Rise and Fall of Koxinga Revisited
Department of Sociology,
The Johns Hopkins
541 Mergenthaler Hall,
3400 N. Charles
Working paper, October 2000
IROWS Working Paper # 72
available at irows.ucr.edu/papers/irows72/irows72.htm
Zheng Chenggong, known to Europeans as Koxinga, and his family emerged as a
formidable commercial and military power in maritime East
Asia that was tamed by neither the Ming/Qing governments nor the
European colonizers. In this paper, I will reject the conventional interpretation
that presents the Zhengs’ maritime power as no more than an ad hoc, individual
venture the final failure of which was inevitable given the strength and
hostility of the Chinese Empire. By synthesizing original sources and recent findings
from the secondary literature, I will revisit the rise and fall of the Zhengs
by arguing that: (1) Over three generations, the Zheng familial enterprise had
evolved from a decentralized trade network into a vertically integrated,
bureaucratically managed business organization with an economic size comparable
to the VOC and the Qing Empire at large; (2) By the 1660s, the Zheng regime had
become an independent Imperial-merchant state anchored at Taiwan, while the
Qing government had tilted toward giving up its attempt to take Taiwan; (3) The
final collapse of the Zheng regime in 1683 was contingent and far from
inevitable. It would have sustained had it not been exhausted by its
unnecessary and miscalculated military adventure to fight back on mainland China in the
1670s. This new look at the rise and fall of the will deepen our understanding
of the “interactive emergence of European domination” in Asia.
In 1675, when the maritime power of the United
Provinces was at its zenith in Europe, Federick Coyett, a former Dutch governor
of colonial Taiwan, observed
the emergence of a similar power in East Asia
during the dynastic transition from Ming to Qing. The Zheng family, under the
leadership of Zheng Chenggong, who was the son of an armed trader Zheng Zhilong
and was known to the Europeans as Koxinga, expelled the Dutch from Taiwan in
1662 and turned the island into a base for expanding its commercial empire and
resisting the nascent Qing regime. Coyett draws a parallel between the Zheng –
Qing conflict and Dutch – Spain
conflict at the two ends of Eurasia. The
relation between the Zhengs and the Qing was seen as a conflict between a maritime
and a continental power:
When, in the previous century, our beloved Fatherland had
fallen into such extremity that it seemed no longer possible to resist the
power of the Spaniards, and when the Church had to all appearance become their
slaves, that highly celebrated Prince, the greatest politician of the time,
whose memory is so dear to the Dutch nation, and on whose martydom the first
foundations of our precious freedom were laid, forced the desperate Council to
surrender their country to the mercy of the waters by breaking the dykes and
dams; thus causing it to sink away as if in a precipice, and compelling the
people, with their wives, children, and moveable property, to take refuge in
their ships. They would then have to depend absolutely on God’s mercy, and go
to sea in search of other countries, where they could found a new republic.. In like manner Koxinga, after many long
years of war with the Tartars [Manchus], who pursued him very vigorously, was
brought to a state of great extremity; so much so that he has forced to hide
his wife and children and all their moveable goods in junks, and to remove from
one island to another.
When, … all [Qing forces] joined together against him, success
forsook him for a time, and he was compelled to seek his fortune at sea. Here
his influence soon increased as much as power on land decreased; especially
because the Tartars had little experience of sea life. (Coyett 1903:384; 412)
The Dutch observation was confirmed by the Spaniards.
After ousting the Dutch from Taiwan
in 1662, Zheng Chenggong sent an Italian Dominican priest, Fray Victorio
Riccio, to Manila
as his representative and demanded an annual tribute from the Spanish Colony.
He threatened to conquer the Philippines
with the example of Taiwan.
Receiving no response, Zheng decided to organize an expedition to Manila. The city
immediately fell into chaos and panics. The garrisons from all over the Colony
were withdrawn and the troops were concentrated to defend the fort of Manila. The Spanish
government hysterically witch-hunted Zheng’s collaborators among the Chinese
residents and executed a large number of suspects. (Ts’ao 1972: 14; Anonymous
1906: 218-9; Foccardi 1986: 96-7)
Having heard of the news that Zheng
died in 1663 without materializing his plan, the Colony was greatly relieved.
An anonymous Jesuits wrote in fear and aspiration that:
In short, this people [i.e., the Chinese] is the most ingenious
in the world; and when they see any contrivance in practice they employ it with
more facility than do the Europeans. Accordingly, they are not now inferior in
the military art, and in their method of warfare they excel the entire world.
…Europeans who have seen it [Zheng’s army] are astonished. …From this may be
inferred the joy that was felt throughout the city and the so special kindness
of God in putting an end to this tyrant [Zheng Chenggong] in the prime of his
life… (Anonymous 1906 : 257-8)
After the Zhengs consolidated their regime in Taiwan, they reconsidered invading the Philippines in
1673. The new Governor of Manila, who began his office in 1669, reacted by
sending an ambassador to Taiwan
to express his friendly overtures. Zheng’s plan was dropped at last because of
his renewed engagement in Mainland China. Thereafter, Manila
benefited from its good relationship with Taiwan,
and the city was visited every year by five to six Taiwan junks which flooded the
Colony with high quality Chinese silk (Ts’ao 1972: 14; Wills 1974: 27; TWWJ
The English would definitely agree
with their Dutch and Spanish rivals. In the seventeenth century, the English
were newcomers in East Asia and could not find
a niche in the region under Dutch hostility and Qing’s reluctance to trade.
They turned to Zheng Chenggong’s successor Zheng Jing (whom they called “the
King of Tywan”) and tried to plug themselves into Zheng’s commercial networks.
In 1670, an agent of the East Indian Company was sent from Bantam to Taiwan with
A trade agreement was signed between the Zheng
regime and the EIC. The English was granted the right to establish a factory in
and purchase silk, Japanese copper, sugar and deerskin from the Zhengs. In
return, they had to supply Taiwan
with 200 bucks of gunpowder, 200 matchlock guns and 100 piculs of iron every year. Besides, the Company had to keep two
expert gunners in Taiwan
“for the King’s service,” (to train Zheng’s artillery) and a blacksmith for
“making King’s guns.” Although the English kept complaining that they were
charged with unreasonably high prices for the goods, they had no choice other
than to comply. (Ts’ao 1972: 14; Wong 1984: 155-156; Shepherd 1993: 100; Morse
1926: 44-8; Lai 1982: 278-82; Paske-Smith 1930: 82-122)
In addition, the Zheng regime in Taiwan was an
active contender against the Qing Empire within the Sinocentric tributary
order. It received tributes from certain Southeast Asian states (such as Siam and Annam). In 1671, and once again in
1673, Ryukyu tributary vessels on their way to China were seized by Zhengs’
warships. It was not only a humiliation to the Qing government, but also
created a diplomatic squabble between Taiwan
and Japan – which was
another contender against the Sinocentric order in East
Asia at that time (Zhang 1966: 63, 65, 79; Wong 1983: 154; see
Hamashita 1988, 1994 and Kawakatsu 1994
for Japan’s place in the Sinocentric order).
In most of the seventeenth century, the Zheng Empire
was an insuperable power enjoying naval and commercial supremacy in maritime East Asia. It was tamed by neither the Qing Empire nor
the European colonizers. If the Zheng He Expedition between 1405 and 1433 is
comparable to later Iberian “maritime Imperialism” in terms of the geographical
reach of the Expedition (see Finlay 1992), the power of the Zheng family is
definitely comparable to the maritime capitalism of the contemporaneous
European Companies in terms of the Zhengs’ mutually reinforcing pursuit of
power and profits. Apart from the similarities, how was the Zheng Empire
different from its European counterpart? How did it interact with the
continental, Imperial state of China?
