Broad essay: Dutch and Spanish period of Taiwan
荷西時期總論 中文版本

Classification:History > Taiwan under Dutch and Spanish Rules > Broad Essay
Contributor: Lee Yuchung
In 1624, threatened by the army of the Ming (明) Dynasty, the Dutch withdrew from the Penghu (澎湖) Islands after about two years of occupation. They arrived in Taiwan, which was outside the territory of the Ming Empire. At that time the Portuguese and other Europeans named the island “Formosa,” while the Spanish called it “Hermosa.” Both names mean “Beautiful.”

Not long after the Dutch seized Tayouan (大員, or Taijoung, now Tainan [台南]) in 1624, the Spanish dispatched part of their armada from Taiwan’s east coast to the north, occupying Quelang (雞籠, now Keelung [基隆]) in 1626. This situation marks the first appearance of Taiwan’s division into north versus south in the struggle for political power. On the one hand, the Netherlands and Spain took Taiwan as a base to develop economic and trade relations with China and Japan, while on the other hand, the two nations relied on the assistance and labor of both the Han (漢) and indigenous people to take advantage of exploration and development opportunities on the island. To compare the two European colonial powers, the Dutch overcame problems such as the shifting political allegiances of the indigenous people and the sovereignty disputes of Japanese immigrants, presenting an example of colonial rule that began in hardship and later became relatively successful. The Spanish faced problems in the Philippines regarding alternating political regimes, as well as conflict between church and state. Coupled with their unsuccessful Taiwanese colonial administration, Spanish rule became an opposite model of initial success followed by failure.

By 1642 the increasingly strengthening Dutch presence led a military force to defeat the Spanish garrison at Quelang, nominally making the Dutch into the single ruling power in Taiwan. Dutch rule lasted until February 1662. After nine months of siege from the army of Koxinga (Zheng Chenggong [鄭成功]), city gates were opened, and the Dutch surrendered, ending their 38 year rule of Taiwan.

1. Dutch Rule in Taiwan

In the middle of the 16th century, the Netherlands was part of the European Low Countries and a territorial possession of King Philip II of Spain (both the Netherlands and Belgium shared this territorial status). Later, religious and economic problems between the Dutch and the king of Spain led to conflict and Dutch revolt against Spanish rule. After Philip II assumed kingship over Portugal in 1580, the Dutch, who had largely managed trade at each port throughout Europe, could no longer go through Portugal to obtain Asian goods. In response, the Dutch established a company to manage trade with Asia. By 1596 there were already several Dutch companies with fleets sailing to East Asia. In 1602 these companies were organized into the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC). The VOC was controlled by a 17 member board of directors, who had supreme power over the company. The VOC also had a special contract with the government of the Netherlands that granted the VOC high levels of autonomy, including its own military, diplomatic, legal, and administrative authority.

In the early period of the Dutch search for trade opportunities in East Asia, apart from raiding Portuguese and Spanish East Asian colonial settlements, the Dutch were also looking for locations to establish stable business centers. For example, Wijbrant van Waerwijck seized the Penghu Islands in 1604 in an attempt to open trade relations with China, but unfortunately he had to accept a command by Chinese general Shen Yourong (沈有容) to withdraw. The Dutch search for an outpost in China had been thwarted, but they successively established trade offices in Ambon and Jakarta, Indonesia, as well as in Hirado, Nagasaki. In 1619 Jan Pieterszoon Coen took the office of Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies. The ferocity and vigor which he put into his tasks as Governor-General helped the company to expand tremendously. In 1621, Coen turned Jakarta, Indonesia, into the company’s headquarters, and the city was renamed Batavia.

