We can glimpse the structure of the new global trade by focusing on its most important commodity: silver. In 1637 a Spanish official wrote that “China… is the general center for the silver of Europe and Asia.” Recent scholarship corroborates his view. During the sixteenth century, silver production and trade increased dramatically and, although the metal moved through a web of networks, most of it ended up in China. Indeed, China became a global “silver sink,” drawing the metal from all over the world. So vast was China’s demand that it may have affected major developments in Europe itself: “There would not have been a Spanish Empire in the absence of the transformation of the Chinese society to a silver base, nor would there have been the same sort of ‘Price Revolution’ (i.e., inflation) around the globe in the early modern period.” China’s thirst for silver shaped the pattern of global trade and colonialism and, what is most important for our inquiry, led to the colonization of Taiwan
Icing on the cake? A key player in this drama was Koxinga, a.k.a. “the pirate king of Taiwan,” the never-say-die Ming dynasty loyalist who ruled the Taiwan straits and defeated both the Manchu invaders and the Dutch in a series of extraordinary battles. So even as I write these words, my printer is chugging away printing out PDF versions of the rest of the chapters of “How Taiwan Became Chinese.” In my geeky world there’s nothing better for bedtime reading than a little dose of 16th century Taiwanese globalization.
PDF files? Yes, what began as Andrade’s dissertation is now an e-book published by the Columbia University Press and American Historical Association’s’ Gutenberg-e, an online-only imprint designed to highlight the best work of “junior scholars” in history, and in so doing, possibly rescue the historical monograph from a premature death. Subscription to Gutenberg-e for just one book costs a whopping $49, which strikes me as completely outrageous, but luckily, there is a one-week free trial available for anyone who is curious as to how the habits of aborigine headhunters in 16th century Taiwan were affected by Fujianese immigration.
One last thing: as Andrade notes in his preface, it would be easy to misinterpret his title in the framework of the current, highly politicized question of whether Taiwan should be an independent nation or is just a “rebel province” that must inevitably be folded back under the mainland’s wing. That is not Andrade’s intent.
He writes, in his preface:
… I worried that my title might help hawks in mainland China argue that Taiwan belongs to the People’s Republic of China, and I strongly believe that Taiwan belongs to its people and should be whatever they decide. They’re doing a great job ruling themselves.
Yet there is no doubt that Taiwan today is culturally Chinese… Indeed, in many ways Taiwan is more Chinese than its assertive neighbor. Three decades of Maoism stripped away parts of mainland China’s traditional culture, but Taiwan preserves customs, festivals, and schools of thought that were extinguished across the strait….
When the story starts in the early seventeenth century, few Chinese lived on Taiwan, and China’s officials so disdained the island that they urged the Dutch to establish a colony there rather than on the much smaller Penghu Islands in the Taiwan Strait. The Dutch reluctantly went to Taiwan, and it was, oddly, under their rule that Chinese immigration to the island began in earnest. By the end of the Dutch period, a self-sustaining and rapidly growing Chinese colony had been born, and thenceforth China’s governments could not ignore Taiwan. Today, mainland China clamors loudly for reunification, and perhaps it will come. If so, let it be on Taiwan’s terms, when and how the Taiwanese want.
UPDATE: Michael Turton, from The View from Taiwan, has a powerfully expressed critique of some of Andrade’s points in the letters section.
SECOND UPDATE: Andrade responds to Turton.