August 25- 27
Harbourfront Centre

Charting Formosa

Zheng He’s voyages to the West, Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe, and Columbus’ discovery of the New World… They are renowned historical explorers even before the Era of Exploration. When it comes to Taiwan, most people associate it with its relationship with China. If we go back to the 16th and 17th centuries, what was Taiwan like when it first encountered the world? What resources did Taiwan possess that Europeans sought during that time? What impact did these encounters leave in Taiwan? And what similar experiences were happening in Canada at the same time?

With the cooperation and assistance from the National Museum of Taiwan History, and a special exhibition curated by Associate Researcher Wen-Cheng Shih, “Charting Formosa” takes you on a journey through time. It explores the encounters between Eastern and Western cultures during the Era of Exploration, how Taiwan was perceived by the Western world, and major periods such as the Dutch using Taiwan as a trading post in East Asia, and the arrival of the Zheng Dynasty, leading into the departure of the Dutch. Let’s reacquaint ourselves with Taiwan, its rich history, and its interactions with various cultures. Reflect on the diverse cultural and maritime characteristics of Taiwan, and draw parallels with the experiences of Canada during that era and beyond.

TAIWANfest will use these historical stories to embark on a voyage exploring the impact of colonization, cultural exchanges, and human migrations on contemporary societies.

AUG 26th - 27th | MBCS

Curated By

Wen-Cheng Shih
Associate Researcher of National Museum of Taiwan History

Theme 1

Image of Taiwan in Western Maps

How does one begin marking the location of Taiwan on a world map without Taiwan? Where does one position Taiwan? Taiwan began to appear on Western maps around the middle of the 16th century, finally emerging within the realm of world history. 

In the early versions of Western maps, Taiwan appeared with various names and different outlines, as if a mysterious island meandering across the Tropic of Cancer. Through 16th and 17th century maps drawn and printed by the Europeans, we will see the evolution of Taiwan’s image and geography. These maps will also subtly reveal hints of geographical understanding by the local islanders, knowledge that is neither new nor to-be-discovered.

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Accurate Nautical Charts of Chinese Territory and Coastline in 1596

The small island passing by the Tropic of Cancer is marked as Lequeo pequeno, with Formosa Island (I. Fermosa) and an unnamed island drawn beside it. These three adjacent islands presents the area around Taiwan. This three-island map of Taiwan is a reference to the Portuguese chart system. From the mid 16th century to the 1630s, the three-island map of Taiwan was quite common in the West. It is also worth noting that this map places east as the compass north. This perspective shows Taiwan as the central station on the East Asian route, connecting Ryukyu and Japan in the north and the Philippines, Borneo, Java and other places in the south.

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Map of the East Indies and Adjacent Islands, circa 1601

In the picture, the small island Ryukyu (Lequio minor) is drawn in the southwest of Japan (IAPAN) and north of the Tropic of Cancer. Further north are Miyako Islands (Reix magos), Formosa Island (ÿa. Fermosa), and Okinawa’s Ryukyu Islands (Lequio maior). This map is basically based on the Portuguese map. Most of the Portuguese documents from the middle of the 16th century to the beginning of the 17th century referred to Taiwan as Xiaoliuqiu (Ryukyu). The route was marked north of the Tropic of Cancer. The largest island, Little Ryukyu, should refer to a part of Taiwan. As for the extremely small Formosa Island, which is drawn to the north of the Miyako Islands, it does not refer to Taiwan.

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Map of the East Indies and Surrounding Archipelago, 1635

It was not until the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century that Europeans gradually came to the waters of East Asia. They landed on Taiwan Island due to shipwrecks, trade, and other factors, and left visual records. The name Formosa, used by Westerners, refers to Taiwan. In the 1720s, after the Dutch and Spanish occupied the northern and southern ends of the island, Taiwan, whose name was ambiguous, varied in shape, and wandered nearby the Tropic of Cancer in the maps printed and published in the West, was gradually depicted as one particular island where the Tropic of Cancer passes.

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World Map, 1686

This kind of world map, with double spheres in the eastern and western hemispheres, was quite popular in the West in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Old World of Eurasia and Africa is the Eastern Hemisphere, and the New World of America is the Western Hemisphere. Such human-subjective geographical cognition roughly continued until the end of the 19th century. The Greenwich Observatory in London, England was used as the zero-degree meridian of the world, the so-called “prime meridian” to distinguish the eastern and western hemispheres. Characters from Greek mythology are depicted, such as the goddess Europa, representing Europe, and Demeter, the goddess who brings the harvest.

