Zheng Pirates Raid the Chinese Coast

During the upheavals occasioned by the fall of the Ming Dynasty and the subsequent consolidation of the Qing Dynasty, pirate leader Zheng Chenggong waged war against the Qing in pursuit of profits, power, and the possible restoration of the Ming.

Summary of Event

The rulers of China traditionally saw their world as “all under heaven,” and the emperors justified their reigns as having the “mandate of heaven.” The mandate could be lost through natural disaster, foreign invasion, incompetent rulers, or peasant uprisings, and a new dynasty would come to the fore, claiming the mandate of heaven. In 1644, the Ming (“bright”) Dynasty Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) lost the mandate and was replaced by the non-Chinese Manchus from the north, who established the Qing (“pure”) Dynasty, which continued to rule China until 1911. Qing Dynasty (Ch’ing, 1644-1911)
[kw]Zheng Pirates Raid the Chinese Coast (1645-1683)
[kw]Chinese Coast, Zheng Pirates Raid the (1645-1683)
[kw]Pirates Raid the Chinese Coast, Zheng (1645-1683)
Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1645-1683: Zheng Pirates Raid the Chinese Coast[1570]
Government and politics;1645-1683: Zheng Pirates Raid the Chinese Coast[1570]
China;1645-1683: Zheng Pirates Raid the Chinese Coast[1570]
Piracy, China
Zheng Chenggong

However, “all under heaven” before the seventeenth century did not encompass the island of Taiwan Taiwan, Chinese conquest of , located 120 miles (193 kilometers) off the southeast coast of the Chinese mainland. The rulers of China had traditionally turned their backs on the sea. There were exceptions, notably in the early fifteenth century, when Chinese fleets sailed all the way to Africa, but generally China was a land rather than a sea power. Largely inhabited by its aboriginal peoples, Taiwan had been ignored by the Chinese emperors.

Before the seventeenth century, there had been some contacts between Taiwan and the mainland. Chinese merchants from Fujian (Fukien) and Guangdong (Kwangtung) provinces imported deer horns (believed to be an aphrodisiac) and hides from the island. In addition, pirates from China and Japan had made Taiwan a base of their operations. Western nations also had contact with the island. The Portuguese had named the island Ilha Formosa, or Beautiful Isle, but made Macao Macao , near Guangzhou (Canton), their main settlement for Chinese trade. Spain, which had incorporated the Philippines into its far-flung empire, established an outpost in north Taiwan at Chi-lung. The Dutch, who had driven the Portuguese out of the Indonesian Spice Islands, founded a fortified settlement in southwestern Taiwan called Zeelandia in order better to trade with the Chinese mainland, and by the 1640’, the Dutch had driven the Spanish from the island.

As a consequence of the Ming collapse and the Qing takeover in 1644, southern China was anything but peaceful. As late as the 1660’, there were several Ming claimants to the imperial throne who refused to concede that the foreign Qing held the mandate of heaven. The Ming prince of Fu established his court at Nanjing (Nan-ching) but was captured and soon died. He was followed by two brothers who were Ming descendants as well. One brother’s court was centered at Fuzhou (Foochow) across from Taiwan, and the other’s was farther south at Guangzhou, but the former was executed by the Qing in 1646 and the latter in 1647. Another claimant was based at Xiamen (Amoy), between Fuzhou and Guangzhou, but he abandoned his claim in 1653. Ming hopes continued in China’s southwest until the capture and execution of the prince of Gui in 1662.

Among the other individuals caught up in the Ming resistance to the advancing Qing was the head of the Zheng family, Zheng Zhilong Zheng Zhilong , who combined trade and piracy between Japan, Taiwan, and Fujian province on China’s mainland. Initially on the side of the Ming claimants, he joined the Qing in 1646. Changing sides was not uncommon during that turbulent era. However, Zheng’s son, Zheng Chenggong, did not follow his father’s lead: He remained loyal to the Ming and supported several Ming claimants militarily. Zheng Chenggong was given the Ming imperial surname, pronounced “kok-sehng-yah” in the local dialect, and became known in the West as Koxinga. Nothing if not multicultural, Koxinga had a Japanese mother, and his Chinese father had trading interests extending from Nagasaki in Japan to Taiwan to the Chinese mainland, including the Portuguese enclave of Macao. Black slaves from Macao guarded the Zheng compound at Xiamen, which included a chapel with both Buddhist and Christian features.

