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2 INTERVIEW Bridging East-West historical
rising economic power unsettled the proud West?
Tonio Andrade further rattles the cage. This
historian at Emory University argues that imperial
China was stronger earlier - and for longer - than
most Westerners realize. In this interview with
Asia Times Online contributor Victor Fic, this
researcher explains big ideas that might
revolutionize our understanding of world history.
Andrade is the author of How Taiwan
Became Chinese and Lost Colony: The Untold
Story of Europe's First War with China. He
holds a MA from the University of Illinois
Urbana-Champaign and an MA, MPhil, and PhD from
Yale University (1997, 1998, and 2000).
Victor Fic: Why is the
Sino-Dutch War (1661-1668) neglected in the West?
Tonio Andrade: The war and
the Chinese warlord Zheng Chenggong - called
Koxinga in English - are famous throughout
East Asia, but both are
barely known in the West probably because it was a
war that European powers lost. I became interested
because it is extremely important - the first
major conflict between Chinese and Western
European forces, the only such conflict until the
famous first Opium War of 1839-42. And whereas
China lost that, Zheng Chenggong defeated Europe's
most dynamic colonial power, the Dutch East India
Company. I tell the story in Lost Colony: The
Untold Story of China's First Great Victory Over
sources did you study?
The war is richly documented. Dutch
manuscripts are tremendously detailed, giving a
daily or hourly account, often from various
perspectives. The Chinese sources are less
detailed, but they offer a fascinating glimpse
into Ming Dynasty military history, when Chinese
forces were modernizing quickly, showing many of
the developments that historians believed were
then unique to Europe.
Tonio Andrade at his home in
VF: We'll return to
modernization theory. Lets first zoom in on the
war. Why do you depict the main warrior, Koxinga,
as a larger-than-life character?
Koxinga is famous throughout East Asia for
defeating the Dutch and his decade-long fight
against the ethnically Manchu forces that founded
the Qing Dynasty in 1644. The Chinese hail this
national hero who bravely, selflessly, and loyally
resisted foreigners and hoped to reinstate the
Chinese Ming Dynasty. Yet he was born and raised
in Japan, probably spoke Japanese as his first
language. His father - a Chinese pirate - wasn't
present for his birth. He was pillaging and
smuggling as the world's most powerful pirate with
VF: How is
birth is described in some sources as miraculous:
seeing omens and prophecies, a light shining down
from heaven at the moment of parturition, an
auspicious sea creature thrashing in the bay near
his mother's house. It was a fun challenge to try
to weave stories like this into the text even as I
kept the emphasis on firm historical grounding.
of Koxinga on Gulang Island near Xiamen City,
VF: The glowing omens seemed
to come true when he inherited wealth ... .
TA: When a young Zheng
Chenggong went to China to begin his Chinese
education, his father had "gone legit" and become
one of the richest men in the imperium. Koxinga
inherited his father's empire and used it to fund
one of the globe's most powerful armies inspired
by his Japanese background. Some units wore
samurai-style masks and carried samurai-style
swords. He was an effective commander, fighting up
and down the Chinese coast against the mighty
Manchus, founders of a new dynasty, the Qing (1644
AD - 1911 AD), which sought to take over all of
VF: Who was his Dutch
nemesis or team of adversaries?
TA: He was the irascible
Frederick Coyet, Taiwan's governor. Coyet had
acrimonious disagreements with his subordinates
and superiors. In general, the Chinese continually
out thought and out fought the less-skilled Dutch.
VF: Summarize the context
and cause of the fracas.
The Dutch had settled Taiwan in 1624 and began
inviting Chinese colonists there who established
rice paddies and sugar plantations, taking over
the hunting fields of the native head-hunters. The
Dutch levied taxes on the colonists and both sides
benefitted, albeit with some abuses and distrust.
But in 1661, Koxinga wanted Taiwan as a base to
fight the Manchu Qing (1644 AD - 1911 AD). They
increasingly encroached on his mainland bases. So
he invaded Taiwan with the largest Chinese
ocean-going fleet since Zheng He's famous voyages
of the early 1400s.
were the war's cardinal events?