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The Kunyu Quantu, republished version in the 10th year of Xianfeng (1860)

“The Kunyu Quantu” was first published in the 13th year of Kangxi (1674), drawn by Flemish Jesuit missionary Ferdinand Verbiest (1623-1688). He drew it to explain the geographical knowledge of the Western world at that time to Emperor Kangxi. This picture is a reprinted version in the 10th year of Xianfeng (1860). Although this picture is a presentation of Westerners’ geographical understanding, Ferdinand Verbiest put China at the center of the map and made Beijing as the prime meridian (O degree longitude). Comparing this map with the “Kunyu Wanguo Map” drawn by Matteo Ricci in 1601, Matteo Ricci even drew the Big Ryukyu where the Tropic of Cancer passes, and the Little Ryukyu further north. Taiwan has no name and location here. The outline and location of Taiwan in Ferdinand Verbiest’s map, however, is already very clear.

Theme 2

Cultural Encounters and Local Appropriation

The 16th and 17th centuries is known as the world’s Era of Exploration. Nautical trade brought about the migration of people, which led to the blending of cultures. The phenomenon of cultural intersections was manifested and established in the daily life of people at that time.

From the 16th century onwards, Taiwan’s Indigenous communities were impacted by waves of outsiders, which altered their original traditional lifestyle to a considerable extent. Some Indigenous tribes changed their way of bartering, such as trading shells, and began to use silver and copper coins as currency. Transactions with the outside world have brought many new choices and opportunities to the Indigenous peoples. From another perspective, sometimes it may not be that the traditional life of the Indigenous has been changed, but that foreign elements have been absorbed into Taiwan’s Indigenous cultures, resulting in a more diverse way of life.

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Lithograph of Matzou, 1676

This painting of Matzou is included in O. Dapper’s 1670 book The Second and Third Envoys of Dutch East India Company to the Qing Empire. The book says that Matzou is the thirty-ninth deity worshiped by the Han people. She is called Nioma or Matzou and lived a chaste life in Penghu until her death. Her image was enshrined in the temple shortly after her death, with a servant on the left and right holding a fan covering her head. This picture should depict the Matzou Temple of Magong in Penghu. The image of Matzou is very huge, with Clairvoyance and Omniscience standing beside her. The painter basically imagined Chinese temples within the West’s understanding of a Church.

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Lanyu Dawu Silver Helmet

The silver helmet is the most valued treasure of the Dawu tribe. Today, most of the tribes in Orchid Island regard it as a family heirloom, which shows how important it is. The Dawu tribe is also the only ethnic group among the Indigenous of Taiwan that possesses metallurgical and silver-smelting technology. In the early days, the materials were used silver coins exchanged from foreign ethnic groups for melting and casting.

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Siraya Imitation Han Style Sword Belt

The Siraya people are the Indigenous peoples of the Tainan area. They were the first people encountered by the Dutch when they came in the 17th century. Because the Siraya people interacted with the outside world very early, especially after the mass Han migration, their culture was greatly influenced by the that of the Han people. This object is a sword belt made by the Siraya people imitating the Han people. However, there are still some differences from the Han sword belt, such as asymmetry and the cultural elements of the Siraya people on the pattern. The ring-necked pheasant and other flowers, birds, etc. transformed from realistic objects. Animals, human figures, etc., were also cleverly combined with various geometric shapes.

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Spanish El Real de a 8 (Real Silver Coin)

The El Real de a 8 (Real Silver Coin) produced during the period of King Carlos IV of Spain (Carlos IV, 1788-1808) was produced in the Kingdom of Spain. Real silver coins circulated during the period of Felipe II~Carlos IV in Spain. After Spain established a stronghold in the Philippines, the currency used by Europeans in the East was also used by the Netherlands. At that time, this currency was in circulation from the Spanish colonies to the trading areas of the Spanish and Portuguese in South Asia. It was also in circulation in Taiwan, and it continued to be used until the Qing Dynasty. The silver coins minted after the 18th century were called “Buddha Silver”, “Buddha Head Silver”, and “Buddha Face Silver,” because the face of the coin was engraved with a king’s image, which looked like a Buddha head.

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Bilingual Contract Established by Members of the Sinkang in the 31st year of Qianlong in the Qing Dynasty (1766)

After the Dutch came to Taiwan, to make missions easier, the Dutch missionaries imported the writing system into the Indigenous tribes they interacted with. Prominently, the Sinkang of the Siraya tribe (today’s Tainan New District), who was closest to the administrative center of Zeelandia City (now Anping District, Tainan City), was the first to be exposed to written education, and it lasted the longest. Some of the Siraya tribes learned to use Roman characters to write their own mother tongue – Sinkang language. This pinyin language was also used in contract documents during the Qing Dynasty, and it was called “Sinkang Manuscripts“.

