Thursday, September 30, 2010

Special Forces Part 1 - The Iron-man Corps 鐵人部隊

Presumably a contemporary German made the above sketch of Koxinga's Iron-man Corps, one of the many special forces of Koxinga's army. It shows infantrymen who donned a helmet, face mask, heavy chest and arm fish-scale armors, and a long heavily-armored skirt. They each carried a long spear or a broad-blade at the end of a stick - weapons for cutting down enemy cavalries. They were also accompanied by the rattan-shield infantry who erected inch-thick curtains to catch arrows and bullets. According to Chinese accounts, however, both arms and legs of these iron-men were exposed - for easier movement. And they went bare-footed for more steady footing. The Qing strategy of targeting their feet with arrows failed because the Iron-men would simply pluck out the arrows when shot and fight on oblivious to the flesh wounds.

The source of these armors was unclear; although it was most likely Japan: (1) there had been active trading between the Cheng Clan and Japan since the days of Koxinga's father, 鄭芝龍Cheng Zhi-long (1604-1661), who controlled the eastern seas of China; (2) Koxinga himself had grown up in Nakasaki, Japan, who might have seen the armored samurai in action; and (3) the face masks were known to be worn only by the Japanese (not Chinese) warriors. The picture on the above left, i.e., a 16th Century armor-suit worn by a high-ranking samurai, might have been just that used to outfit the Iron-man soldiers [without the arm and leg guards].

The selection of these men was quite rigorous. Each recruit must be able to carry a certain weight and with it ran a certain distance to qualify. Power and endurance were both prerequisites for wearing the heavy armors (weighing about 33 lbs) and fighting at the same time. About 5,000 were chosen during the first screening. Some reports mentioned Japanese and Caucasian participants. That would not be so surprising as the Cheng army did invite other people than the Hokkienese to join up.

This special force, numbering about 3,000 (up to 10,000), was part of the 左 and 右虎衛營 [Left and Right Tiger Guard Battalions] under the direct command of Koxinga. Its basic unit was a 6-man squad equipped with the heavy sword 雲南斬馬刀 (2), shields (2), bow and arrow sets (6). Also, for each 10 squads, 4 specialized in attacking with bow and arrow and the other 6, sword and shield. They were trained to fight as one, any disruption to the formation, by either advancing or retreating, especially the latter, was severely punished. On the other hand, they were handsomely rewarded after each victory and were paid 3 silver taels each month [double the regular army pay].

The unique weapon here was the razor-sharp 雲南斬馬刀 or Yun-nan horse-slaying saber-sword. Yun-nan was just its name, had nothing to do with the Yun-nan province. Legend has it that each blade was made by passing serially through 100 iron-smiths who hammered it into shape. This may have been a process similar to the samurai-sword-making in Japan, a long piece of soft iron core folded onto itself thousands of times (to give it flexibility) which was then encased in a hard steel shell (for sharpness and strength). And this is done by only one master plus 1-2 assistants. With 100 masters working at the same time, mass-production of the horse-sabers was therefore possible.

The Dutch defenders of Zeelandia had calculated that one Dutch soldier could fend off 25 of Koxinga's iron-men. They were fatally mistaken.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Legends from overseas海外異傳

[A Dutch Batavia/Jakarta/Europa(?) warship]

Here is a brief description of how Koxinga recovered Taiwan in an 1849 article " 海外異傳" written by 齋藤正謙 (1797-1865), a Japanese sinologist (漢學家):

