Koxinga the Pirate

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Fancy silk-dudded pirate Koxinga

 

-by Ernie Diaz

 

 

Anyone really wanna know why Chairman Mao is guaranteed Chinese Hall of Fame for all eternity? We mean really, because the bright light of truth often forces us to look at our shadows, and we’re often frightened of them. OK. He was as much curse as savior, any Chinese not still dazzled from re-education sunstroke will acknowledge that. But he kicked the white man out of China.

 

Outside of National Alliance rallies, people rarely imagine their mindset and feelings if they were under domination by a foreign race. Only the bad guys are allowed to value racial homogeneity now, or even question that race is just a construct, which is why millions of children are deprived of Rudyard Kipling.

 

Chinese children, however, get to hear of Koxinga, a hero to Chinese of all genres, from square-headed Manchu to hairy-legged Fujianese. Koxinga the Japanese pirate! Yes, he was the less fey and more effective version of Jack Sparrow, and for the Chinese, having pirates terrorize your entire southeast coast, year-in year-out, and oh Lord having a Japanese pirate carving himself a thousand lifetimes’ riches from the Big Chicken, even if he did defy the hated Manchu, he plundered and pillaged and left a path of severed heads. But he kicked the white man out of China.

 

Koginxa’s feat was the opening salvo in the struggle out of which the white man would eventually be the institutionalized pirates of Asia. Even more importantly, the Chinese remember it, even though its faded from the Western consciousness, as a glorious first-round win against the forces of European Colonialism. All too soon after, the white man would hold fief over the South China Sea’s jewels: Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau (and oh, how poorly those benighted realms have fared since.) In the first clash, though, China came off best, and none other to thank than Koxinga.

 

Scratch that – plenty of people to thank other than Koxinga. The Chinese can thank thousands of years of vigorous martial tradition, for starters, from Sun Tzu to Cao Cao to a thousand generals and emperors whose stratagems inform business and romantic maneuvers in China to this day. So we can leave our perceptions of historic China as some gentle giant, unschooled in war, wanting only to live in peace but constantly violated by rapacious neighbors, out on the dung heap with the other disinformation we’ve been fed to justify post-WWII foreign policy.

 

At the time of Koxinga’s scrap with the Dutch, China’s, or let’s say the Chinese way of war, was just as sophisticated, if not more so, than anything the West had to offer, including the Dutch. And the Dutch of the 17th century were renowned for their tactics and organization, which would later be briefly resurrected in the 1970s under Johan Cruyff. Koxinga and his organization were not only intimate with Chinese history’s thousands of parables of military wisdom, but were also just as effective as the Dutch at drilling troops, having them assume prone positions during firefights as just one small example.

 

The Sino-Dutch War of 1661-1662 was also far more equal in terms of ordinance. “The Chinese invented gunpowder, but only used it for firecrackers, never thinking to use it for violent ends.” Pshaw. Koxinga faced the interloper with guns, cannons, rockets, grenades, even mines. After the fray, one Dutch commander recorded that the Chinese gunners had “put our own men to shame.”

 

Some brief background on Koxinga is in order, before getting to the battle-action. Before any fellow Sino-geek takes it upon himself to flog us for calling Koxinga Japanese, let us clarify that only his mother was truly so. But any said Sino-geek who, for example, was born in Taiwan but moved to Canada when he was ten will understand. Koxinga was holding a samurai sword soon after he could hold his chopsticks. Granted, at seven his father moved him from Japan to Fujian. He then sat for and passed the imperial examination, before matriculating at Nanjing U, where we feel fairly comfortable betting that he was referred to as “the Japanese guy” in the cafeteria.

 

Wealth buys a lot of forgiveness, though, and Koxinga’s father was a pirate to shame Sassoon, even Drake. Yearly income from his unsanctioned trade networks easily rivaled those of the Dutch East India Company, if one is to judge by number of ships. Koxinga inherited an organization whose fleets dwarfed those of the first European corporation. The gold dripping through his fingers was more than enough to acquire the cutting-edge army and equipment previously mentioned.

 

It’s important to note that Koxinga spent his early career battling another foreign invader – the Manchu. He was twenty when the last Ming Emperor hung himself in Beijing’s Jinghsan Park, and the Qing Empire was born in the North. The South was still Ming, as far as the Han Chinese were concerned, who fell to predictable squabbling over who would wear the increasingly worthless crown. The Longwu Emperor came out on top, but any security his court had in Fuzhou was provided by Koxinga and his father. Out of gratitude, the emperor gave our hero his historical name Guoxingye, “Lord of the Imperial Surname”, or Koxinga.

 

So Lord Imperial Surname the Pirate had Manchu enemies at his back, as he saw with dismay the white devil making free with Taiwan ahead of him. He had no help from dad, who had surrendered himself to the Qing court fifteen years earlier, in exchange for governor title in Fujian and Guangdong.

 

Of Koxinga’s assault on Zeelandia, little eyewitness information survives. It was a rout, although a Dutch defector did save our hero’s life by warning him not to attack the exposed ramparts, which as predicted were blown up by retreating Dutch soldiers. Koxinga had all the male POWs put to death, and beheaded some of the women and children.

 

The cultural impact in Europe of China’s victory is most telling, however, on our point of whether it’s worse to be conquered by people of another color. A hundred years later, a popular drama composed by Joaanes Nomsz swept Europe, centered on Hambroek, the minister of Dutch Formosa, being forced to surrender his wife and comely daughter to Koxinga’s lust. Indeed much of the aftermath of the loss centered around questions of how many of the subjugated Dutch women were now being pumped through Koxinga’s harem and out into the slave markets of southeast Asia.

 

As for Koxinga the Pirate, he was promoted to Lord of Taiwan, finally legit, and finally with a base for Ming resistance to Qing rule. That all quickly went south when he ordered his son executed for sleeping with his governess, and his wife for keeping it hidden, even if he did die of Malaria before the sentence could be carried out. But hey, he kicked the white man out of China.

 

 

 

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3 Responses to Koxinga the Pirate

  1. Ozymandias says:

    Ernie, your tongue-in-cheek subtlety grows day by day. I have just one humble question to ask. Was Taiwan actually part of China when Koxinga kicked the Dutch out? (Even the name ‘Taiwan’ appears to have come later).

  2. Ernie says:

    C’mon, Oz, I know you’re testing me. We can call Koxinga’s booting of the Dutch and subsequent set-up “the first Han polity on Taiwan (Formosa).”

  3. Roll on a whole new generation of Chinese boys about to be named “Koxinga”…

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