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Koxinga Moved in Multiple Worlds. Was He Really “Chinese,” or Were His Identities More Complex?


Zheng Chenggong was a famous Chinese military leader and king who established the Kingdom of Tungning in Taiwan and led victorious military battles against the Dutch (Crozier, 1977). Koxinga’s multifaceted persona stems from his multigenerational family tree and access to parallel universes. Zheng Zhilong was a Chinese trader and pirate who played a significant role on China’s southeastern coast. He is often regarded as Koxinga’s progenitor. The person in question was born to Tagawa Matsu, a Japanese mother. Koxinga was born within a setting rich with racial and ethnic variety. Koxinga was raised in an unusual environment since he was exposed to the languages and cultures of both China and Japan. Koxinga’s behavior and choices were profoundly impacted by his exposure to various cultures and languages. Koxinga is a famous historical person in China, and he is widely credited with protecting the Ming dynasty from outside threats (Crozier, 1977). Because of his complicated cultural history and wide range of allegiances, the academic community has been debating this person’s true identity. This essay aims to explore Koxinga’s complex identity and evaluate whether or not the label “Chinese” accurately describes him.

Background Context

Koxinga’s military campaigns against the Dutch in Taiwan are examples of his flexibility in different contexts. Koxinga successfully forged alliances with the political elites of China and Japan and the indigenous peoples of Taiwan. Koxinga’s success hinged on his ability to adapt to and thrive in various cultural and political settings (Jacob, 2009). The person’s behavior in Taiwan reflected a firm conviction to protect Chinese independence from outside forces. Koxinga has multiple identities outside his Chinese heritage. The person’s mother’s Japanese ancestry profoundly impacted their upbringing. Koxinga’s fascination with Japan manifested in his adoption of samurai traditions, such as using the katana. Koxinga’s desire to create a non-Chinese political structure was reflected in his decision to found the Kingdom of Tungning in Taiwan. The fact that Koxinga used Hokkien in its official publications demonstrates the value it placed on the language of the people of Taiwan.

Koxinga’s multifaceted upbringing and proclivity toward absorbing cultural elements from various sources make it impossible to reduce him to a single ethnic category, such as “Chinese.” Koxinga’s actions reveal his dedication to protecting Chinese sovereignty, his firm belief in the need to fend against foreign invasions, his admiration for Japanese culture, and his desire to set up a government that is not exclusively Chinese (Jacob, 2009). Koxinga’s ability to move freely between territories and his mixed ancestry likely shaped his strategic decisions and alliances among various native communities.

Koxinga is a businessman and pirate.

Koxinga’s involvement in piracy during his youth profoundly impacted his development into a powerful leader. Due to their activities in numerous nations and relationships with people of many different cultures, the pirates of the 17th century displayed traits of a multinational and fluid identity (Zeng, 2015). Koxinga’s piracy operations required him to meet with people from around Asia, including Southeast Asia, Japan, and Korea. Koxinga’s contacts with people from all over the world likely contribute to his ability to understand and adapt to new cultures. Koxinga’s strategic thinking and leadership qualities, which were crucial for piracy, may have also helped him develop as a leader.

His business endeavors shaped Koxinga’s leadership style and sense of identity. Koxinga is the son of the successful businessman Zheng Zhilong, so he grew up in a thriving commercial family (Zeng, 2015). Early exposure to business concepts influenced the person’s later business acumen and negotiating skills. Koxinga gained unique insights into the workings of international trade and commerce because of the wide range of people he met during his business dealings.

Koxinga’s attitude to leadership reflected his background as a merchant and privateer. Leadership in Koxinga was based on one’s track record of success in pirate life, and the system was meritocratic despite its decentralized nature. Koxinga’s leadership during military battles was marked by his trust in capable commanders and his habit of thanking them for their efforts (Zeng, 2015). Because of his experience as a trader, Koxinga likely understood the importance of trade and commerce in ensuring the continued success of his domain as a whole. He enacted commercially friendly policies and incentivized business owners to shop in his territories. The experiences Koxinga had as a pirate and merchant shaped whom he saw himself to be as a Chinese patriot. As a loyalist to the Ming dynasty, Koxinga showed a deep dedication to defending China’s independence and preserving Chinese culture.

