Taiwan is the last oasis of traditional Chinese martial arts. Why and how Taiwan got the most important role in preserving traditional kung fu and Chinese culture in general was written in one of the previous articles . The question remains , who and when actually brought kung fu to the island .
Taiwan has very long history , first human settlements date back almost 30 000 years . Aboriginal tribes lived (and fought among them self and intruders) for a very long time, but what kind of martial arts , if any they develop is still unknown . Aboriginal tribes are very closed social groups with little interaction with outsiders.
Dutch traders arrived on the island in 1623 to use the island as a base for Dutch commerce with Japan and the coastal areas of China. The Dutch East India Company built Fort Zeelandia on the coastal islet of Tainan. The Spanish established a settlement at Santísima Trinidad, building Fort San Salvador on the northwest coast of Taiwan near Keelung in 1626 which they occupied until 1642 when they were driven out by a joint Dutch–Aborigine invasion force. They also built a fort in Tamsui (1628) but had already abandoned it by 1638.
The Dutch built a second administrative castle on the main island of Taiwan in 1633 and set out to turn Taiwan into a Dutch colony. Dutch ruled Taiwan around 40 years and for that time they killed , enslaved , relocated and tortured domestic population on every possible way. But was going to change soon , unfortunately , not for the better for aboriginal tribes .
First Chinse settlers were forced to come to Taiwan in the time when Dutch established their rule over parts of the island. Person responsible for first wave of settlers was Zheng Zhilong (鄭芝龍), a pirate and merchant ,and a father of Zeng Chenggong (Koxinga) ,who patrolled the waters of the East and South China Seas. Hard times for the over-crowded lands of Fujian province as well as the encroaching Manchus pushed him to begin promoting the population of Taiwan with Fujianese farmers. He even sold his own people to the Dutch as indentured servants as a means to get poor people out of Fujian and onto Taiwan. His son will adopt this idea and lead first big wave of settlers to Taiwan some time later and it was him ,Zeng Chenggong who actually brought kung fu to Taiwan .
So who was Zeng Chenggong ? Zheng Sen was born on Aug. 28, 1624, in Hirado, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan, to Zheng Zhilong, a Chinese merchant and pirate, and a Japanese woman, recorded only by her surname Tagawa , although today it promoted by Japanese school of history that she was a daughter on feudal lord of Hirado area.His mother was a reason why Koxinga became such an enemy to Manchuirans who raped her and killed her. He was raised by his mother until the age of seven with the Japanese name Fukumatsu and then moved to Nan'an county in Quanzhou in Fujian province of China. His father hired Confucian scholars to educate Zheng Chenggong, so that he might be able to pass the imperial examinations and in 1638, Zheng became a Xiucai (a successful candidate) in the imperial examination and became one of the twelve Linshansheng (廩膳生) of Nan'an. In 1641, Koxinga married the niece of Dong Yangxian, an official who was a Jinshi from Hui'an. In 1644, Koxinga studied at the Imperial Nanking University the main Chinese university of the Ming Dynasty., where he met and became a student of the scholar Qian Qianyi.
The end of the Ming dynasty was marked by natural disasters, climatic change, plagues and rebellions. These events weakened the Ming rule and finally led to its fall. One of the first big blows was an earthquake in Shaanxi in 1556 that is thought to be the deadliest earthquake in history. It is thought that about 800,000 people died then. It is estimated that it measured 8 on the Richter scale. The earthquake killed about 30 percent of the people in Xi'an.During the early 1600s, there were an unusually large number of earthquakes also. From 1621 to 1627 there were two earthquakes above 7 on the Richter scale.Then in the 1590s, a Japanese Shogun tried to conquer the region. Two Japanese campaigns failed, but the war was very costly for the Ming court. It was thought that the court paid 26,000,000 ounces of silver to pay for this war. In the first half of the 1600s, famines became common in northern China because of unusually dry and cold weather that shortened the growing season. The change of climate occurred throughout the world and is called the Little Ice Age. Connected to the dry and cold climate, there were also large floods. Finally, a great epidemic started in 1641. It isn't known how many died from the plague, but the victims were counted in millions . The court didn't have funds to help the people or stop the rebellions. Besides the natural calamities and the rebellions that depleted the court's money, the empire faced a monetary crisis.
People rebelled in various places. Many peasants were starving and unable to pay their taxes, and they were no longer in fear of the Ming court. They began to form large rebel bands.A peasant soldier named Li Zicheng (1606–1645) mutinied with his fellow soldiers in western Shaanxi in the early 1630s after the government failed to ship supplies there. His rebel troops had a base of power in Hubei.In the 1640s, another ex-soldier named Zhang Xianzhong (1606–1647) created a rival rebel base in Chengdu in Sichuan Province.In 1644, Li Zicheng's troops were allowed into Beijing when someone opened the gates for him to enter. The last Ming emperor hanged himself on a tree.
