It is well known that Tainan is the oldest city of Taiwan. It was founded almost four hundred years ago when two urban settlements were created around the two Dutch strongholds that still exist in Tainan city: Zeelandia castle 熱蘭遮城 or安平古堡 (1624) near the sea side and the small Provintia fortress 赤崁樓 (1653) in today’s city centre. Over the past decades the original Dutch journals of Zeelandia castle have been published in Dutch and in Chinese translation. This important source sheds much light on the importance of Taiwan, or the island of Formosa as it was called at the time, as a prominent center of international trade in the seventeenth century.

Owing to large Chinese immigration the urban settlement protected by Zeelandia castle grew within thirty years into a well organized, sizable colonial port city with public buildings such as a town hall, a weighing house, a hospital, a market hall, an orphan home, a correction home for women (!) and a laid out grave-yard.  Although there exist a few pictures featuring the town of Zeelandia 350 years ago, until recently very little was known about its layout and about the composition of its mixed population. Unfortunately the larger part of this Sino-Dutch city was destroyed in 1661 during the long siege of Zeelandia castle by the redoubtable Ming loyalist general Cheng Ch’eng-kung alias Coxinga, who expelled the Dutch East India Company from the island and created a kingdom of his own.

Now a spectacular discovery has been made about Tainan city’s early beginnings. In the municipal archives of Amsterdam the Dutch historical researcher Menno Leenstra has unearthed a collection of papers originally belonging to a Dutch inhabitant of the town of Zeelandia. Among those documents is a precise overview of the original street plan with the names of the first Chinese and Dutch inhabitants in town.

On 3 March 1643 East India Company merchant Nicasius De Hooghe was ordered by the Governor of Taiwan to measure all the houses and premises in the city and to register the owners for tax purposes. Because of the risk of fire no wooden buildings were allowed in town, although the Dutch authorities had problems to maintain that order. The young town next to Zeelandia castle counted already 200 houses and a mixed population of more than one thousand Chinese and Dutch inhabitants. The official city plan that De Hooghe presented to governor Paulus Traudenius has not been preserved. A scale model of Zeelandia castle that was sent to the directors of the Dutch East India company, also was lost when the ship that carried it went down on the way back to Holland. In January 1647 De Hooghe left Taiwan with his wife and two sons to return to his native Amsterdam. On the way home the couple and one son died but the youngest son, Anthony, survived. On arrival in Amsterdam this orphan boy was put under the guardianship of two uncles, Romeyn de Hooghe and notary Sebastiaan van der Piet. Among the family papers preserved by this notary Mr. Leenstra discovered various priceless documents concerning the De Hooge family’s stay in Taiwan, including an inventory of the lost city plan!

The reconstructed city plan is of extraordinary interest because of a variety of reasons:

  1. a) It shows that the original grid-like outlay of the town with a number of main streets, a pattern that Chinese and early modern Dutch cities had in common, completely concurs with a raw sketch that the German land surveyor Caspar Schmalkalden drew in his travel writings 350 years ago.
  2. b) Because the map neatly shows the original dimensions and exact measurements of the town and its housing, it may be of great help for future archeological excavations.
  3. c) It provides the names of a considerable number of Dutch and Chinese inhabitants. Provisional research by Dr. Cheng Weichung of the Academia Sinica shows that some of the most prominent Chinese merchants did not move over directly from Fukien province across the Strait of Taiwan, but actually were overseas Chinese entrepreneurs who migrated to Taiwan from Southeast Asia in the wake of the Dutch East India Company with which they were closely cooperating.
  4. d) A considerable part of the houses was owned by a small number of Dutch and Chinese owners who probably rented out the buildings to visiting merchants and traders.
  5. e) According to the preliminary research by Prof. Huang Enyu (Department of Architecture, National Cheng Kung University) the pattern of the earliest streets of Tainan (Anping) roughly correspond with the outlay of today’s situation, although most of the streets have become narrower than before.

On 23 October the Institute of Taiwanese History of the Academia Sinica will host an international workshop, ”Workshop on the Governance and Spatial Settings in Zeelandia Town ”, about the recently discovered historical documents. Various historical specialists will comment on the meaning of these archival papers and discuss how they can be used for further historical and archeological research in the near future. As special guest Dr. Menno Leenstra will explain about his recent research and how he made his discovery in the Amsterdam Municipal archives.