Asia Times, March 16, 2012 —
Painting showing the Dutch Fort Zeeland on the colony of Taiwan round 1660 or so.
Has China’s 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 the West.
VF: What sources did you study?
TA: 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.
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?
TA: 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 20,000 adherents. . . .