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Taiwan under Dutch rule

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Title: Taiwan under Dutch rule  
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Subject: Governor of Taiwan, Fort Zeelandia (Taiwan), Fort Santo Domingo, Kingdom of Tungning, Fort Provintia, Zheng Zhilong, Frederick Coyett, Religion in Taiwan, Santisima Trinidad (Taiwan), Islam in Taiwan
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Taiwan under Dutch rule

Government of Formosa
Gouvernement Formosa
Dutch colony


Flag Coat of arms
The location of Dutch Formosa (in magenta) on Taiwan
Capital Fort Zeelandia
Languages Dutch, Formosan languages
Religion Protestantism (Dutch Reformed Church)
native animistic religion
Government Colony
 -  1624–1625 Marten Sonk
 -  1656–1662 Frederick Coyett
Historical era Age of Discovery
 -  Established 1624
 -  Siege of Fort Zeelandia 1661–1662
 -  Surrender of Fort Zeelandia February 1, 1662 1662
Currency Spanish real
Part of a series on the
History of Taiwan
Prehistory to 1624
Dutch Formosa 1624–1662
Spanish Formosa 1626–1642
Kingdom of Tungning 1662–1683
Qing Dynasty rule 1683–1895
Republic of Formosa 1895
Japanese rule 1895–1945
Republic of China rule since 1945
Taiwan portal

Dutch Formosa refers to the period of colonial Dutch government on Formosa (now known as Taiwan), lasting from 1624 to 1662. In the context of the Age of Discovery, the Dutch East India Company established its presence on Taiwan to trade with China and Japan, and also to interdict Portuguese and Spanish trade and colonial activities in East Asia.

The time of Dutch rule saw economic development in Taiwan, including both large-scale hunting of deer and the cultivation of rice and sugar by imported labour from Fujian in China. The government also attempted to convert the aboriginal inhabitants to Christianity and suppress some cultural activities they found disagreeable (such as forced abortion and habitual nakedness) -in other words, to "civilise" the inhabitants of the island.

However, they were not universally welcomed and uprisings by both aborigines and recent Han Chinese arrivals were quelled by the Dutch military on more than one occasion. The colonial period was brought to an end by the invasion of Koxinga's army after 37 years.



At the beginning of the 17th century the forces of Catholic Spain and Portugal were in opposition to those of the Netherlands and England, both mainly Protestant, often resulting in open warfare in Europe and in their possessions in Asia. The Dutch first attempted to trade with China in 1601[1] but were rebuffed by the Chinese authorities, who were already engaged in trade with the Portuguese at Macau from 1535. In a 1604 expedition from Batavia (the central base of the Dutch in Asia), Admiral van Warwijk set out to attack Macau, but his force was waylaid by a typhoon, driving them to the Pescadores (now known as Penghu). Once there, the admiral attempted to negotiate trade terms with the Chinese on the mainland, but was asked to pay an exorbitant fee for the privilege of an interview. Surrounded by a vastly superior Chinese fleet, he left without achieving any of his aims.[2]

In 1622 after another unsuccessful Dutch attack on Macau (trade post of Portugal from 1557) the fleet sailed to the Pescadores, this time intentionally, and proceeded to set up a base there at Makung. They built a fort there with forced labour recruited from the local Chinese population; their oversight was reportedly so severe and rations so short that 1,300 of the 1,500 Chinese enslaved died in the process of construction.[3] However, the Ming authorities warned the Dutch that the Pescadores were Chinese territory, and after defeating Dutch raids on coastal cities in Fujian and besieging their fort in the Pescadores, the Chinese forced the Dutch to instead move to Taiwan and establish themselves there. The same year a ship named the Golden Lion (Dutch: Gouden Leeuw) was wrecked at Lamey just off the southwest coast of Taiwan; the survivors were slaughtered by the native inhabitants.[4] The following year, 1623, Dutch traders in search of an Asian base first arrived on the island, intending to use the island as a station for Dutch commerce with Japan and the coastal areas of China.