How did it collapse finally? What is its significance in our understanding of
the history of China and Asia? These are the questions this paper seeks to answer.
POWERS, CONTINENTAL STATE, AND EUROPEAN COMPANIES IN EARLY MODERN ASIA
Under a burgeoning literature on
maritime Asia (e.g. Ptak and Rothermund eds 1991; Chaudhuri 1990; Pearson 1988;
Das Gupta and Pearson, eds. 1987; Pearson 1987; Subrahmanyam 1990a, b&c;
Reid 1988; Blusse 1988), the Eurocentric and teleological view that Asia was no
more than a passive victim of the mighty Companies from Europe and that Asia
was predestined to be peripherized by the expanding European world-system has
been under attack for the last two decades.
It is shown that in their course of expansion into Asia, European traders always ran into indigenous
merchants as tough rivals. The latter were not inferior, or even superior, in
many aspects to the Europeans. The integration of state-building and
profit-making activities, as an essential characteristic of the European
Companies ( Steensgaard 1974; Tracy ed. 1990; Tracy ed. 1991; Israel 1989;
Blusse and Gaastra eds. 1981; Lane 1979; cf. Tilly Arrighi Wallerstein), was
never unique to them. A widely noticed example counterpoising the uniqueness of
the European model was the maritime-oriented state of Oman. Over the
seventeenth century, the Omanis’ sphere of prevalence extended from the Persian
Gulf to the east coast of Africa and west coast of India. The Portuguese, Dutch and
the English could hardly break the trade monopoly of the Omanis, and were kept
at bay by them (Bathurst 1972; Boxer and de Azevedo 1960; Alpers 1975;
Subrahmanyam 1995: 770-2).
Evidences also point to the fact that Asian empires
were not invariably hostile to maritime communities. By studying the Ottomans’,
Safavids’ and Mughals’ relation with various commercial communities,
Subrahmanyam (1995) finds that traders could always benefit from their active
alliance with the continental state, and “under the carapace of the Islamic
Empires of the early modern epoch, merchant groups could not only expand
geographically but gradually redefine their place and engage in new ways with
political power” (774). These refreshing studies are in tandem with the
re-conceptualization of the nature of European expansion into Asia
as an “interactive emergence of European domination” (Wills 1993), emphasizing
the active role played by Asian traders in the process. More case studies are in need to substantiate
this claim and to illuminate any intra-Asian variation.
On the part of China, Wills pioneers to illustrate
that there existed a tradition of maritime commerce, a tradition of positive
interaction between profits and powers, in late Imperial China. He notices that
the Dutch VOC faced a number of difficulties in establishing themselves in East Asia, with the competition from the Zheng family as
a big obstacle (Wills 1974). Later, Wills (1979) moves further to locate the
Zhengs, and the tradition of maritime China
in general, within the late Imperial history of China:
[W]e see them [maritime
traders, ports, etc.] as “peripheral” to the main patterns of Chinese
history... [T]heir influence was limited in periods of political instability
and they were more or less repressed, exploited, and distorted by the dominant
core system in times of stability.
case of Cheng Ch’eng-kung [Zheng Chenggong] .. suggests that the maritime
interaction of profit and power fully realized its political potential only in
combination with strict military discipline and strong committment to a
political cause. In the events discussed here, this happened only in a narrow
focus on an extraordinary individual, not in an often-repeated pattern of
personal power and legitimation, still less in the involvement of a whole community
in the pursuit of maritime profit and power. Cheng Ch’eng-kung was neither Shih
K’o-fa [Shi Kefa, a renowed Ming hero who selflessly resisted the Qing] nor a
K’ang-hsi [Kangxi, the Qing Emperor from 1661 to 1722]; Amoy [Xiamen,
a port that served as Zheng’s base before he retreated to Taiwan] was not a Venice
or an Amsterdam.
sum, Wills contentions are threefold: (1) the naval-cum-commercial power of the
Zhengs was nothing more than a personal endeavor, and the individual adventures
of maritime traders were more ad hoc than accumulative; (2) the Imperial power
was antagonistic to the maritime power, and would crush it whenever it could;
(3) the final collapse of the Zhengs were inevitable. In addition, Wills hints
later that the vulnerability and political subjugation of maritime China are exceptional to the overall pattern of
maritime Asia, in contrast to the port-states tradition in Southeast Asia and Oman for
The two quotations above illustrate
the most comprehensive framework to date that puts the Zheng family in the
context of Chinese late Imperial history and the history of maritime Asia. A number of revealing studies on the subject
appeared after Wills’ path-breaking works in the 1970s to enrich our knowledge
on the Zhengs.
Each of the research focuses on certain specific aspects of the Zhengs venture.
Most of them follow or share Wills’ grand interpretation that the rise and fall
of the Zhengs is a fortuitous episode in Chinese history.
In this paper, I try to unravel this
“China exceptionism” in
maritime Asia as suggested by Will’s
interpretation of the Zhengs family. Through a synthesize of secondary sources
and original research,
I will reinterpret the rise and fall of the Zheng family and argue that: (1)
The enterprise of the Zheng family was far more than a personal endeavor. Over
three generations (Zheng Zhilong, Zheng Chenggong and Zheng Jing), it had
evolved from a loose familial trade networks to a vertically integrated,
bureaucratically managed trade organization; (2) The political ambitions of the
Zhengs and Qing’s policy towards them, as well as the strategies they employed
to deal with each other were in flux. By 1670, a stable maritime order had
emerged over the Taiwan Strait in which the Zheng regime became a virtually
independent Imperial-merchant state exercising its dominance over maritime East
Asia, while the Qing government no longer bothered incorporating Taiwan into
the Empire; (3) The final collapse of the Zhengs’ maritime Empire in 1683 was
largely a result of contingencies. Had not the Taiwan
regime collapsed by itself because of its over-ambitious engagement in the
mainland, the Qing government would not have been able to incorporate Taiwan into the
Qing Empire in the end.
In what follow, I will first outline the rise of
Zheng Zhilong that laid the foundation of Zheng Chenggong’s maritime empire.
Then I will decipher the structure of economic and political organizations of
the Zheng regime. At last, I will analyze the concatenation of events that led
to the collapse of the Zheng regime in 1683.
RISE OF THE ZHENG FAMILY
Ming China entered the phase of dynastic decline in
the middle of the sixteenth century. Corruption of the Imperial bureaucracy
grew and budget deficit enlarged. Meanwhile, the balance of power in the North
was disrupted by the expansion of the Jurchens. In the Southeast coast, illegal
trade conducted by armed Chinese and Japanese traders – known collectively as wokou or “Japanese pirates” to the
Chinese government – flourished when trade with China
was encouraged by the coastal warlords in Japan. (Lin 1987: 85-111; He 1996:
45-7; Tong 1991: 115-29; Wakeman 1985: Ch.1; Huang 1969: 105-23; Wills 1979:
210-1; So 1975) The intrusion of the Portuguese in the region escalated the
level of violence among the Chinese and Japanese traders when the Portuguese
traded their firearms for silk from the Chinese. Nonetheless, because of the
over-extension of Portuguese maritime power, the Portuguese were weak in East Asia and never displaced the Chinese and Japanese
traders as the leading forces in East Asian trade. Though the Ming government
lifted its sea ban in 1567, trade with Japan was still forbidden. Armed smuggling
continued (He 1994: 49-52; Boxer 1969: 56-7; Souza 1986: 130-1).
The militarization of maritime trade led to the rise
of highly organized and militant Chinese merchant groups. Their power inflated
drastically after the retreat of the Japanese merchants in the 1630s under the
Tokugawa Seclusion Policy that forbade its subjects to travel abroad (for
discussion of the Seclusion Policy, see Howe 1996: 12 and Lee 1999). Zheng
Zhilong was one of these armed Chinese traders. He was born in 1604 in a merchant
family in Fujian.