While supporting the rebel Ming against the Qing, Zheng Chenggong also enriched himself economically, trading in silks and sugar for his required military supplies. In 1658, he invaded central China with a force of 130,000 troops and one thousand ships, and the following year he attempted to seize the city of Nanjing on the Yangtze River. Repulsed by the Qing forces, he abandoned his base on the island of Quemoy (Jinmen), in Xiamen harbor, and turned to Taiwan, attacking the Dutch fort at Zeelandia. The citadel survived a nine-month siege, and the surviving Dutch surrendered only when allowed to retreat to the port of Batavia in the Dutch East Indies. In spite of the vast booty he captured, however, Zheng’s victory came at a cost. His father and brothers, held hostage in Beijing, were executed in 1661 because of his anti-Qing campaigns. According to some accounts, Zheng became mentally unstable, violently lashing out even against his own children. He died in 1662, perhaps a suicide, at the age of thirty-eight.

Zheng’s legacy continued after his death. His sons and grandson built on his accomplishments and established a commercial network on Taiwan, trading in salt, sugar, and the building of ships. In 1660, before Zheng Chenggong’s death, Qing officials in the southern coastal provinces moved much of the population 20 miles (32 kilometers) into the interior to deprive the Zhengs and other pirate-traders of their economic base. This draconian policy caused considerable hardship and many deaths, and as a result some mainland Chinese fled to Taiwan, which soon had a Chinese population of more than 100,000. In 1664 and 1665, attempts to launch two invasions of Taiwan to wipe out the Zhengs and their supporters failed.

The Qing Kangxi Kangxi emperor ascended the throne in 1661, at the age of seven, but by the 1670’s he had personally begun to take control of the government. During that decade, his focus was less on the Zhengs and Taiwan and more on the rebellion of three Chinese generals who had ruled for the Qing in the south. This Rebellion of the Three Feudatories Three Feudatories, Rebellion of the (1673-1681) ended in 1681, allowing the emperor to turn to the problem of Taiwan. His solution was to appoint a former associate of Zheng Chenggong to mount a naval invasion of the island. Shi Lang Shi Lang , described by Kangxi as arrogant and uneducated but with outstanding military abilities, had his own personal reasons for rooting out the Zhengs: Zheng Chenggong had murdered Shi Lang’s father and other relatives when Shi Lang switched sides and joined the Qing in the 1650’. With a fleet of three hundred ships, Shi Lang inflicted a devastating defeat upon the Zheng base in the Pescadores in July, 1683. Three months later, the last resistance on Taiwan came to an end with the surrender of Zheng Keshuang Zheng Keshuang , Zheng Chenggong’s grandson, effectively ending the Zhengs’ piratical rebellion against the Qing.


With the end of the Zheng threat, the Qing government rescinded its coastal evacuation policy and allowed the local populace to return to China’s southern provinces. Kangxi treated the surviving Zheng with clemency, allowing them to take up residence in Beijing. Most of the Zheng forces were shifted to northern China to assist in protecting the borders against possible Russian incursions. The fate of Taiwan itself was subject to considerable debate, with some arguing that the island should be abandoned, while others, including Shi Lang, demanded that Taiwan be incorporated into China. Kangxi accepted the latter argument, and Taiwan was formally annexed to China in 1684, becoming a prefecture of Fujian province.

Under Kangxi’s imperial order, eight thousand Chinese troops were to be permanently stationed on the island. However, the tribal lands of the aboriginal population were to be preserved, and immigration from the mainland to Taiwan was to be restricted. The island was thus left in a sort of no-man’-land economically and socially, remaining an underpopulated frontier region. The Qing Dynasty, like most Chinese dynasties through the nation’s long history, had a preference for agriculture and a disdain for merchants and traders because they created nothing concrete, unlike the peasant farmers who produced food. Migration;Chinese into Taiwan

After the Sino-Japanese War of 1894, Japan occupied Taiwan until the Japanese defeat at the end of World War II in 1945. As a result of the Communist victory under Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) in the Chinese Civil War, the defeated Nationalists of Jiang Jie-shī (Chiang Kai-shek) retreated to Taiwan, where they established a rival government to the People’s Republic.

Further Reading

  • Croizier, Ralph C. Koxinga and Chinese Nationalism. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997. A discussion of Zheng Chenggong as hero and the myths associated with him and his era.
  • Mote, F. W. Imperial China, 900-1800. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999. An excellent survey that includes an extensive discussion of Zheng Chenggong.
  • Spence, Jonathan D. Emperor of China. New York: Random House, 1974. A brilliant reconstruction of the ideas, policies, and personality of the Kangxi emperor.
  • Spence, Jonathan D. The Search for Modern China. New York: Norton, 1990. The best one-volume study of China from the end of the Ming Dynasty to the present.

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