In 1622, under the order of Governor-general Coen, Cornelis Reyersen led an assault to take Portuguese-controlled Macau. The result of the war was a surprise, as the Dutch lost with heavy casualties. The Dutch then turned to Penghu, where they immediately built fortifications to maintain a presence in seas around China. After two years of negotiations with the Ming empire, neither side could reach a satisfying resolution. In 1624 Reyersen’s successor Martinus Sonck, facing the threat of the Ming army, decided to accept the advice of shipping merchant Li Dan (李旦), and turn to what was known in Chinese as “North Harbor (北港, Paccan)” on the southwest coast of Taiwan.

At that time, the harbor of Tayouan was merely a sandbank outside of the main island of Taiwan. There, at Baxemboy (北線尾), the Dutch constructed a fort to establish their presence. They originally named the fort Oranje, but in 1627, under the orders of Governor-General Coen, it was renamed Zeelandia (熱蘭遮城, now known as Anping [安平] Fort). Later, because of problems such as the increase in foreigner population, another fort was added at Chikan (赤崁) on the facing shore of the main island of Taiwan, and it was called Fort Provintia (普羅民遮). In the days to come, the entire Dutch colonial project in Taiwan would largely be comprised of using Zeelandia and the surrounding towns for foreign commerce and military affairs. On the main island, Fort Provintia also served as an administrative center, to manage the immigration of Chinese people, as well as agriculture and related businesses.

During the early period of their colonization, the most vexing issue for the Dutch was whether or not to tax Japanese businesses in Taiwan. The Japanese felt that because they arrived in Taiwan before the Dutch, they could challenge any assertion of Dutch authority in Tayouan. This conflict later led to serious incidents between the two sides. The Japanese magistrate from Nagasaki Suetsugu Heizou had a deputy in Taiwan named Hamada Yahei who captured a senior Dutch official named Pieter Nuyts and others, bringing some of them to Japan. Because of this, the Dutch trade office in Japan was closed for a period of time, so the Dutch sent Nuyts to be imprisoned in Japan. Sovereignty disputes regarding Tayouan between the Dutch and the Japanese finally ended because Japan’s Tokugawa officials adopted a policy of closing up their country to foreign trade (also known as the Sakoku Edict). However, after a period of economic fluctuations, stable and mutually beneficial trade relations came along with Zheng Zhilong’s (鄭芝龍) takeover of maritime trade along the Fujian (福建) coast.

Regarding internal issues, the most difficult to solve was how to convince indigenous people to accept VOC dominion. The first indigenous groups that the Dutch met in Taiwan were the Sinkang (新港), Backloan (目加溜灣), Soelangh (蕭?), and Mattauw (麻豆), but the Dutch relationship with these groups was much less than cordial. For instance, the Sinkang people were involved in the Hamada Yahei incident of 1628. In 1629 the Mattauw even killed 60 Dutch soldiers. The VOC would eventually adopt a strategy of divide-and-conquer, forming an alliance with Sinkang and Soelangh against the Mattauw, and gradually forcing other indigenous groups to submit. The most tragic event in the history of the Dutch colonization of Taiwan occurred in 1636, when the indigenous Lamay Island people were totally massacred by the Dutch. After the Spanish surrendered north Taiwan in 1642, Dutch forces had already surrounded nearly the entire island. Senior officer Francois Caron systematized the land ownership system, gradually establishing the credibility of Dutch dominion, and indigenous revolt against the VOC became less severe, but there were still sporadic uprisings.

The Dutch administration in Taiwan profited from the shipping trade, but another source of income was taxation. In the early 1640s, the Dutch contract tax revenue system known as “pacht (?)” was introduced to Taiwan. Businesses such as butchery, winemaking, and fishing were put under taxation which some people were contracted to collect. Furthermore, after 1642 indigenous territories were divided up, and, for the sake of profit, the rights to each territory’s merchant transactions were put up for bid. The bidders were mostly all Chinese people. To offset the high cost of territory rights, the Chinese in turn exploited indigenous people to gain a profit. Chinese immigrants also had to pay a head tax every year. Originally, there were few Chinese people in Taiwan, but with Dutch encouragement to come to Taiwan to develop agricultural production, and with China’s internal instabilities in the early 1640s, the Taiwanese immigrant population greatly increased. The head tax became major source of tax income for the Dutch in Taiwan, and the Dutch continuously began to levy new taxes. Finally in 1652, this led to the Gouqua Faet (郭懷一, Guo Huaiyi) Revolt incident.