Theme 3

Zheng Chenggong's Multiple Positions In History

Zheng Chenggong, also known as Koxinga, is a well-known figure in Taiwan. The “super-expansion” of his story actually began after his death. The current Taiwanese society’s positive and negative evaluations of Zheng Chenggong represent only one part of the historical narrative.

As far as the Indigenous peoples are concerned, Zheng Chenggong is not a “national hero”, but rather a colonial ruler. On the other hand, because he established the first Han Chinese regime in Taiwan, he was worshipped by the Han people as the holy king who founded Taiwan. The political atmosphere after the government of the Republic of China came to Taiwan regarded Zheng Chenggong as a symbol of anti-communism and restoration of the country, and regularly held official ceremonies in his name. In the past 20 years, Zheng Chenggong’s marine expeditions and history became greatly exaggerated, and even became the main theme of many cultural festival activities. Zheng Chenggong’s varying positions reflect the ongoing evolution of Taiwan’s diverse history and society.

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Map of the Coastal Islands of China where the famous pirates Yquen and Koxinga occupied, 1727

The scope of this drawing covers the islands of Xiamen and Kinmen in southern Fujian, as well as the counties of Jinjiang, Nan’an, Tong’an, and Haicheng. It mainly depicts the bases of the great pirate Zheng Zhilong (Yquen) and his son Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga). The images of Zheng Zhilong and his son, Zheng Chenggong, appear in the lower right corner of the map.

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Frederik Coyett, 1675, “The Forgotten Formosa”

The author of this book signs C.E.S., and it is generally believed that C.E.S. is the last governor of Formosa, Frederik Coyett (1656~1662). The horse rider depicted in the cover print of this book is Zheng Chenggong. However, the shape is strange and it almost looks like a Muslim dress. In Dutch descriptions, Zheng Chenggong is often described as a cruel and murderous pagan king.

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Zheng Chenggong's Army Attacking the Dutch, 1669

This is a Dutch engraving made by Westerners of Zheng Chenggong’s army attacking Taiwan in 1661. The person standing on the left in the picture is Zheng Chenggong.

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Pastor Antonius Hambroek appointed by Koxinga to persuade him to surrender, circa 19th century

Zheng Chenggong began to attack Taiwan in May 1661 until February 1662, when the Dutch withdrew from Zeelandia. For the nine long months, they did not storm the fort, but adopted a long-term siege to force the Dutch to surrender. At that time, the army of Zheng captured a Dutch missionary, Pastor Antonius Hambroek and his wife and daughters. Zheng Chenggong then appointed Pastor Hambroek to go to the city to persuade the Dutch to surrender. He encouraged the Dutch to persevere and refuse surrender instead. Despite the persuasion of his two daughters, he still insisted on returning to Zheng’s camp, and was finally killed by Zheng Chenggong. The story of Pastor Hambroek continues to be told in current generations of the Dutch. This engraving depicts Zheng Chenggong (right) and Pastor Antonius Hambroek (left).

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Poster of Movie “The Battles of Koxinga”

Japan is no stranger to Zheng Chenggong’s deeds, so there are many creations based on his character. This play, The Battles of Koxinga, mainly based on the story of Zheng Chenggong’s rebellion against the Qing Dynasty and the restoration of the Ming Dynasty, was well received. Later, in addition to historical dramas, it was performed in the form of song and dance. There were many song and dance dramas, novels, biographies, picture books, movies, etc. derived from this play, which became a channel for Japanese people to understand Zheng Chenggong’s story. This is the poster of the movie “The Battles of Koxinga”, which was released in Osaka Dotonbori Asahiza in 1940 (Showa 15). This movie was made to celebrate the 2600th anniversary of Emperor Jimmu’s accession to the throne in 1940. The characters in the film are shaped like Japanese warriors, highlighting the historical relationship between Zheng Chenggong and Japan, and can also be used as a basis for understanding Japanese popular culture.

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Yanping County King Wood Carving (Left)

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Statue of Zheng Chenggong (Nantou Burning) (Right)

Zheng Chenggong replaced the Dutch on the island to establish the first Han Chinese regime in Taiwan. There are many legends about Zheng Chenggong in Taiwan, reflecting how the Han people regard Zheng Chenggong as the holy king of Taiwan. Many worship him as such.

Curated by

Wen-Cheng Shih
Associate Researcher of National Museum of Taiwan History

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TAIWANfest Toronto is grateful to be held on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, that is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. We acknowledge our privilege to be gathered here, and commit to work with and be respectful to the Indigenous peoples of this land while we engage in meaningful conversations of culture and reconciliation.