No country in the world depends so much upon trade for its existence as Holland. It was trade which gave the Dutch the means to fight with Spain for eighty years (1568-1648), and thereby to gain their independence. During the early part of the struggle the Dutch explored the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Most of these early explorers were really nothing more than pirates. They had no respect for other people's property. They were in search of gold, and took it wherever they could find it.
After the Dutch had established themselves on the Island of Java, building Batavia upon the site of a fort called Jacatra, 1619, they turned their attention toward China. A fleet of seventeen ships appeared before Macao in 1622, and attacked that place, but the Dutch were repulsed by the Portuguese and Japanese. They established themselves, however, in 1624, on the Pang-hu (pahng-hoo) or Pescadores Islands. Here they began to build a fort, which caused great uneasiness to the Chinese of Fuh-Kien (foo keen), as well as to the Portuguese and Spaniards. There were bitter quarrels and some fighting between the Dutch and Chinese, and at last it was agreed that the former should move to Formosa, which they did in the same year. Here they built a fort on the western shore, which they named Zeelandia. The Dutch tried to introduce civilization in the island, and to teach the natives how to govern themselves. Two years afterwards, a preacher, George Candidius by name, arrived, and began to preach Christianity so earnestly that within six months a hundred of the natives were baptized. Schools were built, the children were taught, and one of the ministers made a dictionary of the native language. Thousands of Chinese came over from the mainland, and the island began to look like a garden.
Just as the English factories and agencies in Asia were under the control of what was called the East India Company, so the Dutch East India Company decided all matters connected with the Asiatic trade of Holland. That company sent, in 1653, a commissioner named Schedel to Canton, who, after making rich presents to the governor, obtained the promise that the Dutch should be permitted to build a factory. The governor also advised Schedel to tell the Dutch to send an embassy to Peking. Schedel made a report to the company at Amsterdam to this effect, and it was decided to act upon his advice.
Two merchants of Batavia, named Goyer and Keyzer, were appointed to go to Peking, where they arrived without any trouble, and were received by the Emperor. The result of this visit to Peking was that the Dutch received permission to come to Peking once in every eight years, and to bring four ships to trade. The merchants returned to Batavia in 1657.
Soon after their return a Chinese chief named Ching Ching-Kung, called Coxinga by the Portuguese, prepared to attack Formosa. The Dutch had been expecting this, and since 1650 had put the fort Zeelandia into a state of defense. Ching had sent men among the Chinese of Formosa to secure their assistance. He prepared a fleet at Amoy, but declared that it was not to attack Formosa, but to fight the Manchu, who had nearly conquered China. The Dutch East India Company believed him, and ordered their admiral to leave Formosa. As soon as he was gone, Ching landed with an army of 25,000 men.
He began by laying siege to the forts, when the Dutch governor sent out 300 men to drive him away. They fought bravely, but the Chinese were too numerous, and only half of the Dutch returned. One of the ships in the harbor was burned by the Chinese, and another sailed for Batavia to obtain assistance. Ching then surrounded the fort with his soldiers, and when he saw that they could not take it by force, he determined to starve out the defenders. The surrounding country was plundered; the ministers were crucified, and the friendly Chinese were murdered.
Among the prisoners taken by Ching was a minister named Anthony Hambroeck, his wife, and all his children, except two daughters who were in the fort. Ching sent him into Zeelandia, to order the governor to surrender the fort, and to say that if this were not done all the prisoners would be put to death. Hambroeck promised to return with the governor's answer.
When he arrived at Zeelandia, the Dutch Governor called a meeting of the principal officers and merchants, and Hambroeck told them that Ching had lost many of his best ships and men, and was growing tired of the siege; that, if they would hold out a little longer, relief must come from Batavia, and the fort would be saved. He spoke so bravely that the governor decided to refuse to surrender, but to fight to the last.
Now came Hambroeck's greatest trial. When he went to take leave of his daughters, they threw their arms around his neck and begged him to remain with them, as he would surely be murdered if he returned. He soothed them as best he could, and told them that for the sake of the others he must go. The officers, also, begged him not to return, but he replied that he had pledged his word, and as a Christian minister, he could not break it. The gate was opened, and the people of the fort watched him as he quietly returned to the Chinese camp.
Ching was very angry when Hambroeck returned and told him that the fort would not surrender. He ordered the prisoners, 500 in all, to be cruelly butchered, and among them was the brave preacher whose name well deserves to be remembered.
After some time a fleet of ten Dutch ships and seven hundred men arrived from Batavia, and, aided by the soldiers of the fort, began to attack Ching. They were unable to drive him away from the town, but they checked his attacks. But finally, through the treachery of their Chinese allies, the Dutch were compelled to surrender the fort, after a siege of nine months (1667).
The Dutch never again regained Formosa. The East India Company at Batavia decided upon punishing Ching, who was still holding Amoy. A fleet of twelve vessels was fitted out, and sailed under command of Admiral Bost. The Manchu did not help him much, but he attacked and destroyed Ching's ships and troops wherever he found them. He returned to Batavia the following year, and was again sent to China, this time to Fuh-Kien. After some fighting, Amoy was taken and Ching's troops destroyed.
The Company did not make any other effort at colonization, but decided to send another embassy to Peking to ask for permission to trade. A merchant named Van Hoorn was placed at its head. He landed at Foochow in 1669, and was well received. A dispute with the governor detained him a year, after which he continued his journey to Peking, along the Grand Canal, where he counted 37 cities and 335 villages. Van Hoorn was admitted to the presence of the Emperor, whom he saluted after the Chinese fashion, but he did not secure any privileges.
No more embassies were sent to Peking for one hundred and twenty years. In 1794 Van Braam, the consul of Holland at Canton, proposed to send one to congratulate the Emperor upon his sixtieth birthday anniversary. The Company agreed, and sent Isaac Titsingh, who had lived for many years in Japan, with Van Braam as his deputy. The embassy arrived at Peking, where they were presented to the Emperor. They returned in 1796, without having accomplished anything. Thus ends the story of Dutch enterprise in China.