Friday, June 5, 2015

The Diary of Philip Meij

Koxinga (in white) as recalled by Philip Meij
Philip Meij was a land surveyor employed by the VOC, trapped inside Ft Provincia when Koxinga's fleet entered Tai Bay on April 30, 1661 (for more, see here). He was released and left for Batavia with Coyett and remnants of the VOC on Feb 9, 1662. During this 9-month period, he worked for Koxinga not only in land surveys but also in translating letters from Koxinga to Coyett. Most importantly, Meij had written a company report based on his daily recalls after his safe return to Batavia. This diary complements, although is far more informative than Coyett's memoir of the siege of Ft Zeelandia, as it recorded activities unknown to Coyett. In addition, major events described in the diary also in most part agree with those archived by the Cheng court scribe 楊英Yang Ying, and the account of a near-contemporary historian 江日昇Jiang Ri Sheng. Meij's Dairy was translated from archaic Dutch into Chinese by 江樹聲Jiang Su-Sheng and published as 梅氏日記 in Taipei in 2003.

The diary told of the many unsuccessful attempts by Meij to reach Ft Zeelandia, the fate of the surrendered Dutch men, women, and children, the iron-fist rule of Koxinga, and the Ming-Cheng interaction with the Aborigines.

On May 5, 1661, while negotiating the surrender of Ft Provincia, Meij noticed 16 Aboriginal VIPs waiting outside of Koxinga's tent. They were the chiefs from 5 clans of previous Dutch colonial subjects, now all dressed in blue mandarin robes embroidered with gold and silk threads. Clearly, Koxinga was on good terms with Aborigines in the greater Sakam area. Not all Aboriginal tribes were friendly, though.

Some activists in Taiwan now decry the genocidal atrocity perpetrated on the Aborigines by Koxinga (and later his son Cheng Jing). This was not without provocation, however.

The major problem for Koxinga in the battle against the Dutch was the lack of enough food for his soldiers. He might have underestimated Coyett's resolve in defending Ft Zeelandia to wait it out for rescues from Batavia. A long siege must base on sufficient provisional reserve and Koxinga had great difficulties in getting re-supplied from his home base in Hokkien. The strategy was then changed to assigning his soldiers farming duties. Each military unit of 1,000-1,200 men was given a territory to build a town in the center and garrison forts in the periphery. There were also strict orders to leave current land ownership of both Han and Aboriginal undisturbed. And the land to be developed must meet certain farming standards complete with irrigation canals. Meji's surveyor skills were put in good use to erect the boundary markers of each territory. Along the way, for about 180 km north of Ft Provincia, Meji reported seeing men in groups of 100 busy planting sweet potatoes for immediate needs while getting the fields prepared for rice growing for the next season.

Of Koxinga's force, 11,000 to 12,000 men were sent to the north and 6,000 to the south leaving only 300 guarding Ft Provincia, now Koxinga's command center, and 5,000 to enforce the siege of Ft Zeelandia.

Both the north and south-bound forces quickly ran into Aboriginal hostilities. To the north, the Prince of Middagh (大度王) lured the Cheng frontier army into a false sense of security and murdered 1,400 to 1,500 of them in their sleep, the rest escaped into sugarcane fields and were smoked out and killed as well. Also lost was 陳澤Chen Ze who defeated Capt Thomas Pedel and his 120 musketeers on the beach of 北線尾Baxemboy. To the south, according to Albrecht Herport (an artist-soldier, either a German or a Swiss, working for the VOC), 700 to 800 soldiers were killed by the Aborigines after being surrounded; of the 5,000 Han and some straggler Dutch civilians in this area, most would also die of starvation and disease.

Meij recalled the Cheng soldiers "using their heavy weaponry and shamelessly asked for hospitality from the Aborigines". Some modern-day historians would point to this passage as evidence of maltreatment of the Aborigines while it might simply be a hunger-driven behavior. Regardless, the Ming-Cheng Kingdom would later mount punitive actions against these murderous Aborigines.