At the start of the 1650s, the Dutch in Taiwan gradually felt increasing pressure from the rise of Koxinga on the facing Fujianese coast. The Dutch had seized some Zheng-family merchant ships in East Asian waters, and subsequently the Dutch would rely on profits apart from maritime trade to prepare military defense against the Qing (清) army’s Koxinga, causing a lot of tension. In 1651 Zheng Chenggong claimed that his father Zheng Zhilong had taxation privileges and other rights over the Chinese fishermen in Wankan (魍港, or Wanggang, today the area around Beimen [北門] Township in Tainan). The time was right for conflict between both sides, and rumors that Zheng Chenggong’s army was about to make a surprise attack spread around Tayouan. Lord Frederik Coyett had asked the Governor-General of Batavia for reinforcements many times, yet by 1661 the reinforcements that came had still not encountered Zheng’s attack. Feeling that the rumor of an attack was an empty threat, the reinforcements returned to Batavia. Not long after this, Tayouan guards saw Zheng Chenggong’s armada appear on the horizon. After ten months of siege by Koxinga’s army, the Dutch handed over the keys to Fort Zeelandia and retreated, ending the 38 year period of Dutch colonization in Taiwan.

2. Spanish Rule in Taiwan

In 1571 the Spanish took Manila as the capital of their colonial empire. From early on, the Spanish did not put emphasis on Taiwan’s strategic value until Japan’s Toyotomi Hideyoshi intended on passing through Taiwan southward to conquer Luzon (呂宋) Island. Only then did the Spanish made a plan to take Taiwan. As Hideyoshi soon died, and tensions between the two sides eased, the plan to take Taiwan was also forgotten until the early 17th century when the Dutch arrived in East Asia. Facing Dutch expansion, the Spanish plan to take Taiwan was once again brought under discussion.

After the Dutch seized Tayouan in 1624, they sailed between the Philippines and the Taiwan Strait areas plundering Chinese merchant ships. Because of the Dutch, Manila, a city reliant on the trade of Chinese goods, fell into economic hardships. In 1626, to counterattack the Dutch, Fernando de Silva dispatched an expeditionary force to move quietly from Taiwan’s east coast northward to Quelang. The Spanish saw that the conditions in Quelang Port were suitable for convenient sailing to Fujian and Japan. They drove out the current residents of Sheliao Island (社寮, currently Heping [和平] Island), the Taparri. On May 16, the first commanding officer Antonio Carreno de Valdes led the Spanish in holding a Catholic ceremony to declare their occupation of the place, changing the name of Quelang Port to Santisima Trinidad Port, and naming the fort they constructed there San Salvador. San Salvador later became the name of the town on Heping, as well as the name of the small island itself.

In 1627, because supplies from Manila came too late to support the Spanish at Quelang, the undernourished Spanish commanding officer found out about nearby rice paddies in Tamchuy (淡水, today’s Danshui ) and sent a group of soldiers to there. The hungry Spanish hoped to make a treaty with the indigenous Senar (圭柔) community to try to bring some food supplies back to their colony. Disastrously, the Spanish were ambushed by indigenous leadership and other local indigenous groups, so that the Spanish losses in the attack were rather grave. The commanding officer at the fort soon formed a retaliatory force to go to Tamchuy, and they once again saw the plentiful rice crop. The Spanish constructed the Santo Domingo fort in Tamchuy around the early part of 1628.