"寬文元年(明永曆十五年、清順治十八年)[i.e., 1661],成功自金陵喪敗,地蹙軍孤;永曆蒙塵南裔,聲問不通、存亡難詳,然猶奉正朔,將遷地謀恢復。適有紅毛通事 [Note: 何斌] [Note: 通事 was an official Dutch position responsible for communicating with and taxation of the Aborigines],南安人也,與臺灣甲必丹歸一 [Note: Taiwan Captain = Coyett] 有隙,走廈門謂成功曰:『公何不取臺灣?公家之故土也。臺地沃野千里,為四省要害,橫絕大海,實霸王之區。紅毛蠢爾醜虜,因中國騷劇,竊占據之;破而取之易易耳』。成功大喜。
In 1661, Koxinga, having just been defeated in Nanjing, was in a precarious position. He had lost much territory and manpower and also lost contact with Emperor Yong-Li. The latter had escaped to Burma but it was unknown whether he was alive or dead. It was most urgent for Koxinga to re-group to continue his mission of restoring the Ming Court. Coincidentally at that time, a interpreter-representative working for the Dutch [by the name of He Bing who happened to be from Nan-An, Koxinga's hometown, and also held a grievous grudge against Governor General Coyett], advised Koxinga then in Amoy that "Why not take Taiwan, a land of your father's? Taiwan has thousands of acres of fertile fields. It is strategically located in an area of the sea that controls the access to the four provinces. It is certainly a land to re-build your power. The red-haired [i.e., the Dutch] are ugly and stupid. They were able to stealthily occupy Taiwan only because of the turmoils in China. They are in fact quite easy to defeat." Koxinga was very pleased with the advice.

"三月,親率兵三千二百人,揚帆至鹿耳門。門水淺沙膠,海舶至此,必易舟而入,故險易守。此時水適漲丈餘,成功得便戰艦銜尾而進。紅夷大驚,以為自天而下。成功引兵登陸,攻赤嵌城。城亂石疊,高數丈、厚丈餘,用土煆之,化為石灰。以砲擊城,城堅不受砲。城中紅夷千餘人,驅臺民數千,入而同守,且徵援兵於咬琉吧 [note: Batavia]。咬琉吧將領謀謂:『擣廈門之虛,則臺灣之圍自解矣』;乃率兵攻廈門。廈門留守洪旭迎擊走之。城久之不拔,臺民或告成功曰:『城外高山有水流于城濠,貫城而過。城中無井泉,所飲唯此一水;若塞其水源,三日而告變矣』。從之。紅毛勢窮,以巨艦十餘只決戰。
In the third month, Koxinga personally led 3,200 men and sailed to 鹿耳門, gateway to Zeelandia, where the water was shallow. Normally, all ships must cast anchors here and the transportation shifted to smaller boats. This of course favored the defenders. Koxinga's fleet, however, surprised the Dutch by riding the high tide with the ships in single file in queue to enter the bay and started a ground assault on Zeelandia. The fort was built of stones standing several meters tall with meter-thick walls. The walls were also reinforced with cement and were quite resistant to canon bombardment. Inside the fort, there were 1,000+ Dutch defenders who forced several thousand locals into the fort to help defend it. Coyett asked for help from Batavia. The generals there strategized that since the main Koxinga force had left Amoy which should be an easy target. And once Amoy was sacked, the siege of Zeelandia would automatically end. A fleet was quickly dispatched to attack Amoy. They were, however, beaten back by Amoy's defending army commanded by General Hong Xu. And at the same time, Koxinga heeded the counsel of the locals to cut off the sole water supply, a river that flowed through the fort. Coyett decided to counter-attack with 10+ huge warships.

Koxinga's soldiers entered the Dutch warships through the gun ports and took over five ships. The rest were all burned and destroyed and 600 Dutchmen were killed. With the redoubt of Zeelandia sacked, Coyett capitulated after Koxinga sent a messenger to tell him that "Taiwan was developed by my father. I am content to recover the land. You may take whatever your treasured items with you. I do not need them at all." The Dutch surrendered and were sent home:
From the Dutch side, a far more detailed account as part of a thesis on Dutch VOC, "The Shameful Fall of Fort Zeelandia" by Tristan Mostert (2009), can be found here. For example, an eyewitness looking out from Fort Zeelandia reported the following:

“In the morning of the 30th of April, as in the entire preceding night, there was a very thick mist, due to which one could not see into the distance. As soon as the mist had cleared, however, we saw such a fleet of ships, to wit Chinese junks, lie before the harbour in front of Baxemboy, that we could not oversee them, let alone count them. There were so many masts, that it looked like an arid forest. We looked at this, all of us equally awestruck and puzzled, as no-one, not even our Lord Governor, had expected anything like this, and we did not know, whether they were friend or foe.”

