Transshipments and Local Products

After the Dutch VOC occupied Tayouan, Taiwan became an important transport center for East Asian trade networks. Cheng Chih-lung's conflict with the Dutch was instigated by his efforts to trade directly with Japan and Manila, bypassing the Dutch efforts to monopolize trade by ensuring that it passed through their own entrepot on Taiwan.

Tayouan was indeed an important transshipment center. China's raw silk was first transferred to Tayouan and then stowed in Japanese bound vessels, which returned with silver that was subsequently used to purchase silk and porcelain. Pepper from Batavia was shipped via Tayouan to China, where it was exchanged for gold and other goods. Company vessels carried gold and silver from Taiwan to the East India stations at the Coromandel Coast and Gujerat. There, the precious gold and silver were exchanged for cotton, which was then shipped back to Batavia to purchase spices.

In sum, vessels from Taiwan traveled north to Japan, west to Fukien, and south to Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. From there they pressed on to India, Iran, and Europe. The products of all of these lands were directly or indirectly carried back to Taiwan, and then shipped on as the markets demanded.


The Chinese porcelain imported by the Dutch is wrapped up in the story of their competition with the Portuguese.

In the early 16th century, the Dutch captured two Portuguese carracks, the holds of which were filled with large quantities of porcelain. These wares were then sold on the open market in Amsterdam, thereby inspiring a rage for Chinese ceramics. Even the French King Henry IV himself purchased a complete set of porcelain dining ware.

Beer mug|Bowl with flower decoration in underglaze blue Ching-te-chen ware|Large plate with landscape and deer decoration in underglaze blue, Changchou ware.
|Small dish with human figures in underglaze blue.|Square tile|?chine de commanande dish with two lions in famille rose with gold borders, Ch'ing Dynasty, National Palace Museum

The success of the ventures was not lost on the Dutch. Once established in Taiwan, they used their base at Tayouan as a transshipment center for porcelain from the Chinese mainland. From 1602 to 1682, the Dutch imported an average of 200,000 pieces of porcelain annually.

In 1635, the Dutch began producing wooden models in Taiwan which they then sent to the Chinese porcelain kilns at Ching-te-chen (?臬噸??. Porcelain renditions of these models, which reflected Dutch tastes, were then made-to-order. The craftsmen in Delft, the Netherlands, even began reproducing Chinese style blue-and-white wares.


Map of the route the Dutch VOC embassy traveled through China to the imperial court in PekingChinese gold and Japanese silver were often used to purchase Indian cotton. The major cotton-producing regions of India in the early 17th century were Gujerat, Bengal, and the Coromandel Coast. Silver was the primary currency in Gujerat and Bengal, while gold was mostly used in the Coromandel Coast. Thus, the Dutch had only to obtain silver and gold from China and Japan to purchase Indian cotton. Yet, their ultimate target was not cloth, but rather the pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and other spices grown in Southeast Asia. Cotton was nothing but a medium of exchange; it was adopted by the Dutch because the indigenous farmers of these spices refused to accept gold and silver. At any rate, these spices were extremely popular in both Europe and China.

Map of the route the Dutch VOC embassy traveled through China to the imperial court in PekingSpice was the original motivation for the Europeans in search of an ocean route to the Far East. It also attracted large numbers of Chinese traders, who sold it as an ingredient for both food and traditional medicine. Marco Polo's account of his stay in China records the arrival of many ships carrying pepper at the port of Ch'uan-chou.

Map of the route the Dutch VOC embassy traveled through China to the imperial court in Peking.Joan Nieuhof 1665 Mr. Paul J.J. OvermaatSuch huge quantities of pepper were not all intended for the Chinese market. Some was shipped on, together with silk and porcelain, to customers in Korea and Japan. The profits made in the pepper trade were large, and they attracted many Chinese immigrants to Southeast Asia, where their influence can be felt to this day.

Map of the route the Dutch VOC embassy traveled through China to the imperial court in Peking. Joan Nieuhof 1665 Mr. Paul J.J. OvermaatThe route of the European pepper trade changed in the 17th century. The presence of substantial competition in the spice trade among the Portuguese, Spanish, and English encouraged the Dutch to extend into the Asian pepper trade. After the Dutch had claimed Taiwan, their ships also brought pepper, via Taiwan, to China and Japan.

Gold and Silver

Second Part of the Start and Progress of the VOCThe chain of Dutch trade in the Far East went like this: exchanging gold and silver for Indian cotton, using Indian cotton to buy spices, and shipping the spices back to Europe. Taiwan stood at the very center of this chain.

Southern Ming coinsIn China, silver was used as currency, while gold was intended primarily for decoration. A tael of gold was worth about four or five tael of silver. Yet, in Japan, a single tael of gold could purchase ten times as much of silver. Thus, the Dutch could earn immense profits simply by exchanging Chinese gold for Japanese silver. It was just like modern international trading.

Some of the silver shipped via Taiwan from Japan to China was used to purchase gold, ceramic wares, and other Chinese goods, which were then sold by the VOC at its Asian outposts. One might say that the gold and silver shipped through Taiwan provided the capital for much of the Company's venture in Asia.

Dutch schelling (silver)| Indonesia , Atjeh, Gold mas|
Dutch leeuwen daalder (silver)| Spanish real de ocho or real van achten (silver)|
|Left:Hungarian golden dukee; Right:Dutch dukaat (gold)| Dutch florijn or 1 guilder (silver)

After the Dutch occupied Malacca in 1641, ships from Taiwan had a direct stopover point on the route to India, which avoided the long detour to Batavia.

Many types of currency circulated through the Dutch settlement in Taiwan, including Dutch gold and silver leeuwendaalders, Spanish real, Mexican silver coins, Indonesian gold, and even Hungarian gold. Of course, the bronze coins of the Ming dynasty also circulated in Taiwan.

Rice, Sugar, and Deerskins

Map of the route the Dutch VOC embassy traveled through China to the imperial court in Peking|The genre paintings of Taiwan's Aboriginal people|Japanese armorThe aboriginal inhabitants of Taiwan were both physically and technologically incapable of meeting the demands of the capitalist system that the Dutch brought to the island. Instead, the Dutch turned to the Chinese. Large numbers of laborers were brought over from Fukien to set up farms on the plains of western Taiwan. Rice and sugar became the two primary agricultural exports of the VOC. Raw sugar was shipped to Japan, the Middle East, and Europe. Other important exports were the skins and meat of Taiwan's indigenous deer. The skins were shipped to Japan, while the meat was taken to China. Thus, Taiwan came to serve not only as a transshipment port, but also as an agricultural settlement.