In 1621, he became a follower of Li Dan, one of the most influential Chinese
traders in the Japan and Manila trade routes. Meanwhile, he was employed by the Dutch VOC
as an interpreter in 1624. (Lin 1987:
112-7; Yang 1982: 294; Chen 1984: 151; Wong 1984: 120-3; Blusse 1981: 94) In
1625, Li Dan died. Zheng immediately took over all of his property and trade
networks under the military support of the Dutch. (Foccardi 1986: 6-8; Blusse
1981:98; Wills 1979: 217-8; Lin 1987: 114-5)
After a few years, he was the strongest Chinese on
the sea. He monopolized both the connections with the Dutch, who had controlled
Taiwan and turned it into
their key trading post in East Asia since
1624, and the supply of Chinese products, and became more independent. He was
upgraded from an employee to an ally of the Dutch in 1628, when the two parties
signed a three years trade agreement. Zheng was to supply Dutch Taiwan annually
with 1,400 dan of raw silk, and a
certain amount of sugar and textiles, whence the VOC promised him an annual
supply of 1,000 dan of pepper. In
1630, Zheng and the Taiwan
Governor signed a treaty on mutual military protection. He was then 26 years
old. (Chen 1984: 188; Yang 1982: 309)
Zheng Zhilong’s dominance in coastal China alarmed
the Ming government. In 1630, the secretary of the Ming military ministry
reported to the Emperor that “all Zhilong’s ships are barbarian [i.e. Dutch]
ships, all his canons are barbarian canons, and he now possesses up to a
thousand warships.” (MSL Chongzhengchangpian 41: 3.12 yiyi) When the inland turbulence picked
up, the Ming government gave up subjugating Zheng by force, and instead tried
to incorporate him into Ming’s power structure. In 1628, an alliance was formed
between the Ming government and Zheng. Zheng was entitled Patrolling Admiral (youji jiangjun), bearing the responsibility of eliminating all
other “pirate groups” under the logistic support of the Imperial navy. By 1636,
all competing merchant groups had been smashed or incorporated into Zheng’s
network. All foreign trade activities of China were put under his unified
leadership (Wills 1979: 218-9; Struve 1988: 667; Chen 1984: 156-7; Wong 1983:
127-9; Lin 1987: 117-23; MSL Chongzhengchangpian
11: 1.9 gengwu, 41: 3.12 yiyi; Foccardi 1986: 16).
Soon the Dutch realized that Zheng was their
toughest competitors in the East Asian market, and they decided to do away with
him once and for all. In July 1633, a Dutch assault of Zheng’s naval base at Xiamen triggered a war between the Zhengs and the Dutch
along the southeast coast of China.
It ended up in the humiliating defeat of the Dutch who retreated hastily back
to Taiwan in October and
never set their foot on the China
coast again (Chen 1984: 158; Blusse 1981: 102-3; Wills 1998: 370-1).
In 1641, a peace and trade treaty was signed between
Zheng and the VOC. The Dutch would pay an annual tribute of 30,000 écus to Zheng to exchange for stable supply
of Chinese commodities. Peace was restored under a new maritime order. The
Dutch could only find his place in this order as Zheng’s humble partner, while
the Ming government had actually transferred the governance of the coastal
regions to Zheng.
At the peak
of Zheng’s career, the Ming government
in Beijing collapsed in 1644, followed by the
fall of the Southern Ming court in Nanjing
in 1645. A number of Ming courts were set up by different Ming princes at
various places in southern China.
Lungwu court was founded in Fujian
and Zheng became its protector. However, when the Manchu troops were approaching
the border of Fujian in 1646, Zheng withdrew
his force from Fuzhou
and let the Qing forces capture this provincial capital without any resistance.
Zheng’s calculation that Manchus would co-opt him like the Ming court did
turned out to be a mistake. He was arrested and sent to Beijing, where he was held hostage till he
was executed in 1661. (Struve 1988: 665-73, 675-6; HSJWL: Yongli 1.1; HJJY: Lungwu
2.8; MHJY: Lungwu 2.9, MHJL Lungwu 2.9; Wills 1998: 224; Chen 1984:
160-3; Lin 1987: 123-4)
The Zheng family was caught in a familial feud after
Zhilong was arrested. It was not until 1650 was it reunified under the strong
leadership of Zhilong’s eldest son, Zheng Chenggong,who forcibly eliminated his uncles’ power.
The Zheng family recouped rapidly from the chaos of leadership transition and
re-attained the status of supremacy in East Asian trade. Zheng Chenggong
significantly upgraded the family’s commercial capacity by turning his father’s
trade networks into a vertically integrated and bureaucratically administered
Compared to his father, Zheng Chenggong was much
more purposeful as well as effective in mobilizing the trade revenue to
establish an intact politico-military apparatus that turned his family venture
into a maritime empire. The Zheng regime continued to be the most prominent
player in the East Asian water even after Zheng Chenggong retreated to Taiwan in 1662 following his failure in taking Nanjing, the traditional
imperial center in the South. The Zheng regime was further consolidated and
turned into a de facto independent
kingdom on Taiwan
– a well defended island insulated from the attack of Qing’s feeble navy –
under the leadership of Zheng Chenggong’s successor Zheng Jing.
MAKING OF A VERTICALLY INTEGRATED COMMERCIAL ORGANIZATION
The Mainland Period
From the 1620s to the 1640s, Zheng Zhilong’s
supremacy in maritime China
allowed him to accumulate an enormous amount of wealth for his family. It is
reflected by the fact that during a Qing attack of Xiamen in 1651, 900,000 taels of gold, equivalent to about 10
million taels of silver, were seized
(CZSL: Yongli 5.4.1, 7.8).
It was all the liquid capital he had commanded. This amount was extraordinarily
large, given that the total cash revenue of the Qing government in the same
year was 21 million taels of silver,
(Wakeman 1985: 1070) and the surplus accumulated by the VOC in Batavia between 1613 and 1654 was only 15.3
million guilders, or 4.4 million taels of
(Glamann 1958: 248) Zhilong turned Fujian
into his own paradise. He bought great estates there and built his extravagant palace
near Xiamen. He
was considered by the coastal population as the “King of Southern China”
(Foccardi 1986: 18).
However, Zheng Zhilong’s enterprise was no more than
a decentralized trade network. He never managed to consolidate his grip of the
whole network that was built upon incorporating rival merchant groups. Instead,
he shared the control of the business with his brothers and other members of
the Zheng family. It is why the Manchus did not co-opt Zheng Zhilong after he
surrendered (as they usually did to other surrendered Ming generals and
officials), but used him to threaten and blackmail the rest of the Zheng
family. The Manchus realized that Zheng did not control his family effectively
and was incapable of delivering its whole power structure to the Qing (Wills
After guaranteeing his leadership in the family,
Zheng Chenggong set out to rebuild his father’s enterprise. He upgraded his
family’s commercial capacity by converting the trade network into a centrally
commanded structure. Five companies (wushang)
and two fleets were set up to conduct inland and overseas trade. Each of the
five companies was divided into two branches (hang), one conducing inland trade and the other conducting maritime
trade. One was located in the Lower Yangzi region under the coordination of
Zheng’s secret regional headquarter at Hangzhou,
and was responsible for purchasing indigenous products. The goods were then
shipped to the other branch located at Xiamen.