This was the arrival of 25,000 soldiers led by Koxinga on hundreds of war junks. And Lord Governor Coyett would soon find out what Koxinga's intention was.

The map below shows where Zeelandia and Provintia were located. Other landmarks are: Lakjemuyse Channel = 鹿耳門 [where Koxinga's fleet entered the bay]; Baxemboy = 北線尾 [where half of 240 musketeers including Captain Pedel were slain by Koxinga's Iron-man corps]; Tayouan = 大員 [or 台灣]; Tai Bay = 台灣; and Sakam = 赤崁社 [a Siraya Aboriginal 西拉雅原住民 Settlement].
[below: Fort Provintia, looking from the west]
[Fort Zeelandia with Dutch City to the left - looking from the north]

[Note: this is re-posted from]

Monday, September 6, 2010

The missing 500 - Part 4

[Koxinga's tomb in his hometown 南安Nan-an, Hokkien, relocated in 1699 from Tainan Ju-a-vei台南洲仔尾 after a petition to the Qing Court by Koxinga's grandson 鄭克塽Cheng Ke-shuang]

We will never know exactly what had happened to the rattan-shield soldiers藤牌兵 from Taiwan. Official records did not provide any clue. In fact, Chinese historians who tow the official lines often hide/alter the facts in order to glorify the victors. In the present case, the victorious were 施琅Shi-lang [the 明鄭Ming-Cheng turncoat] and the Qing Emperors [Kang-xi康熙 in particular]. However, given the episodic reports of the fighting 藤牌兵 in mainland China and reading between the lines of available historical documents, it is clear that a sizable number of Ming-Cheng soldiers were indeed forced to leave Taiwan.

In statements attributed to 施琅, there apparently had been some discussion over how to handle the defeated Ming-Cheng soldiers, i.e, the POWs. :

First the problems of relocating the soldiers were raised:
"if we were to relocate them, a large number of them have families and also a significant number without. To travel long distances, it'll be not only too difficult for them but they will also hide and escape. Wherever they traveled through, the locals must provide manpower support and they will need to be fed by local officials. They will also require lodging along the way. And eventually, they will also need farming cattle and equipment - another source of a big problem..."

It would seem that all POWs would be allowed to stay in Taiwan for logistical reasons. However, that apparently did not happen. The main concern remained the threat of armed uprising. It was finally decided as a general principle that
"The non-Hokkienese are to be sent back to the province/county/city where they came from and the Hokkienese are to be returned to their hometowns - to be further assigned"; "those who are willing to become farmers, let them be farmers; and those who wish to stay in the military, they will tend to farmlands temporarily wherever they are stationed."

Very generous terms, indeed. The reality, however, is quite different:

In Vol 8 of Tung-hua-lu by Chiang Liang-chi, it stated that in Kang-xi Year 22 (1683):
On the 29th Day of the 8th Month:
Hokkien Admiral Shi-lang reported to the Qing Court:

'On the 11th Day of the 8th Month, I led the troops and departed from Peng-hu. On the 13th Day, we entered Lu-er-men and arrived in Taiwan. On the 18th, Cheng Ke-shuang and his underlings, all have their heads shaven, received the royal edict, cheered enthusiastically, and expressed their gratitude by kowtowing in submission in the direction of the royal court. '

All 6 (5?) sons of Koxinga, the 9 sons of Cheng Jing, and their subordinates plus the Ming heir totaling 17 are escorted to the ships which sailed to the mainland under the charge of local officials Su Bai et al.

