China Beat Archive



Dutch Treats


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March 17, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright March 17, 2009. Used by permission.


One of the most exciting developments in the field of Taiwan history has been a steady stream of publications that shed new light on the island’s development when it was being colonized by the Spanish and the Dutch. Notable achievements include Chinese translations of Dutch and Spanish sources by Chiang Shu-sheng 江樹生 and Lee Yu-chung 李毓中, a volume of collected essays by Chen Kuo-tung 陳國棟, and an in-depth study of Spanish rule by Jose Eugenio Borao (鮑曉鷗). This scholarship represents the fruits of unstinting efforts by Leiden scholars like Leonard Blussé, as well as venerable Taiwanese academics like Ts’ao Yung-ho 曹永和 and Wang Shih-ch’ing 王世慶, who have trained next generation of students. It is also reflects the dedication of pioneers in the field of Taiwan history like John Shepherd. Of equal importance has been the utilization of new primary source materials, especially the Dutch East India Company archives.

Two recent books have made noteworthy contributions to our understanding of this important phase of Taiwanese history. The first, How Taiwan Became Chinese by Tonio Andrade, was originally published electronically as part of the Gutenberg-e project, with a Chinese version having been released as well. This book is particularly noteworthy for its analytical framework, and in particular the concept “co-colonization”, which stresses that Taiwan might best be viewed as one of East Asia’s many “hybrid colonies”, where both the Chinese and the Dutch worked to enhance the island’s economic growth.

Andrade also explores Taiwan’s early colonial development in the context of modern East Asian history, including the extent to which the Dutch competed with the Japanese for control of the lucrative silk-for-silver trade, as well as how the victory of Koxinga (Zheng Chenggong 鄭成功; 1624-1662) over the Dutch represented the potential for the establishment of a Chinese maritime state. Another striking example involves Andrade’s portrayal of 16th and 17th century China as a global “silver sink” sucking in the precious metal from all over the world, thereby affecting the economic development of Europe, which might be of interest to those concerned with China’s impact on world energy prices.