Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Dutch roots of New York City and Taiwan (Update)

Update: Cross-posted at the European Tribune, where it has been on the recommendation list--a lot of great comments there. Check it out.

This is a very long post, but I had to get it out of me. Read at your leisure. [editor]

I'm reading a fascinating book--The Island at the Center of the World--by Russell Shorto. No, it is not about Taiwan, though, in many ways, it could be, and the global context in which the story is set, is the same. The second part of the title of Shorto's book should provide you with insight into its main themes--The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotton Colony that Shaped America.

Shorto's thesis is that the history of early America that American children learn in school--especially the role that New York City (New Amsterdam) played in that history--is not the complete picture; it is rather a narrative propagated by the British, who inherited New York from the Dutch. Shorto's task is to discover--and uncover--the contribution of the Dutch colony in forging what became the United States:

We are used to thinking of American beginnings as involving thirteen English colonies--to thinking of American history as an English root onto which, over time, the cultures of many other nations were grafted to create a new species of society that has become a multiethnic model for progressive societies around the world. But that isn't true. To talk of the thirteen English colonies is to ignore another European colony, the one centered on Manhattan, which predated New York and whose whose history was all but erased when the English took it over(2).

Shorto's book mentions Taiwan only briefly, though it does raise questions about which I have also been wondering in the case of that other island pulled suddenly into the epicenter of the global trade network: What is the Dutch legacy (hamburger shops?)?

Henry Hudson, an Englishman working for the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC), discovered Manhattan in 1609 when his ship entered the river that would be known by his last name. The mandate with which the VOC had charged Hudson had been to find a new passage to Asia. It is amazing--looking at the discovery from my modern-day perspective--that anyone would have dreamed that the Hudson River (near to where I grew up) was a passage to Asia. Hudson soon realized that his dream passage was a dead end, but the stories he brought back with him to Amsterdam, as Shorto writes, had a more important effect:

The news of Hudson's river voyage passed through the sieve of Dutch political and business interests. To the sea-minded merchants on the Zandhoek and the Buitekant, Amsterdam's harborfront, monitoring the offloading of lighters packed with Spanish taffeta, German porcelain, Swedish copper, and East Indies spices while looking for the next business opportunity, hopes of a newfound passage to Asia were forgotten as they studied Van Meteren's report (published as an announcement to the world that the discovery was Dutch). There they learned of the discovery and charting of a water highway into the unexplored continent that was "as fine a river as can be found, wide and deep, with good anchoring on both sides." It was a bonus that it was lightly inhabited by a "friendly and polite people...."(33-34)

And from that discovery, a Dutch colony known as New Netherlands, where the author of this blog would spend much of his early years, and where his parents still reside.

The Dutch did not discover Taiwan; the Portugese did (at least the first Europeans to do so), in the late 16th century, and as almost everyone knows, they named it Ilha Formosa or the Beautiful Island. However, the Dutch East Indies Company or VOC soon acquired part of southern Taiwan, and just as the history of what is now Manhattan was altered by the sale of land, so too was the history of Taiwan. Lynn Scott, who penned a docudrama based on VOC records for Radio Taiwan International, writes:

On January 20, 1625, a very important transaction took place on the southwestern coast of Formosa: the Dutch representative of the VOC bought a strip of land from the western plains aborigines for fifteen pieces of cloth. The story of colonial trade and tragedy on Formosa during the next thirty-eight years of Dutch rule holds secrets about this island which exchanged everything -- names, languages, people, cultures, religion, and trade -- everything, that is, except its heart.

Similarly, and about the same time, one of the first leaders of the New Netherlands' colony, Peter Minuit, purchased Manhattan from the indigenous inhabitants of the island. Shorto writes:

So he bought it. Everyone knows that. Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan Island from a group of local Indians for sixty guilders worth of goods, or as the nineteenth-century historian Edmund O'Callaghan calculated it, twenty-four dollars. From the seventeenth through the early twentieth century thousands of real estate transactions occurred in which native Americans sold parcels--ranging in size from a town lot to a midwestern state--to English, Dutch, French, Spanish, and other European settlers. But only one is legend; only one is known by everyone. (49-50)

Shorto has an interesting discussion about what such purchases meant in seventeenth-century America, and how they were interpreted differently by the Europeans and the indigenous peoples. I would like to see a similar discussion of how Aborigines in Taiwan understood such land sales, but that's a tangent for another day.

