Battle of Tai Bay, 1661

In April 1661, Koxinga sailed into Terrace Bay, Taiwan, with 25,000 soldiers. As the military leader of the Ming, Koxinga was so hard pressed by the Qing forces that he was forced to flee mainland China and establish a new base in Taiwan. The only problem: the Dutch already had a colony there, including two forts, Fort Zeelandia and Fort Provintia.

The Dutch ships, surprised and outnumbered, mounted a brave defense but were soon overwhelmed. As the Ming troops landed, one Captain Pedel, with only 240 men, determined to repulse them. The governor of the colony, Frederick Coyett, describes what happens.

“Meanwhile, if our men were busy at sea, those on land were not idle ; but caused the Chinese as much trouble in all quarters as possible. Captain Pedel accompanied two hundred and forty brave picked men, who were embarked on the pilot-boat and on some Chinese vessels which had been left near the Castle. He went to Baxemboy, a sand plain of about a square mile in area, and having one corner projecting right opposite Castle Zeelandia, and the other finishing up near the Lakjemuyse bay. It formed, in conjunction with another sand plain, the previously mentioned Canal. Having arrived there, Pedel divided his troops into two companies, arranged them in position, and called upon them to be brave and to fear not the Chinese enemy, for he would certainly lead them to victory. Captain Pedel had himself a fixed and undoubted assurance of success, and his bright, hopeful attitude inspired the men, who were satisfied that the Chinese had no liking for the smell of powder, or the noise of muskets; and that after the first charge, in which only a few of them might be shot, they would immediately take flight and become completely disorganised.

“Such an event actually happened in the year 1652, when two or three hundred of our soldiers quite overwhelmed about seven or eight thousand armed Chinese, and put them to flight. Since that time, the Chinese in Formosa were regarded by the Hollanders as insignificant, and in warfare as cowardly and effeminate men. It was reckoned that twenty-five of them put together would barely equal one Dutch soldier, and the whole Chinese race was regarded in the same way, no distinction being made between Chinese peasants and soldiers ; if he was but a native of China, then he was cowardly and had no stamina. This had come to be quite a fixed conclusion with our soldiers, and although they had often heard about Koxinga’s brave exploits against the Tartars, proving his soldiers to be anything but cowardly, yet this did not seem to alter the general opinion. Their fighting had been against the poor, miserable Tartars, and no opportunity had yet been given them of showing their bravery against the Netherlanders, who would soon settle them, and make them laugh on the wrong side of their faces.

“Preoccupied with such thoughts, Captain Pedel, after a short prayer, marched with his men in good order straight towards the enemy. These had landed on the other side of Baxemboy, and mustering four thousand men in full fighting trim, they came to meet him. Noticing the small number of the Dutch troops, they detached from their main body seven or eight hundred soldiers, who marched round behind the hill to attack this little Dutch force in the rear.

“The latter courageously marched in rows of twelve men towards the enemy, and when they came near enough, they charged by firing three volleys uniformly. The enemy, not less brave, discharged so great a storm of arrows that they seemed to darken the sky. From both sides some few fell hors dt combat, but still the Chinese were not going to run away, as was imagined. The Dutch troops now noticed the separated Chinese squadron which came to surprise them from the rear ; and seeing that those in front stubbornly held their ground, it now became a case of sero sapiunt Phryges. They now discovered that they had been too confident of the weakness of the enemy, and had not anticipated such resistance. If they were courageous before the battle (seeking to emulate the actions of Gideon), fear now took the place of their courage, and many of them threw down their rifles without even discharging them at the enemy. Indeed, they took to their heels, with shameful haste, leaving their brave comrades and valiant Captain in the lurch. Pedel, judging that it would be the veriest folly to withstand such overwhelming numbers, wished to close together and retreat in good order, but his soldiers would not listen to him. Fear had the upper-hand, and life was dear to them ; each therefore sought to save himself. The Chinese saw the disorder and attacked still more vigor ously, cutting down all before them. They gave no quarter, but went on until the Captain with one hundred and eighteen of his army were slain on the field of battle, as a penalty for making light of the enemy. Other misfortunes befell this unhappy company. A large number of the rifles in possession of our troops were left behind. This battle was fought on a sandy plain, from which escape was impossible, and but for the proximity of the pilot-boat, which lay close to the shore, not one would have been left to tell the tale. The fugitives, who had to wade up to their throats in water, were conveyed to Tayouan.”

On the arms and armaments of the Chinese troops:

“The enemy’s soldiers used various kinds of weapons. Some were armed with bows and arrows hanging down their backs ; others had nothing save a shield on the left arm, and a good sword in the right hand ; while many wielded with both hands a formidable battle-sword fixed to a stick half the length of a man. Every one was protected over the upper part of the body with a coat of iron scales, fitting below one another like the slates of a roof, the arms and legs being left bare. This afforded complete protection from rifle bullets and yet left ample freedom to move, as those coats only reached down to the knees, and were very flexible at all the joints.

“The archers formed Koxinga’s best troops, and much depended on them, for even at a distance they contrived to handle their weapons with so great skill, that they very nearly eclipsed the riflemen.

“The shield-bearers were used instead of cavalry. Every tenth man of them is a leader, who takes charge of and presses his men on to force themselves into the ranks of the enemy. With bent heads and their bodies hidden behind the shields, they try to break through the opposing ranks with such fury and dauntless courage, as if each one had still a spare body left at home. They continually press onwards, notwithstanding many are shot down ; not stopping to consider, but ever rushing forward like mad dogs, not even looking round to see whether they are followed by their comrades or not.

“Those with the swordsticks — called soap-knives by the Hollanders — render the same service as our lancers, in preventing all breaking through of the enemy, and in this way establishing perfect order in the ranks ; but when the enemy has been thrown into disorder, the sword-bearers follow this up with fearful massacre amongst the fugitives.

“Koxinga was abundantly provided with cannons and ammunition, which however were not so effective as those of the Dutch, notwithstanding that the manufacture of gunpowder and the moulding of cannons had been known quite a number of years earlier in China than in Europe. He had also two companies of ‘ Black-boys,’ many of whom had been Dutch slaves, and had learned the use of the rifle and musket-arms. These caused much harm during the war in Formosa.”

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