The latter then distributed the cargoes to either one of the two fleets – the Eastearn Sea
fleet (dongyangchuan) or the Westesrn Sea fleet (xiyangchuan). They in turn sold the goods at the Japanese and
Southeast Asian markets respectively. Each company and fleet received its
capital from the treasury. All incomes were delivered back to the treasury
after the goods were sold. All of the treasury, five companies and two fleets
were centrally administered by the minister of finances of the Zheng regime,
who was Zheng Chenggong’s brother Zheng Tai. The treasury’s account records
were reported to, then dated and stamped by Chenggong regularly. The operation
of the whole structure was kept in check by an independent monitoring officer (lucha).
Besides, the companies and treasury lent money to
independent merchants in lack of capital. The activities of these merchants
were coordinated by the minister of finance. The inland five companies also
served as intelligence agencies that collected information about Manchus’
activities. (Nan 1982; Yang 1992: 258) The structure and operation of the whole
organization are illustrated below.
1 about here)
this organization, Zheng’s seafaring enterprise was integrated with the Lower Yangzi market and production zone. A centralized
and vertically integrated commercial organization was instituted as the revenue
generating apparatus of the Zheng regime.
Major items of trade controlled by the Zheng
enterprise included silk textiles, ceramics and gold from China, copper, silver and sulphur from Japan, and spices from Southeast
Asia. More than 80 percent of the Chinese junks trading in Nagasaki and Southeast Asia
belonged to the Zhengs. (Yang 1984b: 224-6; see also Han 1982: 148-55) All other vessels sailing in Zhengs’ sphere
of influence (which meant nearly the whole maritime East
Asia) had to fly his flag, and pay him a toll of 3,000 taels of gold. In return, the Zhengs
protected them from any danger at sea, which was mainly the attack of the
The annual interest rate of the loans offered to the independent merchants was
around 100 percent. The Zhengs also provided shipping services to the merchants
who did not bother travelling abroad to sell their goods (Lin 1984: 199; Nan
1982: 218-20; Li 1982: 226-7; Han 1982; Zhang 1982).
It is estimated that in the 1650s, the average
annual profit of Zheng’s direct involvement in trade was 2.4 million taels, equivalent to about 8.5 million
guilders. (Yang 1984b) It was nearly five times bigger than the VOC’s annual
profit in East Asia, slightly larger than the Company’s profit in the whole Asia, and more than one-tenth of the annual cash revenue
of the Qing government around the same period.
During the Zheng Chenggong era, the Dutch continued
to be a humble player in the East Asian trade as they continued to rely on
Zheng for supply of Chinese goods. Zheng Chenggong was regarded by the Governor
General of Batavia
as “the man who can spit much in our face in Eastern seas” (Foccardi 1986: 59).
To guarantee its access to Chinese products, the VOC paid an annual tribute of
5,000 taels of silver, 100,000
arrows, and 1,000 dan of sulphur to Xiamen (CZSL: Yongli 11.6; Han 1984: 212-3; Yang 1992:
265; Coyett 1903: 389; HJJY Yongli
11.6; MHJY Yongli 11.6).
The Taiwan Period
In order to weaken Zheng’s regime by cutting off the
supply from the mainland, the Qing government implemented the scotch-earthed evacuation
policy in 1660. All residents in the Xiamen
area had to be moved 10 miles away from the seashore. It was then extended to
the whole Fujian province in 1661, to Guangdong in 1662 and part of Zhejiang in 1663. All coastal villages and
towns were burnt down. Castles were built along the evacuation line. (QSLZZZLZ:
44; HJJY: Yongli 15.10; MHJY: Yongli 15.10; Foccardi 1986: 90; Ts’ao
1972: 12; Shepherd 1993: 96)
The evacuation policy of Qing caused great
difficulty to Taiwan
initially (MHJY: Yongli 17.1). The
effect of the measure faded, nevertheless, when illicit trade across the Strait
resumed. The “five companies” system survived and continued its operation
through the 1660s and 1670s.
Over the period, Taiwan
was never short of silk supply from the mainland. (Nan 1982: 204-8; Ju 1986:
141-6; Lin 1984: 198-9; Li 1982: 228-9; Shepherd 1993: 96) In addition, the
deerskin resources and sugar cane plantation in Taiwan generated additional profits
for the Zhengs (Ju 1986:147-9; Wong 1983: 154-5; Shepherd 1993: 100).
Ironically, the evacuation policy backfired as it let the Zhengs further
monopolize the supply of Chinese products in the international market. It is
observed by a Qing officer that,
After our court imposed a strict ban on sea trade,
not a single junk is able to go into the sea. However, some merchants, who
monopolize the supply of products, bribe the officials and soldiers guarding
the coast, and trade with the Zheng family secretly. Consequently, the profits
on the sea are manipulated solely by the Zhengs, and their wealth and supplies
become more and more abundant. (quoted in Han 1982: 143; see also Ng 1983: 53)
Taiwan was then turned from an
insignificant island into the most important entrepot in East
The Cheng [Zheng] trading
junks also called in at Tonking, Quinam, Cambodia, Siam
and other ports of Southeast Asia to obtain
goods for their Chinese and Japanese trade. … In return exchanged Chinese goods
and Japanese copper and gold “koban”. Copper and gold were then re-exported to
the ports of India.
Thus, brisk trade was carried on with the neighboring areas, … the Cheng was
benefiting from the advantageous position of Taiwan,
and could still hold their dominant position as an important intermediary of
the international trade in East Asia. (Ts’ao 1972: 15)
Under Zheng Chenggong and Zheng Jing, the Zhengs
commercial empire transcended the phase of personal endeavor as characterized by
the trade networks of Zheng Zhilong. Zhengs’ commercial organization was
vertically integrated and bureaucratically administered, contrary to the
typical image of Chinese business as informal trade network. In terms of
economic size, the Zheng enterprise was well comparable to the VOC and even the
Qing continental empire at large. Below,
we will see how the Zhengs utilized their commercial income to build up a
political-military apparatus which is described by Wakeman as the “most
aggressive assault forces in all of East Asia”
(1985: 1047) at the time.
BUILDING OF AN INDEPENDENT
Territorial Ambition of
Witnessing the unexpected reconsolidation and strengthening
of the Zheng family under Zheng Chenggong, the Qing government offered a
generous proposal to seek his cooperation in 1652. The Manchus promised a
semi-autonomous status and the release of his father to exchange for Zheng’s
submission. They also promised to grant the Zheng family a jurisdiction of four
prefectures. In an edict to Zheng, the Emperor wrote:
… Competent officials are
needed to defend [the coastal area] anyway. Why should I choose somebody else
to take up the duty? Isn’t it much better to give the responsibility to you and
your followers? … Now I would like to grant you the title of dukedom, and
actual administrative power. You will be able to share the merit of founding
the Empire, and your whole family will be honored… I will allow you to decide
how to defend against or get rid of the pirates in the Fujian area. I will also allow you to
manage, check and tax all seafaring ships. You can keep all of your original
officials and followers… If you accept my grace and trust, you should be responsible
for repaying me by serving me wholeheartedly. The peace and prosperity of the
coastal area are now in your hands… (CZSL: Yongli
negotiation lasted for two years. Qing’s concession and patience are
understandable as the Manchus were not confident in crushing the Zhengs by
force, provided that the Manchu troops were indeed “baffled and frightened by
the sea,” though they excelled in land operations. (Struve 1988: 711; see also
Wills 1979:23; Foccardi 1986: 55) Had Zheng accepted Qing’s offer, a
configuration of power resembling that between Zheng Zhilong and the Ming
government would have been restored. Nevertheless, Zheng Chenggong was never
serious about the negotiation and knew about the Manchus’ weakness, as he wrote
to his father, who had been under Qing custody, at the beginning the negotiation:
The coastal area has long
been our possession. The profits from the Eastern and Western trade are well
enough for our own survival and expansion. We have much room to maneuver. Why
should I not enjoy this autonomy and subjugate myself to others? … In the Qing
court, there must be some officials with a good sense, and know that the
seashore of Fujian and Guangdong
is thousands miles away from Beijing.