What interests me for now is the global context in which the Dutch came to occupy parts of North America, Taiwan, and of course other places as well:

Dutch control of Dayuan severed the trading route between China and the Philippines, threatening Spanish interests. The Spanish had occupied northern Luzon 呂宋 since 1571 and had built a fortress in Manila. Chinese merchants traded there and even established a Chinese community called Parian 澗內. Japanese traders also visited Manila, and the settlement enjoyed growing prosperity. The Spanish would not tolerate Dutch interference from a base on Taiwan and resolved to defend their interests. In 1626, a Spanish expedition traveled to Keelung, which the Spanish called Santísima Trinidad, and built Fort San Salvador. Between 1628 and 1629, they moved to occupy Danshuei, where they set up the settlement of Fort Santo Domingo in a bid to attract Chinese merchants.

With the Spanish in the north of Taiwan and Dutch in the south, confrontation between these two European adversaries was inevitable. The Dutch were not content to allow an expansion of Spanish power on Taiwan, and tried to expel the Spanish forces on several occasions. In 1642, the Dutch finally sent troops north to attack the Spanish fortresses. The Spanish were defeated and, after only 16 years, forced to withdraw from Taiwan. This left the Dutch as the sole ruling power on Taiwan until Jheng Cheng-gong’s conquest of the island in 1661/62. (Huang Fu-san)

For some reason, whenever I heard that the Dutch controlled southern Taiwan, near Tainan, and the Spanish occupied areas of northern Taiwan, and that the Dutch defeated the Spanish, I never made the associations with the battles between the same powers in other parts of the world--never until I started reading Shorto's book:

As Henry Hudson arrived in Amsterdam in the autumn of 1608, the world around him was turning. The Spanish and Portuguese empires that had had their way with South America and the East Indies for more than a century were in decline, and two new powers were rising in tandem. The Dutch were growing in might right alongside the English, and would peak sooner, giving the world Rembrandt, Vermeer, the microscope, the tulip, the stock exchange, and the modern notion of home as a private, intimate place.

The Dutch, of course, were of the sea; keeping it back was a way of life. Consequently, water was the orientation; they were the continent's ship-builders, sailors, pilots, and traffickers, and this was their key to empire. When the union of Spain and Portugal in 1580 closed to Dutch traders the port of Lisbon (where they had long received Asian goods for resale throughout Europe), the Dutch merchants took the drastic step of stocking their vessels with gunpowder and cannonballs and going directly to the Iberian supply source, the islands of the East Indies, more than a year's journey away by the southern route. They arrived with guns blazing at the Portuguese military-trading posts there, and took them, converting Java, Sumatra, and the Malaysian peninsula into outposts of a new empire. When the first successful convey returned home in 1599, its hulls packed with six hundred thousand pounds of pepper and an equal amount of nutmeg, cloves, and other spices, Amsterdammers were stunned at the plenitude. Churchbells throughout the city rang, and the rise to world power began. (25-26)

The other context in which to understand this events is the Dutch fight for independence from Spanish rule. It is strange that I never made this connection before, considering that I lived in Leiden (where the Pilgrims took refuge before sailing to America) for about a year (that's where I was on September 11, 2001).

The Netherlands (low countries) first came under under Spanish rule in 1495, as Shorto says (27), 3 years after Columbus sailed to America. He goes on:

As Hudson entered Amsterdam, the United Provinces of the Netherlands had been fighting for independence from their Spanish overlords for nearly four decades, and the long war had toughened them, focused them, made them militarily and economically stronger. Before, they had been scattered, each province tending to go its own way. The Catholic tyranny of Spain--complete with bloody Inquisition tactics to force Protestants to return to the fold--united them. It gave them a Father of the Country in the person of Willem I, the Prince of Orange, known to history as William the Silent. (27)

The northern part of the Netherlands (present-day Netherland) declared independence from Spain in 1579, 11 years after the start of the Eighty Years' War with Spain. The southern part (present-day Belgium) remained Spanish territory and Catholic. What was now known as the United Provinces in the north became a refuge for persecuted religious groups. Spain finally recognized Dutch independence in 1648, 6 years after the Dutch defeated Spain in Taiwan. It really is surprising that I never considered this in connection with Taiwan's history. I was in Leiden for October 3rd:

It is a huge party, with an enormous funfair and a dozen of open air discos in the night. The municipality gives free herring and white bread to the citizens of Leiden.

It was on that day in 1574 that the city of Leiden gained its independence from the Spanish, after two long sieges:

The town of Leiden had withstood a Spanish onslaught in 1574, and as a reward for the bravery of its fighters, William the Silent chose Leiden as the site of the grand university that he believed the Dutch provinces needed if they were to become a nation. In a remarkably short time the university achieved a status equaling that of Bologna or Oxford and became just what William had envisioned: a breeding ground for the new nation's top scientists, politicians, lawyers, and religious figures. (95)

This brings me back to the possible Dutch legacy in Taiwan. First, the obvious ones. The Dutch period saw the first Protestant missionaries arrive in Taiwan. But the bigger impact of Dutch rule, was as Huang Fu-san writes, economic:

The Dutch came to Taiwan to establish a base from which they could engage in international entrepôt trade. Their administration of Taiwan followed the dictates of mercantilism and gave rise to Taiwan’s tradition of trade and commerce. The Dutch also developed light industry to further increase their profits, leading Taiwan down the road towards greater economic development. These achievements were possible thanks to the cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship between the Dutch and the Han Chinese.

