General Koxinga’s claims to Taiwan were groundbreaking … and now everyone uses his legacy for their own ends.
Date May 31 2019
By: Nick Taber
Chinese general Koxinga landed in Taiwan in 1661, when it was known as Formosa and controlled by the Dutch East India Company. Historian Xing Hang describes him standing outside a Dutch fortress, shouting: “Taiwan belongs to the government of China!” Fast-forward 358 years to this January, when Chinese President Xi Jinping stood in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People and proclaimed, “It’s a legal fact that both sides of the [Taiwan] Strait belong to one China and cannot be changed by anyone or any force.”
Xi has repeatedly vowed to reunite Taiwan with China and is rapidly building a military capable of delivering on that promise. The modern conflict over Taiwan is the legacy of a civil war between the Communist People’s Republic of China (PRC), which today rules mainland China, and the nationalist Republic of China (ROC), which rules Taiwan and a few islands off the southeast coast of China. By some reckonings, that conflict began in 1949 when the ROC government, led by Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan with the intention of one day expelling the communists and unifying China.
But they were far from the first. In his forthcoming book, The Making of the Chinese Navy, Bruce Elleman argues that “Taiwan has repeatedly been used as a sanctuary for the losing side in Chinese civil wars.” The story of the first such instance centers on Koxinga, a legendary ruler described in Chinese textbooks as a national hero for expelling Western powers from Taiwan.
WHEN KOXINGA CLAIMED TAIWAN HAD BEEN CHINESE TERRITORY SINCE “ANCIENT TIMES,” HE WAS THE FIRST OF MANY WHO WOULD MAKE THAT CLAIM.
In the mid-17th century, the Manchu invaded China from the north, defeating the Ming dynasty to establish the Qing dynasty. Loyalists of the old regime were forced to consider their dwindling options. Koxinga, or Zheng Chenggong, was a Ming loyalist with deep hatred for the Manchu invaders from the north, who had executed his father and driven his mother to suicide. Koxinga assembled a massive force to invade Taiwan, then only inhabited by the Dutch East India Company and aboriginal groups, with the intention of eventually restoring ethnic-Chinese control of China. [FULL STORY]