The rest of the civil and military officials and their families are ordered to mobilize; soldiers who want to become farmers or continue to serve in the military are allowed to do so. As to the capture men and women from Jiang-su, Ze-jiang, Fokkien, and Canton, I have already extended Your Majesty's kindness and ordered them all to go back to where they came from.

How many men and women? 200,000 is a good estimate, i.e., the whole population of the 明鄭 Kingdom minus those who went into hiding. And how were the orders carried out? It now appears that 施琅's statement above regarding the difficulties of relocating the POWs was actually a description of what had already happened, not an idle speculation at all. And the freedom of choice, to be a farmer or remain as a soldier? Would the Qing allow the tens of thousands of Ming-Cheng soldiers to roam free in Taiwan??

In the same Vol 8 of Chiang's book, it was recorded:
On the 13th Day of the 12th Month:

'Su-bai et al had first requested that Cheng Ke-shuang and his associated be ordered to Beijing. The 1,600 military officers and 400 civil officials be reviewed on their intention to go home or to accept a new appointment. and the 40,000+ soldiers be allowed to choose to be farmers or to re-enlist.

The royal order was for Cheng Ke-shuang and family and his close subordinates and their families be summoned to Beijing. The rest of the Ming-Cheng officials and the Ming heir be banished to several nearby provinces [Shantung, Shan-xi, and He-nan] to perform pioneering farming. And the rest as requested.

And Cheng and his two closest advisers were held hostage in Beijing, and as a reward for their "sincere" capitulation, were given [empty] military titles and allotted some houses and lands.'

For the fiercely loyal Ming-Cheng soldiers, most would have chosen to follow their leaders into farming. In a way, this was the most unkind punishment: for sea-faring men to till the land. Some had joined the Manchurian army, often to die in the first line of offense.

In 1685-6, 黃元驥, a Shantung local mandarin originally from Hokkien, could not bear to see the suffering of these transplanted "farmers", had built some accommodations for them and lost his job as a result. 黃 did not realize the Qing's hidden agenda - for the Ming-Cheng soldiers to helplessly die off.

In Kang-xi Year 46 (1707), on the 27th Day of the 8th Month, Cheng Ke-shuang died at age 37. His surviving family was deprived of most of the means of support and eventually faded away from the pages of history.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The missing 500 - Part 3

[The famed rattan shields]

In 1628, the Russians first invaded the homeland of the Buryats, west of Lake Baikal, and the settlers then moved steadily eastward to the great alarm of the Chinese governments. There have been many conflicts between Russia and China over the possession of the northern territories including Siberia ever since.

It was in one of these armed conflicts, 500 藤牌兵 from Taiwan were recalled and sent to northern China to join in the fight. The order came directly from Emperor 康熙Kang-xi himself; although the suggestion most likely was put forth by a Han Chinese [Shi Lang?] The intrigued Emperor summoned an aging 林興珠Lin Hsing-Ju for a demonstration of the fighting strategy and skills of the 藤牌兵. Lin had served in Koxiga's military and twice surrendered to Qing as a faithful follower of his two previous commanders. 康熙 was suitably impressed by Lin's performance and an order to activate the infantrymen from Taiwan was issued.