The road in-between is so difficult that most of the soldiers and horses sent
to here would definitely be exhausted, sick and dead… (CZSL: Yongli 7.8)
actually not just concerned about securing his control over the coastal area.
During the temporarily peaceful environment in the early 1650s, Zheng was
preparing for a military campaign to expand his sphere of dominance to the
Yangzi Delta. A formidable political-military apparatus was built by using the
handsome trade revenue.
Zheng Chenggong established his own shipbuilding and
military industry in Xiamen.
The rich lacquer and oak resources in Fujian
were mobilized to build warships after European model. A large amount of
military supply, such as cannons, metal (for making weapons), and saltpeter
(for making gunpowder) was imported from Japan (Struve 1988: 699-701; Huang
1982: 265; Han 1984: 209; Li 1982: 226). By 1655, an army of 250,000
well-equipped fighting men and 2,300 ships was under Zheng’s command. (Struve
1988: 714). Politically, Zheng declared his allegiance to the faraway and
fragile Yongli court established in Southwest China by a Ming prince fled from Beijing in 1644. In this
way he could establish his legitimacy and summoned support from the Ming
loyalists in the coastal area without actual subjugation to any Ming monarch
and bureaucracy (Wills 1994: 226; Struve 1988: 712).
In 1655, Zheng renamed Xiamen
as Ximingzhou, or “Memorial Prefecture
for Ming,” and made it the capital of his regime. A Ming-style government was
established, comprising the ministry of secretary, finance, ceremony, military,
justice and public works. Zheng’s proclaimed loyalty to the Ming and his
impressive military might attracted a lot of disoriented Ming loyalists.
Ex-Ming officials alleged to him were appointed to govern the villages and cities
he captured. At its apogee, the Zhengs controlled eighteen prefectures in Fujian, four prefectures in Guangdong
and two prefectures in Zhejiang.
Regular taxation was imposed upon the population within his jurisdiction.
Archaeological evidence even showed that European-style and standardized silver
coins with Zheng Chenggong’s name on it were made and circulated in the area.
(Foccardi 1986: 45, 56; Wong 1983: 138, 142; Struve 1988: 714; CZSL: Yongli 9.2, 9.3; MHJY: Yongli 12.2; Guo1982 a & b)
In 1654, Zheng wrote to his father to stay his
determination to fight though the latter was still in Manchus’ hand. He declared
that “I have forgotten that I had a father for a long time” (CZSL: Yongli 8.4, 8.5). The Qing government
realized that any longing for peace would be unrealistic, and launched an
assault on Xiamen
in 1656. The Qing troops were repelled and decimated swiftly. After the
repulsion of the Qing assault, Zheng initiated the long-prepared campaigns
aimed at taking control of the Yangzi Delta. In the spring of 1658, right
before he set out to capture Nanjing, Zheng disclosed his ambition to his
generals, stating that “if we are successful in getting control of the Yangzi
River, half of the Empire at the River’s South will be mine” (HJJY: Yongli 12.5 29; see also CZSL: Yongli 9.1).
Though Zheng’s troops were victorious all along the Zhejiang coast and the Yangzi
River, they ended up in a disastrous
defeat by the Qing’s cavalry and infantry out of Nanjing’s city wall.(Struve 1988:718-21; Wills 1979: 226-27;
Foccardi 1986: 63-5; 67-70; CZSL: Yongli 13.7.17-13.7.23;
158-62; HJJY: Yongli 13.6; MHJY: Yongli 13.6-13.7; Wills 1994: 226-228;
Wakeman 1985: 1048) Nonetheless, Zheng’s navy was unscathed and was able to
transport all of the survivors back to Xiamen.
Realizing that expanding his territory in mainland China was out of question,
and cognizant of the news that the Yongli court collapsed after the Yongli
Emperor was arrested by the Manchus in Burma, Zheng changed his strategy by leaving
the mainland, taking Taiwan and turning it into his new base (Struve 1988:
705-10; 722; CZSL: Yongli 15.1; HJJY Yongli 15.3; MHJY: Yongli 15.3)
State-Building in Taiwan
In the spring of 1661, Zheng
summoned most of his warships and crossed the Taiwan
Strait. The Dutch were outnumbered and surrendered on February 1,
1662. A treaty was signed between Zheng and the Dutch Council in Taiwan that
allowed the former to confiscate all VOC’s property on the island and the
latter to evacuate peacefully (Coyett 1903 : 414-55; Ts’ao 1972:12; HJJY:
Yongli 15.3-16.2; MHJY: Yongli 15.3-16.2 ; CZSL: Yongli 15.4.1-15.5.2).
Zheng Chenggong recentered his regime at Taiwan
Porvintia, a military
castle built by the Dutch, was renamed Dongdumingjing,
or the “Ming Eastern Capital.” It became the new capital of the Zheng
Empire, replacing the endangered Xiamen.
Taiwan was renamed Dongningzhou, - “the Prefecture of Peace
at the East.” (MHJY: Yongli 16.2;
HJJY: Yongli 16.2; CZSL: Yongli 15.5.2; QSGZCGZ :56) Zheng did
not abandon the Ming calendar, custom and style of clothing, nor did he
relinquish the claim of crushing the Manchus someday. Nevertheless, in an edict
outlining the principal policies of his new government in Taiwan, he
declared to his followers that “now we establish our families and found our
nation [kaiguolijia] in the Ming
Eastern Capital. The foundation of our enterprise cannot be uprooted for tens
of thousands of generations.” (CZSL: Yongli
Institutions such as Confucian academies, prisons
and salt plants were founded in Taiwan.
Population and land census were carried out. An examination system for the
selection of civil officials and a welfare system taking care of the aged and
weak were established (ZCGZ: 22; ZSGZCGZ: 56; MHJY: Yongli 18.3). The Dutch system of tax farming was inherited. More
advanced agricultural methods were introduced to the residents. Zheng also encouraged
his officials to take uncultivated land and turn it into their own estates,
with an obligation of fulfilling the tax quota imposed. Soldiers were sent with
seed and plows to reclaim the remaining land. The provision problem was solved
and a fiscal system with an agrarian-bureaucratic outlook took shape (CZSL: Yongli 15.5.18; HSJWL: Yongli 21; Shepherd 1993: 93-4, 97).
Before the Nanjing
failure, Zheng Chenggong aspired to controlling the South of Yangzi River.
After his retreat to Taiwan,
he began to present himself as the political leader of the overseas Chinese. In
fact, one of the stated reasons for his expedition to Taiwan was to
liberate the Chinese migrants and aborigines from the Dutch tyranny (HJJY: Yongli 15.3; MHJY: Yongli 15.3). Later, Zheng threatened to punish the Spanish
harassment of Chinese in the Philippines
by conquering the archipelago (Foccardi 1986: 97). The political project of the
Zhengs was ever changing. It seems that Zheng, and more notably his successors,
were downplaying their ambition of conquering mainland China, and were
more occupied with strengthening their independent power in the maritime zone
of East Asia. It can be reflected by the position of the Zhengs during their
intermittent negotiation with the Qing government between 1663 and 1683.