The Spanish took Quelang and Tamchuy as strongholds, proceeding to conduct military expeditionary actions in the Taipei basin, as well as in Yilan (宜蘭) and Hualian (花蓮) in east Taiwan. The indigenous peoples around the Taipei basin such as the Quipatao (北投), Lichoco (里族), and Pulauan (武?灣) all submitted to the Spanish flag. However, Spanish colonial rule over Taiwan really was rather weak. The Spanish had no way to suppress the dissatisfaction of the indigenous people. For instance, the indigenous Senar people of Tamchuy would attempt defections on numerous occasions. The indigenous people would eventually burn the wooden Spanish fort of Santo Domingo to the ground.

In the 16th century, the ports at Quelang and Tamchuy were peripheral maritime sailing destinations for sailors. After the Spanish took Quelang Port, their much needed supplies, weapons, and ammunition had already been used to buy silver for Chinese goods. All of the supply ships from Manila shipped to this port, and the cargo was known as “socorros de Manila,” or Manila supplies. The Spanish hoped to use silver to attract the Chinese to Quelang for trade. Because funding was adequate in the early period, the Spanish certainly had quite a lot of Chinese merchants coming with goods. But later, as “socorros de Manila” were late to deliver silver, Chinese merchants were left bitter for a year. At the time, the Chinese had no way to take back the payments they gave to the Spanish for credit. This situation would lead to Quelang Port’s poor business reputation, with merchant ships rarely willing to come, leading to the port’s decline.

Before the Spanish controlled Tamchuy Port, it had been used for Chinese and Japanese smuggling trades, as well as trade in indigenous people’s products. Chinese merchants would trade textile products with the indigenous groups in Beitou in exchange for sulfer. Because the volume of trade was quite large, the Spanish once intended to turn this trade into a monopoly, but their plan was not implemented. After the Spanish withdrew from Tamchuy in 1637, they attempted to force the Chinese to move to Queelang Port for trade, often by sending ships to patrol Tamchuy. In 1642, after the Dutch had taken over north Taiwan, the core of foreign trade was moved to Tamchuy, and Tamchuy Port became Taiwan’s most important economic port.

When the Spanish took over northern Taiwan, the Dutch on several occasions sent warships to Tamchuy and Quelang to lie in wait. After the Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines greatly reduced the Spanish military presence in Taiwan and gave up their post in Tamchuy, the Dutch felt an opportunity that they could not waste. In 1641 they dispatched naval vessels to move into Quelang to force the surrender of Spanish garrisons, but to no avail. The next year the Dutch formed a larger expeditionary force to attack the city. On August 24th , the Spanish opened the gates and surrendered, ending their 16 year rule in Taiwan.

3. Chinese Action on the Taiwanese Stage

At the start of the 16th century, Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch people came to East Asia one after the other. The coastal Chinese people from mainland China would also hoist their sails for East Asian waters, perhaps sailing across the seas to plunder, perhaps coming into competitive or cooperative relations with Westerners, or perhaps traversing indigenous villages and fields in service of Western colonial enterprises. In many of the ports of Taiwan, such as the region around Wankan (Wanggang) and Ponkan (笨港, now Beigang Township [北港鎮]), Chinese visages could be seen all around.

Lin Daoqian (林道乾) was a member of the Chaozhou (潮州) people from Huilai (惠來) County in Guangdong (廣東). It is said that he was pursued by Ming general Yu Dayou (俞大猷) and escaped through the Penghu Islands toward “the Eastern Barbarians” (Taiwan), but according to Ming dynasty recorded documents he went to the region currently known as Cambodia. In 1574, another Teochew person named Lin Feng (林鳳), born in Raoping (饒平) County, was being pursued by the Ming army and fled to Wankan, where there was already an established Chinese fishing community. Lin Feng then turned towards Luzon and attempted to raid Manila. He was repulsed by the Spanish, and eventually retreated to Penghu. Lin Feng went on to harass Fujian and Guangdong, but his activities there were put to an end by coast guard officer Hu Shouren (胡守仁) in 1576. Not much else about Lin Feng is known after that.