On June 23, 1685, 彭春Pengcum led 3,000 Qing soldiers in an attack on 雅克薩Albazin. First Peng read to the Russian defenders Emperor 康熙's edict demanding their surrender. Then the Qing army laid siege to Albazin and blocked the access of the Russian artillerymen to their guns inside the fort. Two days later, a Russian reinforcement unit sailed east on the Amur黑龍江 on board of wooden rafts to reach Albazin. They were intercepted by the 藤牌兵 submerged in the river covered under their round rattan shields. The Russians panicked at the sight of soldiers with "huge hats" who came out of water to chop off their feet. Half of the Russian men were killed. The siege ended very quickly when the Qing soldiers set fire to the walls of Albazin. During the negotiations for surrender, >600 (almost all) of the Russians requested permission to go back to Nerchinsk. 康熙 received the news of the victory on July 5, 1685, while visiting his ancestral land in Manchuria. The Qing army and the Taiwanese soldiers then returned triumphantly to 璦琿. However, shortly after, on Aug 27, the Russians came back to harvest the crops and to brazenly re-build Albazin. In 1686, 2,000 Qing soldiers and 100 藤牌兵 were again dispatched to re-take the fort. In both campaigns, the 藤牌兵 suffered no casualties which was probably not what the scheming Han Chinese had anticipated.

What followed was a mystery. There was no mention in any official history of the 藤牌兵's safe return to their farming settlements. Some suggested that they were simply murdered by the Qing to totally wipe out the last remnants of the Ming-Cheng military. This does not seem likely because in 1696, 林興珠 and his men went on another campaign to fight against Mongolian rebels. He was well-rewarded and putatively died of old age in Beijing. In fact, a secret directive from 康熙 was to treat these infantrymen from Taiwan nicely.

There are other unofficial versions as far as the fate of the 500:

Version one: They settled in 齊齊哈爾Qiqihar in 黑龍江 Province.

According to 魏毓蘭's 《龍城舊聞》:“水師營兵,皆調自福建。今道署附近之土著,其先世皆福建人。若莆田林姓、同安陳姓,在福建本巨族,徙塞上仍大姓也。雅克薩之役,建義侯林興珠平羅剎,為閩人立功塞外之祖。故當日水師之權勢,雖不得比於滿洲,以視屯、站漢人,殊為優越。” This "Old Tales of the Dragon City" states that the soldiers of the Naval Camp in the city of Qiqihar all came from Hokkien. They were led by 林興珠 and had won the battle against the Russians at Abazin and were the ancestors of the natives now living near the Camp. They came with prominent Hokkien family names such as Lin of Pu-tien and Chen of Tung-An - now common local last names...

[Note: The info above was provided by a friend nicked-named Fishdoc.]

And Version two: They migrated to Cambodia.

According to 劉文海(?)'s 《西行奇見聞》:"曾聞安南西屬[即柬埔寨]有異人自海上入,劃地為界,乃不能制,[求]援於安南,[安南]王怪其無禮,遣軍擊之,異人手持墨棉 [即藤牌],兵刃不能損,以火觸之即燃。曾擒之,與其談,語不能通也,鏖戰經月,不可復制,安南國王遣使與談,約以[互]不[相]擾。因其為首者名「拎主[林興珠?]」故當地稱兩地之界為【拎邊】。" [Source: here] In other words, 林興珠 [拎主 appears a compressed 林興珠 when pronounced in Hokkien] and the 500 men [together with their families possibly totaling about 1,000] seemed to have escaped from China and ended up in the now Cambodia, then a client state of Viet Nam. According to this book, "Odd stories on the journey west", the King of Viet Nam came to the aid of Cambodia but was unable to defeat these "strangers" from overseas who were armed with sword-proof but inflammable rattan shields. It was also impossible to communicate with a captive/them who spoke a different language. The King, through an emissary, reached an agreement for both sides not to disturb each other and to keep within their own borders...

[Note: The author of Version two did admit that he had concocted the story.]

Often the unofficial stories contain grains of truth. It probably does not matter which version is more credible. Most important is that these 500 men seemed to have survived and had carried on unhindered as all Taiwanese would do in the face of great adversity.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The missing 500 - Part 2

(In this 1710 map published in Japan, Taiwan is still identified as 東寧, possibly in remembrance of Koxinga whose mother was Japanese.)

