Formosa (Island) 1911 Profile, #05: History


The island of Formosa must have been known from a very early date to the Chinese who were established in the Pescadores. The inhabitants are mentioned in the official works of the Yuan dynasty as Tung fan or eastern barbarians; and under the Ming dynasty the island begins to appear as Kilung. In the beginning of the 16th century it began to be known to the Portuguese and Spanish navigators, and the latter at least made some attempts at establishing settlements or missions. The Dutch were the first, however, to take footing in the island; in 1624 they built a fort, Zelandia, on the east coast, where subsequently rose the town of Taiwan, and the settlement was maintained for thrity-seven years. On the expulsion of the Ming dynasty in China, a number of their defeated adherents came over to Formosa, and under a leader called in European accounts Coxinga, succeeded in expelling the Dutch and taking possession of a good part of the island. In 1682 the Chinese of Formosa recognized the emperor K'ang-hi, and the island then began to form part of the Chinese empire. From the close of the 17th century a long era of conflict ensued between the Chinese and the aborigines. A more debased population than the peoples thus struggling for supremacy could scarcely be conceived. The aborigines, Sheng fan, or " wild savages," deserved the appellation in some respects, for they lived by the chase and had little knowledge even of husbandry; while the Chinese themselves, uneducated labourers, acknowledged no right except that of might. The former were not implacably cruel or vindictive. They merely clung to their homesteads, and harboured a natural resentment against the raiders who had dispossessed them. Their disposition was to leave the Chinese in unmolested possession of the plain. But some of the most valuable products of the island, as camphor and rattan, are to be found in the upland forests, and the Chinese, whenever they ventured too far in search of these products, fell into ambushes of hill-men who neither gave nor sought quarter, and who regarded a Chinese skull as a specially attractive article of household furniture. A violent rebellion is mentioned in 1788, put down only after the loss, it is said, of ioo,000 men by disease and sword, and the expenditure of 2,000,000 taels of silver. Reconciliation never took place on any large scale, though it is true that, in the course of time, some fitful displays of administrative ability on the part of the Chinese, and the opening of partial means of communication, led to the pacification of a section of the Sheng fan, who thenceforth became known as Pe-pa-hwan (Pepohoan). In the early part of the 19th century the island was chiefly known to Europeans on account of the wrecks which took place on its coasts, and the dangers that the crews had to run from the cannibal propensities of the aborigines, and the almost equally cruel tendencies of the Chinese. Among the most notable was the loss in 1842 of the British brig " Ann," with fifty-seven persons on board, of whom forty-three were executed at Taichu. By the treaty of Tientsin (1860) Taichu was opened to European commerce, but the place was found quite unsuitable for a port of trade, and the harbour of Tam-sui was selected instead. From 1859 both Protestant and Presbyterian missions were established in the island. An attack made on those at Feng-shan (Hozan) in 1868 led to the occupation of Fort Zelandia and Anping by British forces; but this action was disapproved by the home government, and the indemnity demanded from the Chinese restored. In 1874 the island was invaded by the Japanese for the purpose of obtaining satisfaction for the murder of a shipwrecked crew who had been put to death by one of the semi-savage tribes on the southern coast, the Chinese government being either unable or unwilling to punish the culprits. A war was averted through the good offices of the British minister, Sir T. F. Wade, and the Japanese retired on payment of an indemnity of 500,000 taels. The political state of the island during these years was very bad; in a report of 1872 there is recorded a proverb among the official classes, " every three years an outbreak, every five a rebellion "; but subsequent to 1877 some improvement was manifested, and public works were pushed forward by the Chinese authorities. In 1884, in the course of belligerent proceedings arising out of the Tongking dispute, the forts at Kelung on the north were bombarded by the French fleet, and the place was captured and held for some months by French troops. An attack on the neighbouring town of Tamsui failed, but a semi-blockade of the island was maintained by the French fleet during the winter and spring of 1884-1885. The troops were withdrawn on the conclusion of peace in June 1885.

In 1895 the island was ceded to Japan by the treaty of Shimonoseki at the close of the Japanese war. The resident Chinese officials, however, refused to recognize the cession, declared a republic, and prepared to offer resistance. It is even said they offered to transfer the sovereignty to Great Britain if that power would accept it. A formal transfer to Japan was made in June of the same year in pursuance of the treaty, the ceremony taking place on board ship outside Kelung, as the Chinese commissioners did not venture to land. The Japanese were thus left to take possession as best they could, and some four months elapsed before they effected a landing on the south of the island. Takau was bombarded and captured on the 15th of October, and the resistance collapsed. Liu Yung-fu, the notorious Black Flag general, and the back-bone of the resistance, sought refuge in flight. The general state of the island when the Japanese assumed possession was that the plain of Giran on the eastern coast and the hill-districts were inhabited by semibarbarous folk, the western plains by Chinese of a degraded type, and that between the two there existed a traditional and continuous feud, leading to mutual displays of merciless and murderous violence. By many of these Chinese settlers the Japanese conquerors, when they came to occupy the island, were regarded in precisely the same light as the Chinese themselves had been regarded from time immemorial by the aborigines. Insurrections occurred frequently, the insurgents receiving secret aid from sympathizers in China, and the difficulties of the Japanese being increased not only by their ignorance of the country, which abounds in fastnesses where bandits can find almost inaccessible refuge, but also by the unwillingness of experienced officials to abandon their home posts for the purpose of taking service in the new territory.

NOTE: This article is an historical reference based on the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, now in the Public Domain. The text is provided through scanning and OCR conversion. There may be transcription errors in the article. Encyclopedia style: 1) For reasons of cost and academic writing style, the paragraphs are long in length. 2) Contributors to articles are sometimes identified by their initials in parentheses at the end of the article. 3) Some articles include a section called "Authorities," a record of all the sources used when writing the article. 4) Information is based on knowledge available in 1911 and may be inaccurate, especially in the areas of science, law, and ethnography. 5) Images and diagrams from the original are not included with article. 6) Do not use this information for medical or legal guidance or any research requiring current information.

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      "Formosa," Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume 19, (11th ed.), (New York: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911); digital edition, ( : posted 15 Jan 2013)

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