Between 1663 and 1683, the Qing government
repeatedly sought the surrender of the Zhengs by presenting the offer of
semi-autonomous status as it was promised to Zheng Chenggong in 1652. Every
time the Zhengs returned with a counterproposal. They promised they would give
up armed struggle against the Qing if the later granted Taiwan the status of a tribute vassal,
“following the example of Korea
and Ryukyu.” In that case Taiwan
would “pay tribute [to the Qing Emperor] without shaving their hair and
settling back to Mainland China”
(HSJWL: Yongli 23; HJJY Yongli 16.6, 23, 31.12, 32.10, 33.7; MHJY:
Yongli 23, 31.12; PDHKFL: 4.1-4.2;
ZCGZ: 26; QSLZZZLZ: 48; QSGZZGC: 57, 60; QSL: Kangxi 22.5.23). Zhengs’ request was never accepted, as the Kangxi
Emperor was firm that “the thieves in Taiwan
are Fujianese, Taiwan is
incomparable to Korea
and Ryukyu” (QSL: Kangxi 22.5.23;
After the Qing quitted its attempt to conquer Taiwan, Taiwan was no longer regarded as an
important issue in the Qing government. The troops stationed in Fujian were reduced.
(HJJY: Yongli 23; MHJL: Yongli 18, 19; see also QSL: Kangxi 5.1.26) The Manchus even did not
as part of the Qing Empire.
A de facto independent kingdom of Taiwan was in place. This was well
described by a Qing writer that:
After Shi Lang was called back to Beijing,
[Zheng’s] surrendered soldiers were dispersed and stationed in different
provinces, and the coastal area was strongly fortified and defended, [the Qing
government] diverted its attention from Taiwan. At the same time, [Zheng]
Jing’s army had not been mobilized [to attack the coastal area]. Henceforth,
there were a number of years of peace (QSGZCGZ: 57).
Having survived the succession crisis subsequent to
Zheng Chenggong’s death, the Zheng regime was reconsolidated in Taiwan. Zheng
Jing ousted his opponents and became the heir of the throne. With the peaceful
environment after 1665, and being successful in breaking the embargo through
smuggling, the Zhengs were able to recover from the losses of the early 1660s
and further expand their maritime empire. Zheng Jing’s inclination to
consolidate an independent, maritime power in Taiwan was illustrated by his
letter to a Qing negotiator in 1667:
Today’s Dongning [Taiwan], having thousands of miles
of land, has become an independent glory out of the [Qing’s] territory. We have
food storage enough for several decades, and the barbarians from all directions
are complying with us. All goods are circulating smoothly, and our people live
and are educated well. We are able to live strongly and healthily on our own.
Why should we adore the title of dukedom? Why should we want the lands in
mainland? If the Qing court really cares about the livelihood of the coastal
residents, it should treat us with the rites of dealing with a foreign
countries [yi waiguo zi li jiandai],
opening trade with us, withdrawing the troops and letting the people rest, then
I will definitely follow. (KXTYTWDASLXJ: 69)
In the early 1670s, the prosperity and stability of
the Taiwan kingdom peaked
with the pinnacle of Zhengs’ prestige in maritime East
Asia, as shown by the European perception of the Zhengs as presented
in the paragraphs quoted in the beginning of this essay. By then, nobody in the
world, including the Qing court, would expect the sudden collapse of the Zheng
Empire and a quick resolution of the Taiwan question. But it did happen.
COLLAPSE OF THE ZHENG REGIME
At the end of 1673, the Rebellion of the Three
Feudatories – Wu Sangui in Yunnan, Shang Kexi
in Guangdong and Geng Jingzhong in Fujian – broke out in the mainland. Zheng saw it as
an opportunity to fight back to China
and decided to join the Rebellion promptly. An anti-Manchus alliance between
Zheng and Wu was formed, and a Geng-Zheng united operation to capture the Lower Yangzi region was seriously considered. (HJJY: Yongli 24.2-28.10; MHJY: Yongli 28; MHJL: Yongli 28.2-28.5; Foccardi 1986: 110-3; Wakeman 1985: 1099-1127)
In 1674, Zheng Jing recaptured a number of coastal
cities in Fujian including Xiamen. Most residents evacuated from the
coastal area moved back. Soon Zheng’s army pushed into Guangdong. In 1676, his forces reached the
vicinity of Guangzhou.
(HJJY: Yongli 28.7, 30.2; MHJY: Yongli 29.5, 29.6, 30.1, 30.2; Foccardi
1986: 113; QSGZCGZ: 58) The English regarded the Zheng’s revival in the
mainland as a golden opportunity for them to open the China trade. In
1675, the EIC, states of Annam
and Siam sent their envoys
and tributes to Taiwan and
asked for trade in coastal China.
reopened for free trade and became a lucrative city again. A new commercial
headquarter of EIC was established there (HJJY: Yongli 29.6, 32.12; MHJY: Yongli
29.6; MHJL: Yongli 29.6; Ju 1986:
140; QSGZCGZ: 58).
In the middle of the 1670s, the Zhengs regained its
glory in coastal China.
However, their ambition soon backfired, as the unfruitful campaign triggered a subsistence
crisis in Taiwan.
The Zheng family had been facing the difficulty of feeding their army ever
since the 1650s. Owing to land infertility, Fujian was “a major rice-importing region
famous for buying rice at a high price” in the seventeenth century
(Kishimoto-Nakayama 1984: 230). Zheng’s trading networks never penetrated into
the rice exporting provinces such as Hunan
and Shangdong, which were firmly controlled by the Manchus. The Lower Yangzi
Delta, from where most of Zheng’s purchases came, was itself a rice deficient
area because of its specialization in cash crop cultivation after the sixteenth-
century commercial revolution (Li 1986; Chen 1991: 70-77).
Zheng Chenggong’s remedies in the 1650s were
establishing soldier colonies (tuntian)
and raiding the Qing granaries. The first method was not reliable so far as the
soldiers were frequently mobilized for the endless military campaigns. The
second method became the most crucial one. It is estimated that between 1656
and 1661, Zheng at least launched 24 military actions with the primary
objective of seizing food. Still, Zheng’s rice storage was never enough for
more than a few months. When Zheng’s freedom of action was strictly limited
after the Nanjing
failure, the provision crisis sharpened (Yang 1984a: 89; see also CZSL: Yongli 7.8, 10.10.6; 10.12.29 for
To a certain extent, the conquest of
was a conscious attempt to find an ultimate solution for the problem. Zheng
Chenggong persuaded his generals to support the expedition to oust the Dutch
and take Taiwan by
emphasizing that the Island was full of
virgin, fertile land (CZSL: Yongli
15.1; HJJY: Yongli 15.3, MHJY: Yongli 15.3; see also Wills 1979: 228;
Yang 1984a: 90). Even though Zheng’s army took over all of the food storage
left by the Dutch, the first year of the Taiwan regime was still under a
near-famine situation. Preventing their alienation from the local population,
the Zhengs disciplined their soldiers strictly and kept them from looting the
Chinese and aborigine villagers. Staples were purchased from the residents at high
prices. The expected food supply from Xiamen
was delayed many times. Rice was rationed. Some officers started eating wood
debris and many fell sick (CZSL: Yongli
15.3.27-15.4.1, 15.6-15.8.28; Shepherd 1993: 94). Zheng Chenggong’s planned
assault on Manila right after he set his foot on
might have something to do with the food shortage.
With the aggressive policies of
increasing agricultural productivity, clearing tax delinquency, and turning all
soldiers into colonizer-farmers, the food shortage was alleviated in the
following year. Agricultural manpower increased considerably by the influx of
refugees driven out of the coastal regions by Qing’s evacuation. Temporary rice
supply was raised by the duty fee policy that encouraged rice imports from Southeast Asia. These efforts ended up in the great
harvest of 1666, which marked the beginning of the golden age of the Taiwan kingdom.
(Wong 1983: 153; Shepherd 1993: 96-100; Ts’ao 1972: 15) However, the affluence
was interrupted by Zheng Jing’s participation in the Rebellion of the Three
Feudatories. The new round of coastal warfare threw the Zheng Empire into the
most serious provision crisis it ever confronted. It was exactly this crisis
that brought Zheng’s prowess to an abrupt end.