However, he likely understood the need to protect cultural diversity while fostering Chinese patriotism due to his experiences during his involvement in piracy. The user claims the subject’s policies toward ethnic minorities in controlled areas reveal their worldview (Parris H, n.d). The individual upheld the primacy of the Chinese government while advocating for the values of tolerance and respect towards the customs of a specific group.

Koxinga’s military campaign against the Qing dynasty was primarily motivated by his loyalty to the Ming dynasty, which was overthrown by the Qing dynasty in 1644 (Parris H, n.d). Ming dynasty ancestor Koxinga took it upon himself to restore the dynasty and drive the Qing out of China. Koxinga pledged allegiance to the Ming dynasty because he thought it was the best option for the Chinese people at the time. This was a direct quote from his 1659 proclamation, in which he vowed to restore the Ming dynasty and defend China from foreign invaders.

His exposure to different cultures shaped Koxinga’s military struggle against the Qing dynasty. Koxinga’s time spent traveling the world as a merchant and pirate taught him to value the diversity of human experience. This person’s multicultural outlook was displayed in his military venture, as he recruited men from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and showed respect for their cultural norms (Parris H, n.d). Koxinga’s treatment of Muslim soldiers exemplifies his reputation for religious tolerance toward Muslims.

To a large extent, Koxinga’s religious convictions informed his military fight against the Qing Empire. Koxinga is deeply devoted to the Three Doctrines, including Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian philosophies and religions. The author implies that the individual’s religious convictions informed their administration style and military tactics (Tonio Andrade, n.d). Koxinga believed that virtuous and moral leadership was essential, so he ensured that civilians and prisoners were treated fairly during battle. Koxinga’s faith in the “Mandate of Heaven,” which claimed he was the rightful leader of China and was responsible for reviving the Ming dynasty, informed his military strategy.

China took great pride in its military might and ability to ward off foreign intrusions after the Dutch were defeated at the battle of Koxinga. Koxinga did not sever all ties with the Dutch, despite his actions (Tonio Andrade, n.d). The individual in question authorized Dutch merchants to engage in commercial activities with China, albeit subject to the payment of a tribute and acknowledgment of Chinese sovereignty. Koxinga recruited Dutch mercenaries to augment his armed forces, as he believed that their expertise in fighting would benefit him in establishing sovereignty over Taiwan.

The interactions between Koxinga and the Dutch were complicated and marked by discordance and cooperation. The outcome of the combat at Koxinga culminated in the defeat of the Dutch. It was a crucial event displaying China’s military power and ability to fend off foreign intrusions. Koxinga’s choice to allow Dutch traders and mercenaries to stay with their activities in China illustrates his readiness to compromise in instances where it would be useful (Jacob, 2009). Koxinga’s goal to protect Chinese sovereignty and his willingness to engage with foreign nations as per his demands considerably affected his association with the Dutch.

The concept of cultural identity.

Koxinga crossed the political and cultural milieu of 17th-century East Asia, covering various domains during his travels. The individual in question demonstrated multiple cultural influences and was influenced by many cultural practices, making assessing their cultural identity a tough assignment. Zheng Zhilong, a key figure in nautical activity along the Chinese coast, was recognized for his prowess as a merchant and pirate. He commanded a big fleet of vessels and a network of ports. Additionally, he was the father of Koxinga. Zheng Zhilong’s genealogy was diversified, with ancestral lines reaching back to the Chinese and Hokkien ethnic groups (Crozier, 1977). He built good contacts with the Dutch East India Company and the Chinese imperial court. During his early years, Koxinga was exposed to many cultural influences and languages, covering Chinese, Hokkien, Dutch, and Japanese.

