January 30th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Dyson report only partial answer to union problems

CANBERRA OBSERVED No urgency but Turnbull will want to make his mark

NATIONAL AFFAIRS SA pays price of solar and wind generation

FRENCH POLITICS AND ISLAM Kepel scathing of French elites, Salafists and far-right Islamophobes

ENVIRONMENT New bushfire tragedies: when will we ever learn?

RELIGION IN RUSSIA Betrayal: Curia no friend to Russian Catholics

HISTORY OF TAIWAN From pivot of Dutch trade to Japanese outpost

LIFE ISSUES Victoria enacts law based on lies told to Parliament

LIFE ISSUES Euthanasia: a false start to end-of-life issues

ETHICS Book traces foundations of true civilisation

RELIGION AND SOCIETY A welcome in truth for the same-sex attracted

CINEMA The beauty beyond fear: The Good Dinosaur

BOOK REVIEW Secularism mars insights

BOOK REVIEW A novel for the remnant


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From pivot of Dutch trade to Japanese outpost

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, January 30, 2016

The Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie in Dutch, known as the VOC) was one of the most successful private companies in the history of the world. The aim of the VOC was to monopolise the East Indian spice trade and therefore extinguish competition, both within Holland and from other European powers. From the time it was chartered in 1602 until its dismemberment due to corruption and bankruptcy almost 200 years later, it paid an 18 per cent annual dividend.

Fort Zeelandia in the 17th century.

The VOC is said to be the first multinational company and was certainly the first company to issue stock. At the height of its success, it was the richest private company in the history of the world. The VOC’s assets included 150 merchant ships, 50 warships, 50,000 employees and 10,000 soldiers. The VOC acted like – indeed, was – more like a sovereign state than a private company.

The problem for the VOC was, as with other European traders such as the English East India Company, that there was an enormous imbalance of trade. The Europeans had nothing the Asians wanted except precious metals. Thus the spice trade was delivering commodities to Europe but draining Europe of gold and silver.

China wont play ball

Several solutions were tried. The VOC generated an intra-Asian trade that would result in Asians paying for Asian goods in Asian commodities. For more than 200 years, the Dutch had sole rights to trade with Japan, based on Dejima, an artificial island off the western port city of Nagasaki.

The Dutch had the same trouble with China as did the British: the Chinese would not trade. The Dutch attempted to solve the problem militarily and by that way keep the trade networks open. The British traded with China for something they did want: opium. While the ethics of the opium trade can be debated, as far as the British rulers were concerned, having their lower classes drinking tea was preferable to having them drunk on gin. As the saying went, “Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for two pence.” The Opium Wars is something of a misnomer; they were more correctly trade wars rather than wars over drugs.

The VOC recognised the strategic importance of Taiwan and its surrounding islands. Taiwan is a geostrategic pivot between north-east and South-east Asia. The islands were ideally placed to deploy forces between the Dutch East Indies (now known as Indonesia), their main sphere of operations, and Japan and China.

The Portuguese, during their Age of Exploration, took a liking to Taiwan, which they called Ilha Formosa, or Beautiful Island, a name with staying power. They also named the Penghu Archipelago, which lies between Taiwan and mainland China, the Pescadores (“Fishermen’s Islands”).

It is not at all surprising that the VOC would take an interest in Taiwan, nor that others than the VOC would find interests there. Dutch traders arrived in 1623 and the VOC established a base, called Fort Zeelandia, on the south-western coast of Taiwan. The Spanish also had territorial ambitions. They established in 1626 a settlement at Santisima Trinidad, and also Fort San Salvador near modern-day Keelung. An alliance of VOC soldiers and aboriginal tribesmen ejected the Spanish in 1642. An earlier Spanish settlement near present-day Danshui in northern Taiwan had already been abandoned. The remains of Fort San Salvador can still be seen there today in the Santo Domingo complex.

In 1633, the Ming navy had defeated the VOC fleet in the Battle of Lioaluo Bay. This battle, which occurred near Kinmen Island, just off the Chinese coast, established the supremacy of China in the Taiwan Strait. It was the largest conflict involving European powers and the Chinese navy for two centuries, until the Opium Wars. The Ming court described China’s victory as a “miracle at sea”.

After this debacle, the VOC leadership told its local forces to keep out of trouble and “leave China alone”. As we remember, China did not consider Taiwan to be Chinese territory. The first Chinese settlers only began arriving in the middle of the period of Dutch rule, without encouragement from Chinese officials.

The VOC established Fort Zeelandia to consolidate its position in Taiwan. Taiwan was a profitable outpost for the VOC, and the fort was the VOC’s headquarters there. The remnants of Fort Zeelandia can be seen today in Anping, on the outskirts of Tainan on the western coast of Taiwan.

There were no Han Chinese on the island of Taiwan at that time. The aboriginal tribes initially responded well to Dutch methods of governance. In 1662, taxes were levied; education was compulsory; Protestant missionaries evangelised the aborigines. The aborigines were set to work growing rice and sugar, which were traded throughout Asia. Vast herds of deer were exploited for a variety of uses, including as trade goods for the Japanese market.

The first Chinese immigrants arrived in Taiwan during the period of Dutch occupation. Taiwan was not considered suitable for women, so immigrants were almost entirely single men. Predictably, cohabitation between Chinese and aboriginal women was not uncommon.