From the 16th century onwards, Chinese people actively engaged in East Asian maritime trade along the coast. The most active trader was none other than Zheng Zhilong, who not only inherited Li Dan and Yan Siqi’s (顏思齊) influence, but also received Ming amnesty to become a naval officer in 1628. He successively defeating Li Kuiqi (李魁奇), Zhong Bin (鍾斌), and Liu Xiang (劉香), all of whom were rising forces on the seas. Zheng Zhilong became a mighty power in the seas around South China, and formed a foundation for the sudden rise of the later Zheng Chenggong.

Apart from those examples, there were also Chinese people in the service of Western colonizers. For instance, merchants such as Su Minggang (蘇鳴崗) came from Batavia to the Dutch colony in Taiwan early in search of business, or Tong’an (同安) businessman Lin Hengwan (林亨萬) who was engaged in agricultural cultivation until 1640 when he died in a shipping accident. Already having accepted a contract under the VOC in diplomacy and trade, became a middleman between the VOC and Zheng Chenggong, and would get on friendly terms with Zheng. Later, because He Bin (何斌) was led into embezzling public funds and was enmeshed in a financial dispute, he was fired from office and penalized. In 1660 He Bin escaped to Amoy (廈門, now Xiamen) where he convinced Zheng Chenggong to attack Taiwan.

4. Dutch and Spanish Missionary Activities

The Spanish and the Dutch proselytizing missionaries who went to Taiwan penetrated deeply into the indigenous society, allowing officials stationed inside far-away forts to understand the indigenous lifestyle and culture. The reports these missionaries wrote are regarded as treasured materials in current research on the early history of Taiwanese indigenous people.

After the Spanish occupation of northern Taiwan, priests from Santo Domingo started to propagate the faith, and followed Spanish soldiers in their colonial expansion and exploration of north and east Taiwan. Their footprints reached such places as Tamchuy, the larger Taipei basin, Santiago (三貂, now known as Gongliao [貢寮] Township), and Yilan. In the 16 year period of Spanish rule over Taiwan, some 4000 indigenous Taiwanese people were baptized and converted into followers.

The successes of Bartolome Martinez and Jacinto Esquivel, two priests from Santo Domingo, were most notable. Martinez studied Chinese to proficiency in Manila, and was friendly with Chinese people. As the winds blew towards Taiwan, Martinez forcefully advocated colonization of the island, and in 1626 he accompanied an expeditionary force to Taiwan. Contact between Esquivel and the indigenous people of north Taiwan went even deeper. Esquivel used the language of the indigenous people in Tamchuy to compose a Catholic doctrinal text, and a dictionary of Tamchuy language, both of which are now lost. The two other reports which he wrote are indispensible primary source historical materials in researching north Taiwan’s early history.

Up to 1627, the VOC would regularly dispatch clergymen from the Dutch Reformed Church to convert the indigenous Taiwanese. Later, because of the success of colonial expansion in south Taiwan, the work of conversion went rather smoothly. Tainan was a central point which split Kaohsiung (高雄) and Pingtung (屏東) on the southern side with Huwei (虎尾) Township and Erlin (二林) Township on the northern side. After taking northern Taiwan, in response to the needs of the indigenous people there, in 1655 the Dutch sent clergy members forward to spread their religion.

The Dutch proselytized in Taiwan for 35 years. Apart from using the Sinkang and Favorlang (虎尾?) languages to compose doctrinal texts, they also established schools to instruct indigenous children in Dutch language and writing, leaving a profound influence. The clergyman Georgius Candidus who came to Taiwan as a missionary was a foundation builder for his religion. Among his writings is a report of local conditions and people in Sinkang. Anthonius Hambroeck did missionary work among the Mattauw people in 1648. In 1661, Zheng Chenggong attacked Taiwan and occupied Fort Provintia. Hambroeck with his wife and daughter were imprisoned, and later sent by Zheng Chenggong to Zeelandia to persuade the Dutch to surrender. Instead, Hambroeck took the opportunity to encourage the Dutch to fight until the end. Finally, because Hambroeck incited a revolt among the indigenous people, Zheng Chenggong had him executed.