In 1674, all of the soldier
colonists in Taiwan –
numbered to around 18,000 – were called to leave their fields and head for Fujian. As these
soldiers constituted one-third of the total Chinese population of Taiwan and was
the core productive force on the island,
their sudden departure led to an immediate downturn of agricultural output.
Worse, a substantial portion of the already discounted food supply in Taiwan was shipped to Fujian to support the military campaign.
When Zheng Jing found that the Taiwan supply was insufficient, he issued an
order allowing the extraction of cash and grain taxes from the mainland
residents who just resettled in the his occupied territories after Zheng
revoked the evacuation policy there. (HSJWL: Yongli 28.12; HJJY: Yongli 28.12)
As long as Zheng was expanding his
territory in the mainland between 1674 and 1676, especially after they entered
the heartland of Guangdong
in the spring of 1676, the problem of food supply was contained. However,
following the surrender of Geng Jingzhong at the end of 1676 and the surrender
of Shang Zhixin in spring 1677, Zheng was isolated and kept losing grounds to
the Manchus. The morale of the army eroded with the diminishing of provisions,
and a vicious circle ensued. In 1677, with all major coastal cities lost, a
majority of Zheng troops retreated to Xiamen
with hunger. Every Xiamen
adult citizen was forced to submit one dou
of rice to the army every month. Tax evasion was widespread. Zheng’s generals
suggested pulling all remaining troops out of the mainland. Zheng Jing was
hesitant initially and started sending back his generals’ families back to Taiwan. But
after a month or so he rejected the proposal and insisted on staying. When the
seesawing between Zheng and Qing went on, the tax quota was tripled, and an
additional cash tax was levied in 1679. (HJJY: Yongli 31.2, 33.2; MHJY: Yongli
31.2 MHJL: Yongli 31.2, 31.3, 33.3)
Though Zheng managed to regain some
grounds in Fujian
in 1677 and 1678, his military structure fell apart. The shipment of grain from
was frequently interrupted. Brutal violence of Zheng’s army such as arbitrary
extortion, looting of civilian property, and burning of villages refusing to
pay taxes was widely reported. Hungry generals and soldiers surrendered one
after the other, given the Qing promise of amnesty and rewards. In 1680, having
heard of the news that the Qing reinforcement was coming close to Xiamen,
Zheng’s fighters rushed onto the ships and headed back to Taiwan in a stampede.
Qing took the city without any resistance. The Xiamen residents had suffered so much that
they welcomed the Qing troops with joy. (HSJWL: Yongli 32.3, 34.1-34.4; HJJY: Yongli
34.2.28; MHJY: Yongli 34.2; MHJL: Yongli 32.8.24, 33.3)
In 1679, Zheng Jing realized that
the day of his kingdom was numbered. He lost his will to rule and handed the
actual leadership to his son, Zheng Kezang, who was then 16 years old. (HJJY:
33.2; MHJY: 34.10) Jing died in 1681 and a bloody coup d’etat followed suit.
Zheng Jing’s wife and her allies murdered Kezang and purged his supporters. Jing’s
another son, Zheng Keshuang was made the new leader of the regime, despite the
fact that he was only 12 years old. (HJJY: Yongli
35.1-35.2; MHJY: Yongli 35.1-35.2)
The return of the exhausted and hungry soldiers in 1680
exacerbated the food crisis and ungovernability of the island. The situation in
1680 was much tougher than that in 1662. This time, the Zhengs had no Dutch
granaries to seize. The rice storage of the island was already almost exhausted,
and the treasury of the government had been dried up because of the expedition.
The Zhengs tried to mitigate the crisis by extending and intensifying tax
extraction. A large number of villagers reacted by burning down their houses,
fleeing to the mountain and evading the tax. Some of the soldiers revolted for
payment, in resonance with a series of aborigines rebellions. Grain price
skyrocketed and a famine broke out in the winter of 1682. The crisis was
aggravated by a fire that wiped out 1,600 houses in Tainan, the capital city of the Zheng regime.
In the spring of the next year, a massive famine broke out. (HSJWL: Yongli 36.1; HJJY: Yongli 36.7, 36.12, 37.1; MHJY: Yongli
35.10-37.1; MHJL: Yongli 37.2; see
also Shepherd 1993: 103)
Disregarding the hesitation or opposition of most
officials, the Kangxi Emperor decided to grasp the chance and take the risk of
in 1680. The Emperor had not shut the door of peace, however. Accompanying the
preparation for the campaign, the same offer of a semi-autonomous status was
presented to the Zhengs in 1680 and one more time in 1683. The negotiations
broke down again as the Zhengs were still insisting on a status of tribute
vassal. They might still believe that the Manchus would not have the courage
and capability to cross the Taiwan Strait.
(PDHKFL: 2: 3, 3: 1, 4: 1-2; Wong 1983: 175; QSL: Kangxi 19.8.5, 22.5.23)
In spite of the widespread chaos, Taiwan was
still well defended. After an initial setback, the Qing troops landed on the
strategic Panghu Islands West of Tainan amid an unexpectedly favorable weather
in July 1683. On the Islands, a fierce battle
endured for seven days. The Qing force cleared the Zheng’s forces at a high
cost. In addition to tremendous losses in soldiers and warships, many high rank
commanders were killed. Even the commander in chief was seriously injured. The
Qing force was apparently not able to recoup and push forward immediately.
Zheng’s generals proposed an expedition to invade the Philippines and
“rebuild the nation” (zaizuoguojia)
there. The plan was abandoned at last when the morale continued to fall and
pessimism grew. Zheng’s followers defected successively. At last, the Zhengs
surrendered unconditionally in August.
Zheng Keshuang was granted the title of dukedom (though without actual
power) and resettled ashore. The loyal generals of Zheng were treated well and
placed into high positions in the Qing land forces.
The Zheng Empire vanished. (PDHKFL: 4:1-4, 6; HSJWL: Yongli 37.6-37.12; HJJY: Yongli
37.6, MHJY: Yongli 37.6; MHJL: Yongli 37.6; ZCGZ: 38-9; QSLZZZLZ: 48-9;
QSGZCGZ: 60-61; Shepherd 1993: 474;Wong 1983: 180-5; QSL: Kangxi 22.6.29-22.9.10, 23.3.6)
After a brief confusion in the Qing
was at last incorporated into the Empire in 1684. The island was colonized
after it was strongly fortified. In 1683, all restrictions on seafaring
activities were lifted by the Qing government. Chinese merchant groups were
active in the coastal area again. However, to preempt the possibility of any
trouble from those private traders, the authorities watched the shipbuilding
industry closely. Strict regulations were imposed to restrict the size and
weight of seafaring ships. No weapons were allowed on board. (Tian 1987: 12-6;
QSL: Kangxi 22.10.10, 23.1.21) A new
era of maritime trade in China
came, and it was wittily captured by Wills (1991) as an era when “trade was
legal, but maritime China
had lost it fragile political autonomy” (54; see also Ng 1991, 1983).
CONTINGENT NATURE OF THE FALL OF TAIWAN
The records of the EIC shows that the English in
Taiwan were well aware of the fact that Taiwan fell not because of the might of
Qing’s navy but the internal turmoil on the Island. By the time the Qing force
had captured the Penghu
Islands, the Zhengs were
troubled by “being poor, and provisions most excessive deare.” And “[t]he King
[of Tywan] and Grandees, observing the discontent of the poor, and of the army,
resolved that it was impossible any longer to continue the contest, or for the
King to retain the throne of his ancestors” (quoted by Paske-Smith 1930: 117).