Early years (1624–1625)

On deciding to set up in Taiwan and in common with standard practice at the time, the Dutch built a defensive fort to act as a base of operations. This was built on the sandy peninsula of Tayouan[5] (now part of mainland Taiwan, in the current-day district of Anping). The site chosen was accessible from the sea and had good sightlines for defensive purposes, but lacked fresh water, which had to be shipped from the mainland.[5]

Growing control, pacification of the aborigines (1626–1636)

The first order of business was to punish villages that had violently opposed the Dutch and unite the aborigines in allegiance with the VOC. The first punitive expedition was against the villages of Bakloan and Mattau, north of Saccam near Tayowan. The Mattau campaign had been easier than expected and the tribe submitted after having their village razed by fire. The campaign also served as a threat to other villages from Tirosen (Chiayi) to Longkiau (Hengchun). While the pacification campaign continued in Formosa, at sea, relations with the Chinese were strained by the Dutch attempts to tax ships in the Taiwan Strait, war eventually broke out between the Ming and the Dutch and the Chinese Admiral Zheng Zhilong defeated the Dutch at the Battle of Liaoluo Bay in 1633.

Some Dutch missionaries were killed by aboriginals to whom they tried to convert : "The catechist, Daniel Hendrickx, whose name has been often mentioned, accompanied this expedition to the south, as his great knowledge of the Formosa language and his familiar intercourse with the natives, rendered his services very valuable. On reaching the island of Pangsuy, he ventured—perhaps with overweening confidence in himself— too far away from the others, and was suddenly surrounded by a great number of armed natives, who, after killing him, carried away in triumph his head, arms, legs, and other members, even his entrails, leaving the mutilated trunk behind."[6]

Pax Hollandica and the ousting of the Spanish (1636–1642)

Following the pacification campaigns of 1635–1636, more and more villages came to the Dutch to swear allegiance, sometimes out of fear of Dutch military action, and sometimes for the benefits which Dutch protection could bring (food and security). These villages stretched from Longkiau in the south (125 km from the Dutch base at Fort Zeelandia to Favorlang in central Taiwan, 90 km to the north of Fort Zeelandia. The relative calm of this period has been called the Pax Hollandica (Dutch Peace) by some commentators[7] (a reference to the Pax Romana).

One area not under their control was the north of the island, which from 1626 had been under Spanish sway, with their two settlements at Tamsuy and Keelung. The fortification at Keelung was abandoned because the Spanish lacked the resources to maintain it, but Fort Santo Domingo in Tamsuy was seen as a major obstacle to Dutch ambitions on the island and the region in general.

In 1642, the Dutch sent an expedition of soldiers and aboriginal warriors in ships to Tamsuy, managing to dislodge the small Spanish contingent from their fortress and drive them from Taiwan. Following this victory, the Dutch set about bringing the northern villages under their banner in a similar way to the pacification campaign carried out in the previous decade in the south.

Growing Chinese presence and the Guo Huaiyi Rebellion (1643–1659)

Main article: Guo Huaiyi Rebellion

The Dutch began to encourage large-scale Chinese immigration to the island, mainly from Fujian. Most of the immigrants were young single males who were discouraged from staying on the island often referred to by Han as "The Gate of Hell" for its reputation in taking the lives of sailors and explorers.[8] After one uprising by Han Chinese in 1640, the Guo Huaiyi Rebellion in 1652 saw an organised insurrection against the Dutch, fuelled by anger over punitive taxes and corrupt officials. The Dutch again put down the revolt hard, with fully 25% of those participating in the rebellion being killed over a period of a couple of weeks.[7]

Siege of Zeelandia and the end of Dutch government on Formosa (1660–1662)

In 1661, a naval fleet of 200 ships, led by the Ming loyalist Koxinga, landed at Lu'ermen to attack Taiwan in order to destroy and oust the Dutch from Zeelandia. Following a nine-month siege, Koxinga captured the Dutch Fort Zeelandia and defeated the Dutch. Koxinga then forced the local representatives of the Dutch East India Company to sign a peace treaty at Zeelandia on February 1, 1662, and leave Taiwan. From then on, Taiwan became Koxinga's base for the Kingdom of Tungning.