The Dutch also developed agriculture in Taiwan, cultivating sugar and rice on the island. This also resulted in the first large-scale migrations of Chinese settlers to Taiwan.

But what are the more abstract, harder-to-detect legacies of Dutch rule in Taiwan. One hint might come from Shorto's book. Shorto believes one of the biggest gifts the Dutch gave to the United States was the notion of tolerance:

Tolerance was more than just an attitude in the Dutch Republic. Following the bloody religious persecution of thousands in the previous century at the hands of the Spanish, the Dutch provinces had broken new ground in writing into their 1579 de facto constitution the guarantee that "each person shall remain free, especially in his religion, and that no one shall be persecuted or investigated because of their relgion." This sentence became the ground on which the culturally diverse society of the seventeenth century was built. (96, see also p.6)

I'm reluctant to read too much into this, or to generalize too much, but people often comment about how open Taiwanese society is, how there is an anything-goes attitude about religious and political diversity. I know it wasn't always like this, just like it wasn't--and isn't--always like that in the US. There are always diverse impulses, but at least we can say that there is religious diversity in contemporary Taiwanese society--Daoism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, a variety of popular religious trends, new religions, secret societies, etc. People usually attribute this diversity to "Chinese culture," as if "Chinese culture" is in its essence open to diversity. The argument that is usually made is that Chinese religion is akin to syncretism--meaning that it is an amalgamation of different religious elements--and that Chinese people worship a variety of deities and do not distinguish between different religious traditions.

This might be part of the story, but there are several religious groups outlawed in China, that can openly worship in Taiwan: Falungong, Yiguandao, etc. In China, religious practice is extremely controlled by the government. The situation wasn't that much better in Taiwan during 50 years of Kuomintang rule. The KMT, Japanese, and Qing governments all attempted to restrict religious and political organizations. So, where does this laissez-faire attitude towards religion and politics come from in Taiwan?

Another potential Dutch legacy I have been considering while reading Shorto's book. Were the seeds of Taiwan independence planted during the Dutch period? Recall that during the time that Dutch were in Taiwan, they were fighting their own war of independence with Spain, and one of their battlegrounds was Taiwan:

[Peter Paul] Rubens was elated and went next to visit his countryman, Ambassador Joachimi, in London, hoping to persuade him that now the best hope for a unified Dutch Republic was for the rebel government to seek terms with Spain. But Rubens seriously underestimated the resolve of the northern provinces. Joachimi was as much a rebel as those he served, and told the painter that the only way the provinces would unify would be if those in the south joined in the war. (70)

Of course, there are many factors in the evolution of the Taiwan independence movement, most significantly, peoples' experience during the KMT period; I am merely speculating about the possible subtle sprouts of independence-thinking during the Dutch period.

Or perhaps it is simply as former US diplomat in Taiwan, George H. Kerr, once wrote:

After the Japanese surrender in 1945, the Formosans, despite the Cairo Declaration, hoped for a guaranteed neutrality under American or international trusteeship. Instead, they were delivered over to another and more oppressive occupation.

Their prosperous society was invaded by a horde of mainland Chinese, often brutal, ignorant, and greedy -- the dregs of the Nationalist army. The new governor, under orders, bled the island dry, ruthlessly and with dispatch.

Yet still the Formosans hoped. American propaganda, promising freedom to all oppressed peoples, and citing the glorious Revolution of 1776, continued to pour in upon them. In February 1947 unarmed Formosans rose en masse to demand reforms in the administration at Taipei. Chiang Kai-shek's answer was a brutal massacre. Thousands died -- first among them were the leaders who had asked for American help. Washington turned a deaf ear, while the Chinese communists rejoiced.

After Chiang's military collapse and retreat to Formosa the situation became even worse. As American emotional commitment to Chiang became more fervent, Formosan hope for American or United Nations intervention or understanding faded and died.

But, if Shorto is correct, then even that American propaganda of which Kerr spoke, was part of the Dutch legacy that became encapsulated in the notion that all humans are created equal and that all people should be free.


Blogger Michael Turton said...

Check your gmail, doc.

10:37 AM  
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r who faced many setbacks before he managed to debut. Because of this, he could understand the feelings of those who aspires to be singers, hence the tears.
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11:06 AM  

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