5. Dutch and Spanish Historical Materials

Historical materials from the Dutch and Spanish periods are all preserved in archives outside of Taiwan. Moreover, these materials were all written in Spanish, Dutch, or Portuguese. Because of this, it was not until the Japanese colonial period that the Taipei Imperial University with its College of Liberal Arts and Law, Historical Science Department, had professors such as Murakami Naojirou, who could do the work of organizing and translating these texts. After the war, this field of work was inherited by scholar Tsao Yungho (曹永和).

Regarding the Dutch occupation of Taiwan, no materials are more important than the records left by the VOC, which are mainly stored at the Dutch National Archives in The Hague. In recent years Taiwnese and Dutch scholars have been hard at work regularly publishing material from the daily records of Fort Zeelandia or De Dagregisters van het Kasteel Zeelandia, Taiwan. The scholar Chiang Shusheng (江樹生) traveled to the Netherlands and has translated the records into Chinese, and scholars such as Weng Jiayin (翁佳音), Lin Weisheng (林偉盛), Pol Heyns (韓家寶) (Belgium), Cheng Weichung (鄭維中), and others continue to make progress at translating related historical materials.

The excavation, organization, and translation of historical materials from the Spanish period in Taiwan began somewhat later. Spanish scholar Jose Eugenio Borao Mateo, with the support of Tsao Yungho, has worked through the collection of historical materials and has proceeded with English translation, going on to publish two volumes of Spaniards in Taiwan: 1582-1682. Other Taiwanese scholars such as Fang chenchen (方真真) and Lee Yuchung (李毓中) have also progressed in examining related materials and translating these into Chinese. There are currently a number of successfully published works.

Indigenous Siraya (西拉雅) people under the instruction of Dutch were able to learn to write using a Romanized alphabet. They used their writing ability to sign contracts with the Chinese, and in 1933 Japanese scholar Murakami Naojirou was the first to publish his collection of such early contracts as the Sinkang Manuscripts (新港文書).

6. International Relations.

With its headquarters based in London, the British East India Company in 1600 received special permission from their government to handle trade activities in the region of Asia. In order to oppose Spanish hegemony, the British had already made a pact with the Dutch, so that in the early period of development of the British East India Company in East Asia, they joined the Dutch and used their combined naval forces to attack the Spanish and the Portuguese. When later faced with the enormous profits from the Asian trade, the British and the Dutch confronted each other. In 1623, on the pretext of discovering a British rebellion against the Dutch, one Dutch governor in Southeast Asia had ten British people and others executed in an event known as the Amboyna massacre.

Encountering such a setback, the British East India Company moved the significant part of its administration to India and Persia, only leaving behind its earliest trading center in Bantam, Indonesia. In 1670, the British once again sent someone from their outpost in Bantam to Taiwan in order to procure a trade agreement with Zheng Jing (鄭經). However, with the decline of Zheng Jing’s power in China and the East Asia region, the British East India Company’s plans to expand its trade into East Asia were once again foiled, and their trade situation in East Asia would not change until after the 18th century.

Copyright © 2011 Council for Cultural Affairs. All Rights Reserved.  

Chinese Keyword
荷蘭聯合東印度公司 , 《熱蘭遮城日誌》 , 薩爾瓦多城 , 《荷西在臺史料》

English Keyword
Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) , The Daily Records of Fort Zeelandia , Fort San Salvador , Spanish archives about Taiwan , The Dutch East India Company , "De Dagregisters van het Kasteel Zeelandia, Taiwan" (The Daily Records of Fort Zeelandia) , "Spaniards in Taiwan1582-1682"


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