22 February 2006

Coxinga, Everyone's Favorite Loyalist

The Zheng [clan of Coxinga] were defeated [in 1683], and the dream of restoring the Ming was officially over. For bringing an end to the resistance by surrendering, [Coxinga's grandson] Keshuang was named as the Duke Who Quells the Seas. He became a minor noble in the Manchu aristocracy, and remained in north China, where he was classified as a member of the Bordered Yellow Banner. Shi Lang, the man who defeated him, received even greater honours, and some years after his own death, was officially deemed a name worthy of worship in the Temple of Eminent Statesmen....

There, the story of the Zheng clan should end, except that Chinese biographies often extend into the afterlife. Coxinga, the Zhengs' most famous son, was no exception.

The desecrated graves of the Zheng clan were restored in 1700, as the first of several steps in which the Manchu conquerors paid their respect to the enemy who had caused them so much trouble. Coxinga remained a hero to the Chinese, and even to the Manchus, who could not help but admire his dogged refusal to betray his beloved Dynasty of Brightness [Ming]. The Manchu state, founded to a large extent on the willingness of Chinese defectors to switch sides, eventually recognised Coxinga as a Paragon of Loyalty in 1787. He was held up to successive generations as a hero to be emulated.

Coxinga's crowning glory came in 1875, over two centuries after his death, in a China threatened by foreign powers. In recognition of the first Chinese warrior to inflict a resounding defeat upon barbarians from beyond the sea, Coxinga was elevated to divine status with the dedication of a temple to him. In fact, statues and pictures of Coxinga had long been found on altars all around Taiwan, where local people were found to be seeking his aid from beyond the grave. To the Chinese on Taiwan, he was the 'loyal and pure' Prince of Yanping, or the Sage King Who Opened Our Mountains.

In 1898, when Taiwan was handed over to the Japanese as a spoil of war, the new Japanese governor immediately paid his respects to Coxinga, the 'Japanese' conqueror who had originally wrested the island from foreign invaders. Coxinga was honoured by the island's new masters with incorporation into the pantheon of Japan's native Shinto religion, thereby achieving the rare distinction of becoming a god twice.

Coxinga's sometime ally, the partisan Zhang Huang-yan once wrote that 'for a thousand autumns, men will tell of this'. Barely a third of that number has passed since Coxinga's death, and yet the hero remains a popular subject in plays, novels and filrns.

In the twentieth century, his memory became a rallying point for Republican Chinese determined to oust foreign aggressors. Coxinga was regarded as a saintly predecessor by Chiang Kai-shek's government-in-exile on Taiwan, but also became a hero for the Communists – he was both the man who banished the Western imperialists, and also the conqueror who helped make Taiwan part of China. None can agree if he was a pirate or a king, a loyalist or a madman. But in parts of Taiwan, people still pray to him for rain.
SOURCE: Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty, by Jonathan Clements (Sutton, 2005), pp. 259-260

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