Most of the immigrants were from Fuzhou (Foochow) and Xiamen (Amoy) in Fujian Province opposite Taiwan, and Guangzhou (Canton) and other parts of Guangdong Province. As the population of Chinese grew, conflict became habitual, between Hakka and Han Chinese, men from different towns and provinces, even different clans and lineages.

(The Hakka are a subgroup of the Han Chinese. They speak a different language and have different cultural traditions. In Taiwan, some areas are almost exclusively Hakka, such as Xinchu and Yangmei. Hakka, however, are not considered to be Taiwanese. The Taiwanese speak Minnan Hua, also known as Taiyu or Hoklo.)

A puff of wind

The situation of the Dutch was precarious. The aborigines may have been cooperative but the evangelists’ brand of strict Dutch Calvinism did not endear them to the native people. Dutch governance did not sit easily on the shoulders of Taiwan’s aborigines. The Dutch were “kings in grass castles”.

The puff of wind needed to blow the VOC away was not long in coming. The Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), which was founded by Kublai Khan, grandson of the great Genghis Khan, did not last long – less than 100 years; hardly comparable to the great Han Dynasty (205 BC to 220 AD) or the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD). When the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) was overcome by the Manchus, a northern tribe, rebellion spread throughout China. The five ancient peoples of China are Han, Manchu, Mongol, Muslim and Tibetans. Some 95 per cent of the people of China are Han. The Manchus, ruling as the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) were never truly accepted as Chinese.

Koxinga (1624–62) was a Ming loyalist. His father might be politely described as a merchant (or pirate) and his mother was Japanese. Koxinga was described, to use the term loosely, as an admiral. He attacked the Dutch in Taiwan in 1661. The aboriginal allies of the VOC turned on them and joined with Koxinga to attack Fort Zeelandia. It is said that the Aborigines took great pleasure in playing football with their hated Christian textbooks. Many Dutch were beheaded and in 1662, the VOC was expelled from Taiwan after Koxinga decided it was his patriotic duty to do so. Koxinga died the same year, aged 37, of what is described as a seizure. The VOC had ruled Taiwan from 1624 to 1662; not even 40 years, but they had made a great impression on the island.

Koxinga’s son went on to rule a kingdom in Taiwan. The Qing Dynasty ruled China until the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 and the abdication of Emperor Pu Yi in 1912 led to the creation of the Republic of China.

Koxinga had presented Beijing with something it never really wanted, namely the island of Taiwan. The emperor and his advisers found the idea of a province that was not contiguous with the China mainland distasteful. Moreover, the Chinese settlers were extremely bothersome, as were the aborigines. The aborigines, who were headhunters, often beheaded shipwrecked sailors, which created diplomatic problems, especially when those sailors were Japanese. Besides which, the Tokugawa Shoguns who ruled the Japan of the time often appeared to willfully misinterpret any diplomatic agreement. The Japanese had obvious territorial ambitions in China’s sphere of influence, including Taiwan.

In addition, France and Britain had made incursions into Taiwan. The Chinese authorities on occasion tried to clean out the Chinese from Taiwan, but thousands were attached to their native wives and their property and refused to budge. Taiwan was an exasperating problem, like “a ball of mud”. In a series of fits and starts, Beijing eventually did claim Taiwan as its own, but without much obvious enthusiasm.

Under the later Qing Dynasty, China became entrapped in a downward spiral. This cycle had been repeated throughout China’s history, as a dynasty entered its death throes. Foreign powers were biting chunks out of China’s territory, which they called “treaty ports”. The Empress Dowager controlled the court. Foreign loans, intended to finance a modern navy, were used instead to construct the new Summer Palace outside Beijing. The Summer Palace does have a ship, but it is made of marble. When Japan and China met head on in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95), it was a complete mismatch. Under the Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895), China ceded Taiwan and Penghu (the Pescadores) to Japan.

The people of Taiwan put up a fight but soon resolved that resistance was hopeless and that there would be little chance of any partisans being resupplied from China. That did not mean opposition to the Japanese occupiers ceased – far from it. The richest family in Taiwan, the Lins, almost bankrupted themselves funding the resistance. But on the whole, Taiwan’s elite decided to cooperate with the Japanese, greatly to their benefit.

The Formosan aborigines were regarded as “savages”. The last major uprising was at Wushe in 1930, where the Seediq killed 134 Japanese in a planned operation. In their counterattack, the Japanese killed over 600 people, incorporating attacks from the air and poison gas, said to be the first time poison gas had been used in Asia. The proximate causes of the rebellion were disrespect for aboriginal religious beliefs and forced labour.

The Japanese soon realised that Taiwan was a plentiful source of raw materials for the mother country. Camphor, timber, tea, sugar and rice were exported to Japan, among other goods. Sun Moon Lake was dammed for hydropower and over half of the cropland was irrigated. The Bank of Taiwan, founded in 1899, funded the expansion of Japanese companies and those local enterprises favoured by the Japanese authorities.

Ports at Keelung and Kaohsiung were upgraded. Railway lines were laid from north to south. Most urban infrastructure today dates from the Japanese period. The people of Taiwan were encouraged to believe that they would always be part of the Japanese empire. In education, the medium of instruction was Japanese, which many students spoke fluently. Many older people still do.

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