(In this 1710 map published in Japan, Taiwan is still identified as 東寧, possibly in remembrance of Koxinga whose mother was Japanese.)
The classic Chinese historical novel 三國演義 (published in the 14th century covering the tumultuous late Han period of 169-280AD) has a haunting episode. In which 諸葛亮Tsu-ge Liang (also known as 孔明Kung Ming, 181-234AD) captured and then purposely released the trouble-making Southern Savage leader 孟獲Meng-Huo. Who finally gave up after the 7th capture and became a most faithful ally. Meng's friend, a chieftain named 兀突骨WuTuGu had led an army of 藤牌兵 in support of Meng that had caused much damage to Tsu-ge's Sze-chuan army. These infantrymen were equipped with round shields and body armors all as strong as iron made from rattan cured in (probably Tong) oil. They were trapped in a dead-end valley and set on fire by Tsu-ge's army and every single one died. For this, Tsu-ge knew he had gone too far in taking lives in this manner and would not be permitted by Heaven to live to a ripe old age. He was right.
Because of the tactical effectiveness in battle against the cavalries, 藤牌兵 has become a special force throughout the ages, especially in Southern China where rattan plants were abundant. Often, however, they were deployed on suicide missions - to perform the first frontal assault of each battle at great losses. The British 18th Infantry Regiment had run into such a fearless group when they attacked Xiamen on Aug 26, 1841. By then, unfortunately, the rattan shields were no longer effective against the gun fire.
Koxinga's military was quite formidable both at sea and on land. His infantry to a man was trained in the use of the sword and rattan shield, a martial art still in practice in Taiwan (and Southern Hokkien) today. And in addition, he had organized a very special force, the elite 鐵人部隊Iron-men corps (or heavily-armored 藤牌兵) as the main attacking force. At the first encounter in 1661 with the Dutch then based in Zeelandia (Tainan), the Iron-men troop defeated the Dutch musketeers led by Thomas Pedel; half of the 240 men including Pedel himself were slaughtered. This began the siege of Zeelandia and the last governor of the Dutch colony in Taiwan Frederick Coyette finally called it quits on Feb 10, 1662. He retreated to Batavia and was promptly tried and imprisoned for losing the colony.
In trying to recover Ming territories, Koxinga's 藤牌兵 first demonstrated their prowess in 1651 in the battle of 海澄 and went on to defeat the Qing army in another major battle in 漳州 in 1652. And in 1659, they were deployed in the battle of 銀山 against the Qing cavalry. History recorded that these infantrymen were organized in 3-man teams. One held the shield to protect the other two, the second man was responsible for chopping down the horseman and the third, slicing the war horse in two - both with a heavy sword, known as the 雲南馬刀 (see below). The Qing could not come up with a defense strategy and again suffered heavy losses.
With the surrender of the Ming-Cheng dynasty, these 藤牌兵were not allowed to stay in Taiwan. In fact, all Cheng officials and soldiers were banished to mainland China to become farmers in desolate areas in HeNan, Shantung, and Shanxi provinces. The strong ones were drafted to serve in the Qing flag-armies and the old and the feeble were purposely left behind to quietly die. The ones exiled to Beijing were the six (probably 5, see below) sons of Koxinga, the nine sons of 鄭經Cheng Jing (Koxinga's first son) including 鄭克塽, plus the families of 鄭克塽's advisers, 劉國軒 and 馮錫範, as well as that of the Ming heir 朱桓. The sixth son of Koxinga had escaped and gone into hiding. Shi-lang had spent years tracking him down to no avail. This sole surviving branch is now into the 13th generation. The tombs of Koxinga and 鄭經 were relocated to Nan-An in Hokkien; those of the other high officials were secretly razed to the ground and the remains destroyed. And any memorials to the Ming-Cheng were either erased or converted into temples. This was the Qing Court's 以漢制漢 (Han controlling Han) policy in action - the Manchu people apparently knew that the Han Chinese were very good at exacting revenges from the Han Taiwanese.
In a strange twist of fate, 500 Hokkien/Taiwanese 藤牌兵 were recalled from the settlements to fight in 1685 in the Sino-Russian border wars. They were naturally victorious. Then the 500 mysteriously disappeared. Did they really? Stay tuned.