Coda: The Dutch retake Keelung (1664–1668)

After being ousted from Taiwan the Dutch allied with the new Qing Dynasty in China against the Zheng regime in Taiwan. Following some skirmishes the Dutch retook the northern fortress at Keelung in 1664.[9] Zheng Jing sent troops to dislodge the Dutch, but they were unsuccessful. The Dutch held out at Keelung until 1668, when aborigine resistance (likely incited by Zheng Jing) and the lack of progress in retaking any other parts of the island persuaded the colonial authorities to abandon this final stronghold and withdraw from Taiwan altogether.[10]


The Dutch claimed the entirety of the island, but because of the inaccessibility of the central mountain range the extent of their control was limited to the plains on the west coast, plus isolated pockets on the east coast. This territory was acquired from 1624 to 1642, with most of the villages being required to swear allegiance to the Dutch and then largely being left to govern themselves. The manner of acknowledging Dutch lordship was to bring a small native plant (often betel nut or coconut) planted in earth from that particular town to the Governor, signifying the granting of the land to the Dutch. The Governor would then award the village leader a robe and a staff as symbols of office and a Prinsenvlag ("Prince's Flag", the flag of William the Silent) to display in their village.

Governor of Formosa

Main article: Governor of Formosa

The Governor of Formosa (Dutch: Gouverneur van Formosa; Chinese: 台灣長官) was the head of government. Appointed by the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies in Batavia (modern-day Jakarta, Indonesia), the Governor of Formosa was empowered to legislate, collect taxes, wage war and declare peace on behalf of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and therefore by extension the Dutch state.

He was assisted in his duties by the Council of Tayouan, a group made up of the various worthies in residence in Tayouan. The President of this council was the second-in-command to the Governor, and would take over his duties if the Governor died or was incapacitated. The Governor's residence was in Fort Zeelandia on Tayouan (then an island, now the Anping District of Tainan City). There were a total of twelve Governors during the Dutch colonial era.[11]


The Tayouan factory (as VOC trading posts were called) was to become the second-most profitable factory in the whole of the Dutch East Indies (after the post at Hirado/Dejima),[12] although it took 22 years for the colony to first return a profit.[13] Benefitting from triangular trade between themselves, the Chinese and the Japanese, plus exploiting the natural resources of Formosa, the Dutch were able to turn the malarial sub-tropical bay into a lucrative asset. A cash economy was introduced (using the Spanish real,which is used by VOC) and the period also saw the first serious attempts in the island's history to develop it economically.[14]


The original intention of setting up Fort Zeelandia at Tayowan (Anping) in southern Formosa was to provide a base for trading with China and Japan, as well as interfering with Portuguese and Spanish trade in the region. Goods traded included silks from China and silver from Japan, among many other things.

After establishing their fortress the Dutch realised the potential of the vast herds of the native Formosan Sika deer (Cervus nippon taioanus) roaming the western plains of the island. The tough deer skins were highly prized by the Japanese, who used them to make samurai armour. Other parts of the deer were sold to Chinese traders for meat and medical use. The Dutch paid aborigines for the deer brought to them and tried to manage the deer stocks to keep up with demand. Unfortunately the deer the aborigines had relied on for their livelihoods began to disappear, forcing the aborigines to adopt new means of survival.[15] However, the subspecies was kept alive in captivity and subsequent reintroduction of the subspecies into the wild has been successful.[16]

Later the Dutch also traded in the agricultural produce of the island (including sugar and rice) after large-scale cultivation was implemented by the colonists utilising imported labour from Fujian.


The Dutch also employed Chinese to farm sugarcane and rice for export; some of this rice and sugar was exported as far as the markets of Persia.[17] Attempts to persuade aboriginal tribesmen to give up hunting and adopt a sedentary farming lifestyle were unsuccessful because "for them, farming had two major drawbacks: first, according to the traditional sexual division of labor, it was women's work; second, it was labor-intensive drudgery."[18] The Dutch therefore imported labour from China, and the era was the first to see mass Chinese immigration to the island, with one commentator estimating that 50–60,000 Chinese settled in Taiwan during the 37 years of Dutch rule.[19] These settlers were encouraged with free transportation to the island, often on Dutch ships, and tools, oxen and seed to start farming.[14] In return, the Dutch took a tenth of agricultural production as a tax.[14]

Head tax

A head tax was levied on all Chinese residents over the age of six.[20] This tax was considered particularly burdensome by the Chinese as there had been no taxation prior to Dutch occupation of the island. Coupled with restrictive land tenancy policies and extortion by Dutch soldiers, the tax provided grounds for the major insurrections of 1640 and 1652.[20]


Prior to the arrival of the Dutch colonists, Taiwan was almost exclusively populated by Taiwanese aborigines; Austronesian peoples who lived in a hunter-gatherer society while also practicing swidden agriculture. It is difficult to arrive at an estimate of the numbers of these native Formosans when the Dutch arrived, as there was no island-wide authority in a position to count the population, while the aborigines themselves did not keep written records. Even at the extent of greatest Dutch control in the 1650s there were still large regions of the island outside the pale of Dutch authority, meaning that any statistics given necessarily relate only to the area of Dutch suzerainty.