Zhu Yujian (1602-1646) was a descendent of Zhu Jing 朱桱, Prince of Tang 唐王, one of the many sons of Emperor Taizu 明太祖 (r. 1368-1398), the founder of the Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644). He inherited the title of his father in 1632. In 1644, when the rebel Li Zicheng 李自成 advanced to the capital Beijing he offered military support to the central government and, without awaiting a response, set his troops into movement. For this disobedience he was demoted to the position of commoner. Yet a few months later he was pardoned.
After the Hongguang Emperor (r. 1644-1645) killed himself in 1645, the officials Zheng Hongkui , Zheng Zhilong and Huang Daozhou urged Zhu Yujian to adopt the title of emperor of the Ming. At that time he resided in Fuzhou , Fujian, and chose the reign motto Longwu 隆武 "Abundant Martiality". His empire formally comprised most Chinese provinces south of the Yangtse River, but he had a rival, namely Zhu Yihai , the Prince of Lu , who also aspired to become emperor of the Ming. The continued campaigns against the Manchu invasion of northern China devoured huge sums of money that was pressed out of the people. Yet general Zheng Zhilong had not the intention to shed so much blood and decided, together with Hong Chengchou to contact the Manchu generals for negotiations. The Longwu Emperor fled to Dingzhou in southern Fujian, where he was captured and executed.
Koxinga and his uncles were left as the successors to the leadership of Zheng Zhilong's military forces .He used the superiority of his naval forces to launch amphibious raids on Manchu-occupied territory in Fujian and he managed to take Tong'an in Quanzhou prefecture in early 1647. However, Koxinga's forces lacked the ability to defend the newly occupied territory .Following the fall of Tong'an to Zheng, the Manchus launched a counterattack in the spring of 1647, during which they stormed the Zheng family's hometown of Anping. Koxinga's mother, Lady Tagawa who came from Japan in 1645 to join her family in Fujian was caught by Manchu forces in Anping and committed suicide ( or according to some sources raped and killed by her captors) after refusal to submit to the enemy.
During 1650”s Koxinga had a lot of successes fighting the Manchus . He established himself as the head of the Zheng family and pledged allegiance to the only remaining claimant to the throne of the Ming Dynasty, the Yongli Emperor. The Yongli Emperor was fleeing from the Manchus in south-western China and finally went to Burma where he was captured and executed at the end.. Despite one fruitless attempt, Koxinga was unable to do anything to aid the last Ming emperor. Instead, he decided to concentrate on securing his own position on the southeast coast. In 1651 and 1652 Koxina had so much successes that Manchus started negotiations with him . Negotiations finally filed in 1654 and Manchus launched another attack on Fujian province in 1656 but the attack failed and Ming loyalist prevailed. Finally Koxinga was forced to leave mainland China pressed by constant Manchu efforts .
On April 30, 1661, Zheng Chenggong besieged the Dutch at Fort Zeelandia with a force of 900 ships and 25,000 men. The Dutch held out for one year, waiting for reinforcements and provisions from Batavia. None came and on February 1, 1662, with the fort parched for a lack of fresh drinking water, the Dutch governor of Formosa, Frederik Coyett, surrendered to Zheng Chenggong. Under the terms of the surrender, the Dutch were free to leave with their personal belongings so long as the goods and supplies of the Dutch East India Company were left behind. Coyett’s surrender ended 38 years of Dutch rule on Formosa.
Unfortunately, Zheng Chenggong died a year later, some say of malaria but other reports claim he committed suicide after a series of personal setbacks. Zheng’s son and grandson would succeed him as “Kings of Taiwan” with their capital at Tainan.
Although Chinese settlers came to Taiwan earlier , these people were peasants from Fujian who escaped from war and harsh living conditions or they were forced to come and they had no martial experience . Kung Fu came to Taiwan with Koxinga who brought a large number of experienced warriors and these people permanently stayed on Taiwan developing further their fighting style which were of the outmost importance for their survival .At the time, Taiwan was an inhospitable place. It had never been under the administrative control of any mainland government, and its position at the heart of the Pacific trade routes made it a natural haven for smugglers, pirates, outlaws, and foreign adventurers .The island’s aboriginal inhabitants had already developed a fearsome reputation for hostility to outsiders. And even after Shi Lang’s eventual conquest, when Taiwan for the first time came under direct rule from the mainland, it remained a wild and lawless place . In these conditions martial skills were more valuable than anything else .
What styles Koxinga’s men brought we will never know. Many styles today trace their origins to Koxinga’s arrival but for the most part these claims cannot be proved. On the other hand Taiwan is a place where some of the rarest and oldest kung fu styles can be found . What we can be sure of is that the first styles were weapon based styles with little or no empty hands techniques . Koxinga himself or his son established a mandatory military practice for settlers and that practice is still preserved as unique martial and cultural phenomena known as Sung Chang Battle array
. People practice how to fight in organized groups which was the most effective way to fight anyone at the time. After Koxinga expelled the Dutch people from Fujian slowly started to come , mostly escaping the Manchu persecution and bringing their martial arts with them . By the end of 1940’s Taiwan will become the most important kung fu place on the world , the place form where the rest of the planet got introduced with Chinese martial arts .