During a military foray in Japan, Zheng Zhilong arrested Tagawa Matsu, a woman of noble Japanese heritage who subsequently became the mother of Koxinga. In 1624, the individual in question got into matrimony with Zheng Zhilong and subsequently gave birth to Koxinga. The Japanese heritage of Koxinga was a remarkable feature of his cultural identity, as it provided him with a unique viewpoint on East Asia’s political and cultural setting (Crozier, 1977). Koxinga’s ability in the Japanese language and acquaintance with Japanese customs and culture enabled him to effectively traverse the complicated links between China, Japan, and surrounding nations. Following the departure of the Dutch colonial forces in 1661, Koxinga created a strategic center in Taiwan, which played a vital role in creating his cultural identity. The combination of indigenous Taiwanese, Chinese, and Japanese cultural components constituted a defining trait of Koxinga’s government in Taiwan. He encouraged the emergence of a unique Taiwanese culture that combined components from the three cultures. The emergence of a distinctive mixture of Chinese, Japanese, and Taiwanese cultural aspects in the fields of art, music, and cuisine on the island of Taiwan serves as proof of Koxinga’s cultural history in the region (Tonio Andrade, n.d).

Koxinga’s cultural identity was rich and multifaceted due to the numerous cultural influences that touched his life. The person in issue had a cultural identity influenced by his exposure to multiple Asian traditions, including those of China, Hokkien, Japan, and Taiwan. Koxinga’s multifaceted skills and familiarity with other nations’ cultural traditions helped him navigate East Asia’s complex political and cultural environment in the 17th century (Tonio Andrade, n.d). The legacy of Koxinga’s cultural influence on East Asia is still visible today as a cultural link between China, Japan, and Taiwan.


Koxinga’s complex and multidimensional character largely stems from his extensive travels and exposure to different cultures and customs. Despite initial impressions of the person’s commitment to China, their behavior and associations reflect a multifaceted sense of self that transcends rigid ethnic or national categorizations. In an increasingly linked world, the lasting legacy of Koxinga highlights the importance of understanding the complexity and plurality of identity and the indispensability of cultural awareness and comprehension. Koxinga’s experience as a businessman and pirate influenced who he was and how he led. His travels and work abroad enriched his understanding of other cultures, helped him mature as a leader and taught him the inner workings of international business. Koxinga’s approach to leadership was founded on a meritocratic and decentralized system that reflected his experience as a pirate. The person’s perspective on business and commerce was formed throughout their time as a merchant. Their participation in piracy and exposure to many cultures also inspired their dedication to Chinese nationalism. Koxinga’s economic and pirate activities had a major impact on his development as a person and leader.


Andrade, Tonio “Koxinga’s Conquest of Taiwan in Global History: Reflections on the Occasion of the 350th Anniversary” Late Imperial China 33, no.1 (Jun 2012) pp.122140. (Week 2 reading, PDF in the Essay 1 Module on Canvas LMS; journal article also available from the University Library.)

Chang, Parris H. ‘Cheng Chengkung (Koxinga) and Chinese Nationalism in Taiwan, 16621683’, in Sih, Paul K.T. (ed.), Taiwan in Modern Times; Collection of Essays, New York: St. John’s University Press, 1974. Pp. 59-86. (Presently unavailable from the University library)

Crozier, R. (1977). Koxinga and Chinese Nationalism: History, Myth, and the Hero. [online] Project MUSE. Harvard University Asia Center Publications Program. Available at: [Accessed 15 Apr. 2023].

Jacob, H. ’s (2009). T. Andrade, How Taiwan became Chinese: Dutch, Spanish, and Han Colonization in the Seventeenth Century. BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review, 124(1), p.107. doi:

Zeng, Z. (2015). From Zheng He to Koxinga – The Development of the Armed Sea-merchant Group of Late Ming Dynasty and Their Effort to Defend the Sea-power. Asian Culture and History, 7(2). doi:


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