The population of Dutch Formosa was composed of three main groups; the aborigines, the Dutch contingent, and the Chinese. There were also a number of Spanish people resident in the north of the island between 1626 and 1642 in the area around Keelung and Tamsui. At times there were also a handful of Japanese trader-pirates known as Wakō operating out of coastal areas outside Dutch control.

The Aborigines

The native Formosan peoples had been in Taiwan for thousands of years before the Dutch arrived. Estimates of the total numbers of aborigines in Taiwan are difficult to come by, but one commentator suggests that there were 150,000 over the entire island during the Dutch era. They lived in villages with populations ranging from a couple of hundred up to around 2,000 people for the biggest towns, with different groups speaking different Formosan languages which were not mutually intelligible.

The Dutch

The Dutch contingent was initially composed mostly of soldiers, with some slaves and other workers from the other Dutch colonies, particularly the area around Batavia (current day Jakarta). The number of soldiers stationed on the island waxed and waned according to the military needs of the colony, from a low of 180 troops in the early days to a high of 1,800 shortly before Koxinga's invasion. There were also a number of other personnel, from traders and merchants to missionaries and schoolteachers, plus the Dutch brought with them slaves from their other colonies, who mainly served as personal slaves for important Dutch people.

The Chinese

When the Dutch arrived in Taiwan there was already a network of Chinese traders living on the island, buying merchandise (particularly deer products) from the native Formosans. This network has been estimated at some 1,000–1,500 people, almost all male, most of whom were seasonal residents in Taiwan, returning to Fujian in the off-season. Beginning in the 1640s the Dutch began to encourage large-scale immigration of Chinese to Formosa, providing not only transportation from Fujian, but also oxen and seed for the new immigrants to get started in agriculture. Estimates of the numbers of Chinese in Taiwan at the end of the Dutch era vary widely, from 10–15,000 up to 50–60,000, although the lower end of that scale seems more likely.

Taiwanese natives under Dutch Formosa


Before Dutch settlement in the seventeenth century, Taiwanese aborigines lived in numerous tribal systems uniquely autonomous of each other; with populations between a thousand and a hundred, a census conducted by Dutch colonizers in 1650 surmised that there were below 50,000 natives in the plains area. Despite temporary alliances, similar agricultural practices and few inter-marriages, there also exhibited distinct linguistic and internal structure differences of the tribes. These differences coupled with the widespread practice of head-hunting caused Formosan groups to be suspicious and cautious of strangers.[21] Upon arrival, the first indigenous groups the Dutch made contact with were the Sinkang (新港), Backloan (目加溜灣), Soelangh (蕭), and Mattauw (麻豆). The native Taiwanese tribes’ antagonistic predispositions lead to an initial hostile relationship with the colonizers, involving several uprisings including the Hamada Yahei incident of 1628 involving the Sinkang people, and the killing of 20 Dutch soldiers in 1629 by the Mattauw tribe.[22] VOC eventually transitioned into a divine-and-conquer strategy, and went on to create an alliance with the Sinkang and Seolangh tribes against Mattauw, simultaneously conquering numerous tribes that did not comply with these commands.[23] This interventionist process included the massacre of the indigenous habituating Lamay Island in 1642 by Dutch forces led by Officer Francois Caron.[24] After these events, the native aborigines eventually were forced into pacification under military domination and were used for a variety of labor activities during the span of Dutch Formosa. According to documents in 1650, Dutch settlers ruled “315 tribal villages with a total population of around 68,6000, estimated 40-50% of the entire indigenes of the island”.[25]


One of the key pillars of the Dutch colonial era was conversion of the natives to Christianity. From the descriptions of the early missionaries, the native religion was animist in nature, in one case presided over by priestesses called Inibs.