Had Zheng Jing not fought back to the mainland in
1674, or had he accepted his generals’ suggestion of pulling out in 1677, the
subsistence crisis of Taiwan
in 1680 might not have broken out and the Taiwan government would not have
collapsed. The most probable alternative outcome would be the continuing
coexistence of the two rivalries across the Strait. If the Zhengs had no seized
the opportunities given by the Rebellion of the Three Feudatories to embark on
the adventure of regaining their grounds in mainland China, they would have likely expanded
his territory in the maritime zone instead. As we have seen, the conquest of
was always on their agenda. Zheng Jing was actually preparing for an expedition
to Manila right
before the Rebellion in the mainland erupted.
Maybe some will argue that the
failure of the Zhengs was still inevitable as their commercial profits relied
so heavily on the goods from the mainland. Smuggling might go on in large
volume for some time. But it would be crushed by the Qing government someday
after it managed to consolidate itself, as it actually did in the eighteenth
century. But the question is, was the Qing consolidating itself during the
deadlock across the Taiwan Strait?
After the Manchus failed to conquer Taiwan, they
quitted trying to defeat the Zhengs by force. What they could rely on was its
ineffective and even counterproductive scorched-earth evacuation policy, as we
have seen. On the other hand, the sea ban brought a great damage to the Qing
economy, which was as silverized and commercialized as the late Ming economy,
for it cut the mainland off from all sources of silver supply. By the 1650s,
the Manchus had built up an efficient Imperial bureaucracy, resumed regular
taxation, and put down most contenders of power. High level of political
stability was attained, and production recovered. (Wakeman 1985: 1050-1127)
Nonetheless, the evacuation policy created an empire-wide silver shortage. The
situation was worsened by the increasing military expenditures incurred by the
hostilities across the Taiwan Strait.
The result was a deteriorating fiscal deficit of the
Qing state. In 1661, the Qing government imposed extra taxes to make ends meet.
Nearly 5.7 million taels of silver
were levied in addition to regular tax that year. The silver shortage led to
serious deflation. Peasants, merchants and landlords were hit hard as they
became incapable of fulfilling the ever-increasing tax quotas. Many Qing
officials were aware of the connection between the economic crisis and the
evacuation policy, and advocated a relaxation of the sea ban. Now the
empire-wide economic downswing between circa 1656 and 1680 is well documented
and is known as the “Kangxi depression.”
(Wakeman 1985: 1070, 1070ff; Huang 1969: 122; Vogel 1987: 2; Kishimoto-Nakayama
1979, 1984; Atwell 1986)
It is unclear how the “Kangxi depression” was
related to the reappearance of political upheavals in the 1670s. But in 1672,
on the eve of the Rebellion of the Three Feudatories, an able secretary of the
governor of Zhejiang
The whole land has now been brought under the same
rule, the only exception is Taiwan,
but it is located far beyond the sea and cannot do any harm to our land and
people. The present dynasty commands the largest area of land in history. But
land without people is worthless and people without wealth is valueless, and in
the present dynasty, we find that the poverty afflicting the whole population
is unprecedented in the history of China. (Wei Jirui, quoted in
Kishimoto-Nakayama 1984: 229)
were not many choices in front of the Qing government. If it had insisted on
continuing the evacuation policy, its fiscal and economic crisis might not have
been solved and it might have crumbled at last. If it had yielded to the pressure
of silver shortage and lifted the sea ban, the supply problem of Taiwan would have
been solved once and for all, and the Zheng regime could have persisted
successively established itself as an independent tribute vassal of the Qing
empire as it wished.
Viewed in this light, the final stabilization of the
Qing Empire in the eighteenth century – which was a result of the massive
influx of American silver after the lifting of sea ban (see Quan 1987, 1996a) –
cannot be taken for granted. It is wrong to suppose that the Zhengs were
destined to fail when a land-oriented and strong dynasty was restored in the
mainland. In fact, the final consolidation of such a dynastic order was to a
certain extent a function of the contingent resolution of the Taiwan question.
Have the Zheng Empire survived into the eighteenth
century in one way or other, the development of Chinese merchants’ military
capabilities, and their supremacy in maritime East Asia
would have continued. The history of East Asia and China in the following centuries,
in that case, would have been very different from what we know it today.
To recapitulate, we see that the business of the
Zhengs was much more than a mere familial venture. Beging as a familial network
of armed traders under Zheng Zhilong, the enterprise was an accumulative
outcome of protracted illegal trade and military conflict in coastal China since the
mid-sixteenth century. When Zheng Zhilong joined the world of maritime East Asia in the 1620s, there were numerous preexisting trade
networks having developed for over one hundred years. What Zheng achieved was
to take over and unify this bulk of networks – and all related “hardware” such
as junks and ammunition. Then Zhilong’s trade network was transformed radically
by Zheng Zhenggong into a vertically integrated and bureaucratically managed
organization well comparable to the VOC in its structure and economic size. The
organization was not a joint stock company, but it was more than a one-family
business. Behind it was a community of independent Chinese traders protected
and financed by the Zhengs.
Upon the profits generated from this enterprise, the
Zhengs instituted a political-military apparatus for realizing his territorial
ambition and facilitating the enterprise’s further commercial expansion. Of
course, the Zheng regime, though was financed principally by trade revenue, was
no Republic, as its political form was a replica of the Ming Imperial
government. Hence I identify the regime as an Imperial-Merchant state rather
than merely a merchant state. In the 1660s, the Taiwan-based Zheng regime was
turned into a de facto independent power that invites comparison with other
maritime states in Asia such as Oman
It even nearly took onto the path of overseas colonialism, as the conquest of
recurrently appeared on their agenda.
The relation between the Zhengs and
the Qing Empire was constantly in flux. They kept changing their ambitions and
strategy against the other along the way. After the nascent Qing regime found
it impossible to subject the Zhengs by force, it turned to seek to build an
alliance with them by granting them semi-autonomous power to govern the
Empire’s Southeast coast. The Qing proposal was rejected by the Zhengs, who
first were aspired to controlling the southern part of China, and later to building an independent
state on Taiwan following
the example of the kingdom
of Korea and Ryukyu. By
the 1660s, the Qing government had abandoned conquering Taiwan and was
about to leave the Zhengs there. The Manchus would not have been able to
incorporate Taiwan in the
Empire in 1683, had the Zheng regime not collapsed in 1680 under the weight of
its retrospectively miscalculated decision of fighting back to China in the
The Zheng’s final collapse was contingent upon a
number of factors, and was never predetermined. Any teleological account of its
final failure, and the conception that the maritime communities of China were exceptionally and essentially weak as
compared with other commercial groups in maritime Asia
has to be revised. On the other hand, we would suspect whether the
extraordinary economic and politico-military strength of the Zheng was
exceptional compared with other indigenous maritime powers in Asia, hence
constituting another kind of China
exceptionalism. How is the Zheng Empire compared with other
political-commercial actors in maritime Asia,
such as the Omanis state? How was the path of “interactive emergence of
European dominance” at the expense of indigenous traders in East Asia similar
to or different from the paths in other sub-regions in Asia?
Had the Zheng Empire survived, would it have grown into the greatest stronghold
of maritime Asia against European encroachment and revised the course of European
expansion at large, provided with the centrality of Chinese products in the
world market, as well as East Asia’s geographical remoteness from Europe? They are the questions that await further
Western Eastern Inland Five Overseas Five
Sea Fleet Sea Fleet Companies Companies
(xiyanchuan) (dongyangchuan) (shanluwushang) (shuiluwushang)
Figure 1. Vertically Integrated
Business Organization of the Zheng Regime
Derived from CZSL (Yongli 11.50) and Nan
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