TA: Koxinga sailed past the
main Dutch defenses near today's Tainan City,
entering Taiwan through the little used "Dear's
Ear" channel. Usually it was too shallow for large
oceangoing vessels, but Koxinga timed his approach
with a high tide, and Dutch guns pointed at empty
space as Dutch sentinels watched hundreds of
Chinese vessels safely land his troops. They
quickly overcame most Dutch positions. Within days
the only tenable Dutch defense was the main,
powerful fortress called Zeelandia Castle. Today
you can visit the ruins.
Painting showing the
Dutch Fort Zeeland on the colony of Taiwan round
1660 or so.
VF: What is your conclusion
on the balance of power between them?
TA: The Chinese exceeded the
Dutch in leadership, in drill, and in cannons, but
the latter had two cardinal advantages that I did
not expect to find. First, Dutch ships were
overwhelmingly superior to Chinese vessels in
deepwater combat. I found many passages in Chinese
sources about how formidable Dutch ships were.
Each Dutch ship could take on 20 or so Chinese
vessels, although Chinese commanders often won
through superior leadership. No vessel can sail
directly windward or into the wind, but the Dutch
were far better at sailing at a closer angle,
several times helping the Dutch.
VF: What was the second
TA: It was the
European artillery fortress design developed in
the Renaissance and which spread throughout the
continent. It had large, protruding bastions at
the four corners with mounted cannon that could
fire at almost any angle. The forts were nearly
impossible to storm. Fort Zeelandia was one. It
stymied Koxinga several times, to his surprise
because it was considerably smaller than most
Chinese walled cities he had overcome. Its lethal
cannonfire shredded his powerful army. It took him
nine months to finally force a surrender aided by
a high-ranking commander who defected, the
drunkard Hans Radij. So I agree with historian
Geoffrey Parker that the fort was a vital tool for
European expansion. The other perspective, from
historian Jeremy Black, too hastily dismisses the
artillery fort here.
Prove your claim that the generally more powerful
Dutch erred but Koxinga was a matchless leader and
that was the true margin of victory for the
TA: Often, Koxinga
and his officers outsmarted the Dutch. In the
first significant land battle, Chinese commander
Chen Ze defeated Dutch musketeers by secretly
surrounding them. Later the Dutch managed to
receive a huge relief fleet that brought supplies
and soldiers. The Chinese were terrified. But when
the Dutch fleet attacked instead of blockading
Koxinga, Chen Ze again outwitted the Dutch, luring
their ships into an ambush.
VF: Underscore how Koxinga
often drew upon traditional Chinese ways of war.
TA: My research revealed
this intriguing factor. Koxinga and his generals
drew on a rich, useful tradition of Chinese
military thought. It goes back to Sun Tzu's "Art
of War" and beyond. Some Chinese scholars have
even argued that his use of traditional strategies
was key to his victory. I think that is somewhat
true. Westerners are largely unaware of this
military tradition. It is worth studying intently.
I am doing so by immersing myself in late Ming -
1500s and early 1600s - military treatises and
manuals. It will change how we think about
military history and global history because it
claim that as Koxinga died in howling, contorting
agony - steam rose from his head. Do you believe
TA: It's impossible to
know. Some claim he did because of his fury over
what he perceived as incest committed by his son,
gnashing his own teeth and clawing at his own
face. So many sources offer colorful but not
entirely trustworthy stories. He was a legend even
when living. He enjoyed his fame and encouraged
people to tell tales about him, particularly
emphasizing his samurai sense of loyalty,
righteousness, and the favor of Heaven. Many
suggest that his death was imbued with madness, so
I do think the there's some truth to that. I don't
know about the steam, though.
VF: Let us pull back and
examine the medium-level issue about military
affairs ... explain the theories.
TA: Scholars are presently
vigorously debating a basic question of world
history: when did Europe begin its ascendancy over
the world? The traditionalists such as Joseph
Bryant and Niall Ferguson argue Europe was on a
separate path from Asia as early as the
Renaissance. But the revisionists, such as Kenneth
Pomeranz and Jack Goldstone, believe that until
1800 or so, developed parts of Asia were
undergoing processes remarkably similar to those
found n Europe.