that Coyet slapped one of his top military commanders in the face, angry, he said, because the man had given him an arrogant answer. We read about an old and respected officer named Captain Herman van Oudhorn fulminating against Coyet in the public square of the lower castle. The military people in this fort, he yelled, were being oppressed! The ration supervisor was giving...

    • The Last Battle
      (pp. 278-289)

      German sergeant Hans Radis decided to betray his comrades on a cold December afternoon. Waking up from a drunken nap, he grabbed his gun and said to his roommate, “Put on some hot water. I’m going out for fresh meat.”

      “Good,” the man said, “Shoot well.”

      Radis shouldered his gun and walked out past the abandoned hospital to the bayshore, but he didn’t stop to shoot seabirds. He kept going through the bitter wind, past the oyster beds, past where the old graveyard used to be, and past the first empty fishing village. It wasn’t until he reached the place...

    • Surrender
      (pp. 290-297)

      A Dutch soldier emerged from the castle with a white flag. Chinese soldiers were so excited that they jumped up behind their barricades. Hundreds of eyes watched as he walked along the stone pathway, stopped well before their trenches, and worked a bamboo stalk with a letter attached into the sandy ground. Only when he was back in the castle did a Chinese soldier run out and grab the message.

      It was terse:

      Your Majesty:

      If your Excellency wishes to enter into an Honest Treaty concerning this fortress, please be so good as to send a letter in the Dutch...

    • A Mad Death
      (pp. 298-304)

      The end of the siege brought little peace to Koxinga. The warehouses of Zeelandia Castle were given to him full of treasure and provisions, but the amounts did little to feed his starving men. He was desperate for rice, and none was coming from China. He was having a disagreement with his brother Zheng Tai, who served in Xiamen as his minister of finance. Zheng Tai had never agreed with the Taiwan adventure, and now, to make the point, he was refusing to send grain. Koxinga was furious and declared that “the Minister of Finance has failed in his command...

  9. CLOSING

    • Epilogues and Conclusions
      (pp. 307-330)

      When I started this book I was firmly in the revisionist camp. I believed that Europe held little if any technological lead over developed parts of Asia during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Sino-Dutch War offers much to corroborate that view. Dutch cannons provided no advantage against Koxinga, who fielded artillery every bit as good. When Swiss soldier Albrecht Herport reminisced about the war, he expressed a common opinion in saying that the Chinese “know how to make very effective guns and cannons, so that it’s scarcely possible to find their equal elsewhere.”¹

      Those cannons were adopted from European...

    • Acknowledgments
      (pp. 331-334)
    • Notes
      (pp. 335-398)
    • References
      (pp. 399-422)
    • Index
      (pp. 423-431)