|Coat of arms of British East India Co|
In 1661, Koxinga evicted the Dutch from Taiwan. The Dutch East India Company, however, remained in control of the East Indies and was able to prevent other European powers from reaching Taiwan. The British finally broke through the Dutch blockade and sailed into Port An-Ping on June 23rd, 1670. On the 26th, British East India Company Representative Ellis Crisp was received by Cheng Ching. Mr Crisp presented to Lord Cheng an official letter from the Company stating that the Brits were honored by Cheng's invitation. He further explained the difference between the British and the Dutch, and requested a trade agreement complete with establishment of a trading post in Taiwan. Cheng Ching welcomed the Brits warmly and promptly agreed with the signing of a mutual trade treaty.
|A British East India Co warship, 1612.|
This is not to say that the Dutch had stood idly by. They had in fact not only refused Cheng Ching's invitation but also joined force with the Qing, assisting with warships in three separate unsuccessful attempts at invading Taiwan.
In 1674, Cheng Ching mounted a large-scale attack on China. The British East India Company was to play a crucial logistical role. With the increasing demand for war materiels, they built a 200-tonne frigate, the Formosa, to service the needs. When Amoy was re-taken by Ming-Cheng, the Company also opened a trading post there and built another 140-tonne frigate, the Tywan (i.e., Taiwan) to meet the much increased demand. Also in the summer of 1675, the Flying Eagle arriving from Bantam, had delivered gun powder to Taiwan and presented exquisite gifts to Cheng Ching's mother Lady Tung, his wives, and other court officials, while Cheng Ching himself was away fighting in China. Needless to say, the Brits enjoyed tremendous prestige and was rewarded with a much expanded trade agreement with nine more articles.
Disasters struck, however, in 1682, when the local Sultan allied with the Dutch and drove the British out from Bantam. And in 1683, Tung-Ning Kingdom had fallen to Qing naval force commanded by the Ming-Cheng turncoat, Shi Lang. British East India Company in Taiwan faced an uncertain future. Company officials, Thomas Angier and Thomas Woolhouse, tried to negotiate with Shi Lang for a trade deal with Qing but were rebuffed. In fact, Shi Lang regarded the Brits as enemy enablers who were to be tried as criminals. Through Shi's representatives, the Brits paid a bribe of 2,500 taels of silver to Shi and another 590 taels to other Qing officials, but ending up holding an empty bag. The Company was ultimately also unable to recover the debts owed by Ming-Cheng, even Company buildings were lost to the Qing.
Since the Qing were essentially horsemen from the north, they knew nothing about naval warfare and must rely on, to them the untrustworthy, southerners including the Ming-Cheng turncoats. Unable to fight Ming-Cheng on the open sea, they had operated on land and resorted to the scorch-earth policy which, with time, had proven effective. The much sought-after Chinese goods such as silk and porcelain became scarce. At the same time, Japanese isolationism, instituted since 1633, had become quite extreme banning all foreign contacts including the international trade. These developments had much diminished the role of Taiwan as the hub of East-West trade. Taiwan itself also had limited resources and the export was heavily taxed leaving very little profits for the Brits. And last but not least, British merchandises, mostly firearms, could not find enough interested buyers anywhere else except Ming-Cheng.
The trade with and through Taiwan, on balance, had turned out to be one with far more loss than gain for the British East India Company. The Brits re-entered China market in the mid-19th Century, this time through gunboat diplomacy, entering the Opium War with China, for example. But that is another story.