When the islands of Taiwan were partly Spanish

After the Chinese Communist Party won the civil war against the Chinese Nationalist Party, also known as the Kuomintang, in 1949, the latter moved to the main island of Taiwan. They founded the Republic of China there, which did not recognise the People’s Republic of China—or simply China. This is, in short, the source of the international tension that has been haunting this eastern island up to now. However, it’s not the only conflict Taiwan has faced over the years. In fact, Spaniards starred in a different crisis long before that.

When the West arrived at Formosa, current Taiwan

A valley of great green mountains

The island of Formosa, Taiwan. | Shutterstock

In the 17th century, when Spain was still a powerful Empire—although its downfall had already begun, Mexico had an important trade network with China. They conducted it through the island of Manila, the current capital of the Philippines. Back then, both the American and the Asian countries belonged to the declining Spanish Empire.

Right in the north of the Philippine island, very close to the Chinese province of Fujian, there was an island called Formosa, which means “beautiful island” in Portuguese. Indeed, the first Europeans to arrive at Taiwan in 1582 were Portuguese sailors from the Iberian Union.

Meanwhile, the Dutch were allowed by the Ming Chinese dynasty to settle in Formosa, with the aim of trading with the Asian giant. It was 1624, and Taiwan had managed to stay out of the colonising target of the hungry western empires.

In this context, the Dutch settled in the north of Formosa and founded the colony of Orange, which would later on come to be called Fort Zeelandia and, eventually, Anping. This colony seemed to pose a threat for the Spaniards ruling the Philippines, and therefore, in 1626, 200 men under the command of Antonio Carreño Valdés landed in the north of Formosa, in today’s Keelung.

The Spanish colony in Formosa

A bay with colourful houses

The bay of Jilung, current Keelung, where the Spaniards first set foot in Taiwan. | Shutterstock

After the landing, those Spaniards founded the harbour of La Santísima Trinidad in the bay of Jilung, and they renamed the island as Todos los Santos. This way, the Spaniards spread through the northern region founding villages like Castillo in the area of Tamusi, currently near Danshui, or conducting evangelising missions to convert native people to Christianity.

The Dutch did not take this well, and they became aware that the Spanish presence constituted a threat. Hence, in 1630, the former attacked the latter by sea. The Spaniards were able to repel the attack, but they still had to pay a high price for it: they lost communication with the island of Manila, who stopped sending them supplies. The Spaniards were forced to seek supplies in inland Taiwan, and they did so by implementing heavy taxes on the native population. In 1636, those native inhabitants rose up against the village of Castillo, slaughtering half of the Spanish troops.

An orange building against the blue sky

The old fort of Santo Domingo in Tamusi. | Shutterstock

The Dutch attacking by sea. The natives, by land. Typhoons, malaria… All these elements compelled the Spaniards of Tamusi to leave the place and gather in La Santísima Trinidad, the first spot where a Spaniard set foot in Taiwan. The colony remained there until 1642, when the Dutch troops finally conquered it. The Spanish presence in Taiwan had finally come to an end, after no more than 16 years.

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