A-M u s i n g s

Musings are thoughts, the thoughtful kind. For the purpose of these articles, a-musings are thoughts that might amuse, entertain and even enlighten.

Taiwan – The Early Years

Saint Lucia, whose beauty and assets Britain and France disputed many times through the centuries, has more in common with Taiwan than you might think. For centuries, Taiwan has been the Prized Jewel of the China Seas.

In 1544, Portuguese sailors on passing the island recorded in the ship’s log the name Ilha Formosa, Beautiful Island. Some 38 years later, Portuguese survivors from a shipwreck battled hardships such as malaria and attacks by aborigines for ten weeks before constructing a raft and returning to the relative safety of Macao.

In 1592, Japan unsuccessfully sought sovereignty over Taiwan, which they called Takayamakoku, the high mountain country. A decade and a half later, the Dutch attempted to occupy the Pescadores Islands off the southwest coast of Taiwan in order to create a base for their trade with China. Just four years later, in 1609, Japan sent an exploratory mission to Taiwan that was soon followed by an unsuccessful invasion of the island.

In 1622, the Dutch, as stubborn as ever, once again returned to occupy the Pescadores in an attempt to fulfill their dream of opening trade with China, but once again they were rebuffed by the Ming Court. But persistence, as we know, sometimes pays off, and just two years later the Dutch established a trading base for commerce with Japan and coastal China at Tayun, which is the present-day Anping District of Tainan City, thus beginning the Dutch administration of Taiwan and the opening of trade with Ming China.

It took 10 years for the Dutch to build Fort Zeelandia at Tayun on Formosa. During the seventeenth century, many European countries sailed to Asia to develop trade, and Fort Zeelandia became one of East Asia’s most important transit sites and international business centers. As those who fought over Saint Lucia well knew, trade in those days depended on military force to control the markets, and Formosa occupied such a strategic position in the seas off China. From Formosa the Dutch could control and attack Spanish commerce between Manila and China, and Portuguese commerce between Macao and Japan, while their own dealings with China and Japan were subject to no interruptions.

Inevitably, Spain was forced to protect its trade routes and in 1626 it began the construction of a fort at Keelung on the northeastern seaboard of Formosa. Today, this modest sized city of about 160,000 people is Taiwan’s second largest seaport after Kaohsiung in the south and has at least three universities.

With the Dutch in the south and the Spanish in the north, confrontation between the two adversaries was inevitable and eventually, in 1642, the Dutch drove the Spanish out and became the sole ruling power on Formosa. Within a decade, Formosa, due to its ideal central location between Japan, China and southeast Asia, became the second most profitable trading port in Asia, but it couldn’t last.

In 1662, Koxinga, a Chinese military leader who was born the son of a Chinese pirate and Japanese mother, drove the Dutch from Formosa. After his death, his son became the ruler of an independent Kingdom of Tunging in the southern part of the island. This too did not last. In 1683, the kingdom was defeated by the Qing Empire of Mainland China.

The aboriginal inhabitants of Formosa had been largely persecuted or ignored through the years. In 1732 they rebelled but were quickly suppressed by Qing forces. Towards the end of the century, in 1787, there was another rebellion, the Lin Shuangwen rebellion, that was quickly suppressed despite enjoying great support. It is said that there were more than 100 rebellions during the early Qing, which gave rise to the saying “every three years an uprising; every five years a rebellion.”

There has scarcely been a dull moment in Taiwan’s history. Two later incidents, the Rover Incident of 1867 in which American survivors of a shipwreck were killed by aborigines, and the Mudan Incident of 1871 in which Japanese survivors of a shipwreck were likewise killed, prompted America and Japan to send troops to Taiwan.

In 1884, during the Chinese (Sino) French War , the French blocked the harbours of Keelung and Tamsui. In 1895, Qing China ceded Taiwan and the Pescadores to Japan. The Japanese Imperial government eliminated all anti-Japanese groups on the island. The Bank of Taiwan, established to encourage Japanese investment into Taiwan, issued the Taiwan Yen with an exchange ratio on a par with the Japanese Yen. By 1905, Taiwan became financially self-sufficient and was weaned off subsidies from Japan’s central government. Ten years later, during the largest revolt in Taiwanese history, over 100 protesters were killed by Japanese authorities. And if all this was not turbulence enough, there followed much more excitement in the 100 years between1915 and today but that, as they say, is for another day!

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