The classic Chinese historical novel 三國演義 (published in the 14th century covering the tumultuous late Han period of 169-280AD) has a haunting episode. In which 諸葛亮Tsu-ge Liang (also known as 孔明Kung Ming, 181-234AD) captured and then purposely released the trouble-making Southern Savage leader 孟獲Meng-Huo. Who finally gave up after the 7th capture and became a most faithful ally. Meng's friend, a chieftain named 兀突骨WuTuGu had led an army of 藤牌兵 in support of Meng that had caused much damage to Tsu-ge's Sze-chuan army. These infantrymen were equipped with round shields and body armors all as strong as iron made from rattan cured in (probably Tong) oil. They were trapped in a dead-end valley and set on fire by Tsu-ge's army and every single one died. For this, Tsu-ge knew he had gone too far in taking lives in this manner and would not be permitted by Heaven to live to a ripe old age. He was right.

Because of the tactical effectiveness in battle against the cavalries, 藤牌兵 has become a special force throughout the ages, especially in Southern China where rattan plants were abundant. Often, however, they were deployed on suicide missions - to perform the first frontal assault of each battle at great losses. The British 18th Infantry Regiment had run into such a fearless group when they attacked Xiamen on Aug 26, 1841. By then, unfortunately, the rattan shields were no longer effective against the gun fire.

Koxinga's military was quite formidable both at sea and on land. His infantry to a man was trained in the use of the sword and rattan shield, a martial art still in practice in Taiwan (and Southern Hokkien) today. And in addition, he had organized a very special force, the elite 鐵人部隊Iron-men corps (or heavily-armored 藤牌兵) as the main attacking force. At the first encounter in 1661 with the Dutch then based in Zeelandia (Tainan), the Iron-men troop defeated the Dutch musketeers led by Thomas Pedel; half of the 240 men including Pedel himself were slaughtered. This began the siege of Zeelandia and the last governor of the Dutch colony in Taiwan Frederick Coyette finally called it quits on Feb 10, 1662. He retreated to Batavia and was promptly tried and imprisoned for losing the colony.

In trying to recover Ming territories, Koxinga's 藤牌兵 first demonstrated their prowess in 1651 in the battle of 海澄 and went on to defeat the Qing army in another major battle in 漳州 in 1652. And in 1659, they were deployed in the battle of 銀山 against the Qing cavalry. History recorded that these infantrymen were organized in 3-man teams. One held the shield to protect the other two, the second man was responsible for chopping down the horseman and the third, slicing the war horse in two - both with a heavy sword, known as the 雲南馬刀 (see below). The Qing could not come up with a defense strategy and again suffered heavy losses.
With the surrender of the Ming-Cheng dynasty, these 藤牌兵were not allowed to stay in Taiwan. In fact, all Cheng officials and soldiers were banished to mainland China to become farmers in desolate areas in HeNan, Shantung, and Shanxi provinces. The strong ones were drafted to serve in the Qing flag-armies and the old and the feeble were purposely left behind to quietly die. The ones exiled to Beijing were the six (probably 5, see below) sons of Koxinga, the nine sons of 鄭經Cheng Jing (Koxinga's first son) including 鄭克塽, plus the families of 鄭克塽's advisers, 劉國軒 and 馮錫範, as well as that of the Ming heir 朱桓. The sixth son of Koxinga had escaped and gone into hiding. Shi-lang had spent years tracking him down to no avail. This sole surviving branch is now into the 13th generation. The tombs of Koxinga and 鄭經 were relocated to Nan-An in Hokkien; those of the other high officials were secretly razed to the ground and the remains destroyed. And any memorials to the Ming-Cheng were either erased or converted into temples. This was the Qing Court's 以漢制漢 (Han controlling Han) policy in action - the Manchu people apparently knew that the Han Chinese were very good at exacting revenges from the Han Taiwanese.

In a strange twist of fate, 500 Hokkien/Taiwanese 藤牌兵 were recalled from the settlements to fight in 1685 in the Sino-Russian border wars. They were naturally victorious. Then the 500 mysteriously disappeared. Did they really? Stay tuned.