The Formosans also practiced various activities which the Dutch perceived as sinful or at least uncivilised, including mandatory abortion (by massage) for women under 37,[26] frequent marital infidelity,[26] non-observation of the Christian Sabbath and general nakedness. The Christian Bible was translated into native aboriginal languages and evangelised among the tribes. This marks the first recorded instance of Christianity entering into Taiwanese history, and preludes to the active Christian practices experienced in Taiwan in modern times.[25]


The missionaries were also responsible for setting up schools in the villages under Dutch control, teaching not only the religion of the colonists but also other skills such as reading and writing. Prior to Dutch arrival the native inhabitants did not use writing, and the missionaries created a number of romanization schemes for the various Formosan languages. This is the first record in history of a written language in Taiwan.[27] Experiments were made with teaching native children the Dutch language, however these were abandoned fairly rapidly after they failed to produce good results. At least one Formosan received an education in the Netherlands; he eventually married a Dutch woman and was apparently well integrated into Dutch society.[28]


The unique variety of trading resources (in particular, deerskins, venison and sugarcane), as well as the untouched nature of Formosa led to an extremely lucrative market for VOC; a journal record written by the Dutch Governor Nuyts holds that "Taiwan was an excellent trading port, enabling 100 per cent profits to be made on all goods".[29] In monopolizing on these goods, Taiwanese natives were used as manual labor, whose skills were honed in the employment on sugarcane farms and deer hunting. Similarly, Dutch colonizers upheaved the traditional agricultural practices in favor of more modern systems. The native tribes in the field-regions were taught how to use Western systems of crop management that used more sustainable and efficient ecological technologies, albeit attributed mostly to the fact that due to the increased exploitation of the land, alternative means of management were needed to veer off the extinction of deer and sugar resources.


Taiwanese aborigines became an important part of maintaining a stable milieu and eliminating conflicts during the latter half of Dutch rule. According to the Daily Journals of Fort Zeelandia (original title: De dagregisters van het kasteel Zeelandia), Dutch colonizers frequently employed males from nearby indigenous tribes, including Hsin-kang (新港) and Mattau (麻豆) as foot-soldiers in the general militia, to heighten their numbers when quick action was needed during rebellions or uprisings. Such was the case during that of the Guo Huaiyi Revolt in 1652, where the conspirators were eventually bested and subdued by the Dutch through the sourcing of over a hundred native Taiwanese aborigines.[23]

Legacy and Contributions

Today, their legacy in Taiwan is visible in Anping District of Tainan City where the remains of their Castle Zeelandia are preserved, in Tainan City itself where their Fort Provintia is still the main structure of what is now called Red-topped Tower, and finally in Tamsui where Fort Anthonio[30] (part of the Fort San Domingo museum complex) still stands as the best preserved redoubt (minor fort) of the Dutch East India Company anywhere in the world. The building was later used by the British consulate[31] until the United Kingdom severed ties with the KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party or Kuomintang) regime and its formal relationship with Taiwan.

Similarly, much of the economic policies driven by the Dutch during the colonial period were subsequently used as a basis for the beginnings of Taiwan’s modern international trade; the beginnings of Taiwan’s mercantile history and contemporary economy can be attributed to the port systems that were facilitated during the Dutch Formosa period.[23]

However, perhaps the most lasting result of Dutch rule is the immigration of Chinese to the island. At the start of the Dutch era, there were estimated to be between 1,000–1,500 Chinese in Taiwan, mostly traders living in aboriginal villages.[32] During Dutch Formosa rule, Dutch colonial policies encouraged the active immigration of Han Chinese in order to solidify the ecological and agricultural trade establishments, and help maintain control over the area. Because of these reasons, by the end of the colonial period, Taiwan had many Chinese villages holding tens of thousands of people in total, and the ethnic balance of the island was already well on the way to favouring the newly arrived Chinese over the aboriginal tribes.[7] Furthermore, Dutch settlers opened up communication between both peoples, and set about maintaining relationships with both Han Chinese and native Taiwanese – which were non-existent beforehand.[33]

See also



Further reading

External links

  • Formosa in 17th century
  • Dutch Governor of Taiwan (Mandarin)
  • Text of the Peace Treaty of 1662
  • Exhibition on Dutch period of Taiwan in Tamsui
Preceded by
Prehistory of Taiwan
until 1624
Dutch Formosa
Succeeded by
Kingdom of Tungning
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