Sunday, December 11, 2005

Taiwan: The Land Where Empires Come to Die

This article was first published in the December Issue of 24/7 Magazine.

In olden times, cartographers would write sic hunt dracones (Here be dragons) on the edges of their maps to show where their knowledge ran out and the dangers of the unknown began.

Taiwan: this infamous isle sits in a precarious position, poised between empires, with the Sword of Damocles apparently hanging overhead. There are those who worry that the communist hordes will spill over the strait minutes after the closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Some believe it will happen much sooner. Others suspect that Taiwan’s eventual subjugation will come as a result of American involvement in local politics. They are both wrong; Taiwan will be fine.

Taiwan is the Afghanistan of the Pacific, crushing empires like shipwrecks on its shores. During the Cold War, Taiwan was dubbed, “an unsinkable battleship” and in truth this island has been repelling and destroying empires for well over a thousand years.

This island’s first brush with empire was back during the Sui Dynasty. Emperor Sui Yang-ti sent the first imperial expedition here in 605, which returned to the mainland with one captive. They came back two years later with a thousand soldiers, killed a bunch of aboriginals, and took several thousand more back to their king. The Sui Dynasty came to an end in 618, a mere decade after tangling with Taiwan.

In 1616, the Japanese Shogun sent a fleet of 13 ships with two or three thousand troops to invade Taiwan. The aboriginals mopped up those who the typhoon didn’t kill.

Later in the seventeenth century the Dutch, and then the Spanish, set up colonies on different parts of the island. The Dutch chased away the Spanish and were in turn chased away by the last remnants of the Ming Dynasty under Cheng Ch’eng-kung, who is also known as Koxinga.

The Ming Dynasty was founded in 1368 by a Chinese peasant and lasted until 1644. When they were defeated on the mainland they came to Taiwan to die. In fact, the dynasty continued on Taiwan until 1682, but like all empires to visit these shores, it also perished here.

The Ching Dynasty took control of Taiwan in 1683 and pretty much left it alone. The French landed in 1884 and tried to take the island but after a year they fled; unable to withstand the dangers. They were reminded this year of the perils of imperialism as thousands of cars were set alit and their cities burned.

The Ching gave Taiwan to the Japanese Empire, in 1895 after suffering loses in Northern China. Within two decades of handing over Taiwan, the Ching Dynasty was crushed.

The Empire of the Sun landed here in 1895 and experienced nearly fifty years of uprisings and rebellions. Near the end of World War Two, they tried to make Taiwan a prefecture of Japan. The next thing they knew, the American military were melting their cities and breaking their Empire into pieces. Some believe that they overreached when they attacked Pearl Harbor, but the truth is they had sealed their fate the moment they stepped on the beautiful island.

The Americans went from bombarding the island at the end of WWII to supplying it with weapons a few years later. So long as they offer what’s in the best interests of Taiwan, they should have no problems here. And the mainland will be fine, as well, as long as it stays where it is.

The Sui, the Dutch, the Spanish, the Ming, the French, the Ching, and finally the Japanese; all came undone in or near these waters. When will they learn? This is the dying ground of empires, and a safe haven for those who flee them.

Perhaps Ling Mo-liang, better known as the goddess Matsu still watches over us. The white empire of King George and the red empire of the Chinese would both do well to leave this island out of their would-be dominions. Like the old maps used to say: Sic hunt dracones: here be dragons…

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