Historic TAINAN (台南; táinán), just a few kilometres from the southwest coast, is a city of ancient monuments, delicious food and, above all, temples: there are more gods worshipped and more festivals and rituals observed in Tainan than in any other place in Taiwan. Much of this is a legacy of its former status as capital city, a title it enjoyed for more than two hundred years, and particularly of the seventeenth century, when it was the last independent outpost of China’s Ming dynasty.
The oldest and most absorbing parts of Tainan are historic Anping, on the west side of town by the sea, and the cultural zones in the heart of the old city; the latter were created specifically to make things easier for visitors, with city information, signs and maps tailored to each zone and well marked in English. The Chihkan, Dong-an Fang, Five Canals and Confucius Temple cultural zones contain the richest concentration of sights – reckon on spending at least two days to do them justice.
The ancestral home of the Siraya píngpŭ tribe, Tainan began its modern history with the Dutch, who established Fort Zeelandia in 1624 on a sand bar off the coast. At that time, the site of the modern city’s western half was under water, part of a huge lagoon ringed by a chain of sandy islets. The Dutch called the area “Tayouan” and made it the capital of their colony. In 1662, however, they surrendered to the vastly superior forces of Ming general Zheng Chenggong, also known as Koxinga after a nine-month siege. During the period of Zheng family rule that followed (1662–83) Tainan prospered, and many of its finest temples were constructed to befit its status as an independent Chinese kingdom. In 1664 one of the last descendants of the Ming royal family, the Prince of Ningjing, moved to the city. When the Zhengs surrendered to Chinese admiral Shi Lang in 1683, the city became known as Taiwan-Fu and was made prefectural capital of the island.
In 1823 a devastating storm led to the silting up of the lagoon, and Anping (the site of Fort Zeelandia) became permanently joined to the mainland. The Treaty of Beijing (1860) paved the way for a small community of foreign merchants to trade camphor, tea and opium in Anping, but after the Japanese occupied Taiwan in 1895 the sale of opium and camphor became a government franchise and, with the port silting up further, by 1911 most merchants had left. When Taiwan became a province in 1885, the city became known as Tainan-Fu, or “South Taiwan” and lost its capital status to Taipei. Today it is Taiwan’s fourth-largest city, with a population of around 770,000.Read More
The last of the Ming
The last of the Ming
All but forgotten today, Zhū Shùguì or the Prince of Ningjing (寧靖王; níngjìngwáng), one of the last descendants of China’s Ming dynasty, rulers of China from 1368 to 1644, died in Tainan in 1683. Chong Zhen, the last Ming emperor, hanged himself in Beijing as it was being overrun by rebel troops in 1644, and was eventually replaced by the first Manchu or Qing emperor, Shunzhi. However, several of the vanquished Ming emperor’s relatives escaped to form a rival southern Ming dynasty. Zhū Shùguì was one of these hapless survivors. One by one, his fellow princes were defeated in battle, with the last formal pretender, the Prince of Gui, murdered in 1662. Zhū Shùguì fled to Kinmen and in 1663 he was finally persuaded to move to Tainan by Koxinga’s son, Zheng Jing, becoming the nominal head of the dynasty but with little real power. In a final show of defiance he committed suicide with his household on hearing of the Zhengs’ surrender to the Qing in 1683 – the dynasty died with him. Zhū Shùguì’s modest tomb is in Chuhu, south of Tainan.
The legacy of Koxinga
The legacy of Koxinga
The life of Zheng Chenggong, traditionally known as Koxinga in the West (a bastardization of guóxìngyé, an official title given to him by one of the last Ming princes), is a complex mixture of historical fact, myth and politics. Born in 1624 in Japan to a pirate Chinese father and a Japanese mother, he was taken to Fujian in China when he was 7 and given a strict Confucian education. After the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644, Fujian became the centre of resistance to the new Qing rulers and Koxinga rose rapidly through the ranks of the military, gaining honours from various Ming princes and becoming the leader of the entire resistance movement. In 1658 he was defeated in Nanjing, an event that led him to consider a tactical retreat to Taiwan, and in 1661 he led a sizeable fleet across the straits to remove the Dutch. Contrary to popular belief, the siege of Fort Zeelandia was characterized by a series of blunders, Koxinga’s overwhelmingly superior forces taking nine months to oust the defenders. The general died a few months later in 1662, most likely from malaria and, although he was initially buried in Taiwan his body was taken back to China with his son in 1699. On the island he became known as kāishān wáng, “Open Mountain King”, for his supposed role in developing infrastructure and opening up the country for Chinese immigrants, and is worshipped as a folk god – there are around 63 temples dedicated to him island-wide.
Today, Koxinga is eulogized not just in Taiwan but also in China (there’s a huge statue of him gazing towards the island in Xiamen) for being the only Chinese general to inflict a major defeat on a colonial Western power. Those favouring unification claim he was the first to “take back” Taiwan, while Taiwan independence activists like to point out that Koxinga’s family ruled an independent kingdom that had never been part of the Chinese empire. What’s often forgotten in both cases is that Koxinga’s brief war with the Dutch was a relatively minor footnote to his epic struggle with the Qing regime in Beijing.