Become a Cultural Navigator

Become a Cultural Navigator

Taiwan and the Netherlands: What the East Asian island nation can learn from its former colonizer

Former graduate students
Taiwanese residents shared perspectives on their graduate education in the Netherlands at a recent forum in Taipei organized by the Taiwan Canada Society.

The King’s Field is a famous Japanese video-game series created in the 1990s. But nearly 400 years ago, there was another King’s Field—the entire island nation of Taiwan.

For 38 years in the 17th century, the Dutch East India Company administered Taiwan as a colony of the Dutch Republic. And the Dutch king was the largest shareholder.

“The Han people pioneers cleared the land, but the land they cleared was stolen from them, and they were forced to turn their labors toward tilling the so-called ‘king’s fields’,” wrote historian Su Beng in Taiwan’s 400 Year History. “Moreover, most of what they achieved was given over, in the form of rent or taxes, called ‘king’s field rent contributions,’ for the use and enjoyment of the Dutch.”

Nowadays, there’s little evidence of the Dutch colonization of Taiwan. Joshua Wang (王家軒), content director of the Asian-Canadian Special Events Association, says that the most visible remnant is Fort Zeelandia, which the Dutch established in the southern city of Tainan in 1624.

“It’s not the only thing Dutch that’s left,” Wang acknowledges. “There’s a kind of cabbage. It’s a vegetable we eat everyday and its name comes from the Dutch language, according to one historian’s study. But not many people are aware of that.”

There are also contemporary connections between the two countries. That includes a significant number of Taiwanese students who obtained graduate degrees in the Netherlands. Some participated in a series of lectures that Wang curated from May 20 to June 10 in Taipei.

Joshua Wang (王家軒)
Joshua Wang (王家軒) curated a lecture series to educate people in Taiwan about the Netherlands.

Taiwan scholars share research

The Taiwan Canada Society created the forum, entitled “The Lesson of Dutch Formosa: What Can Taiwan Learn from the Netherlands?”.

“The Dutch did actually control Taiwan, but not in a really dominant way,” Wang says. “Sometimes, they were defeated by the Aboriginal people. And sometimes, the Aboriginal people pretended they were obeying the Dutch but they were not.”

Wang has also invited several Taiwanese professors to speak about at the forum, including Peter Kang (康培德), professor and director of the Graduate Institute of Taiwan History at National Taiwan Normal University. Kang is a leading expert on the relationship between the Dutch colonial regime and Taiwan’s Indigenous peoples.

One of the Dutch East India Company’s challenges in Taiwan was a shortage of Dutch women to marry Dutch soldiers and sailors. According to Wang, the Dutch government believed that if these settlers married, they would be more likely to remain. This would enable the company to thrive.

“So, in the end, they needed to persuade Aboriginal women to marry those Dutch settlers,” Wang says.

Much of this has come to light as a result of diligent research into historical records housed in the Netherlands.

“Because they are translated into the Chinese language now, a lot of scholars—not only from Taiwan but from Japan and China—spend a lot of time working on those documents,” Wang says.

On May 20, the forum opened with a speech by Charlie Wu (吳權益), who heads the Asian-Canadian Special Events Association. He believes that few Taiwanese people actually understand the impact of Dutch colonization on their country.

“A lot of things have been talked about, but on a very superficial level,” Wu says. “We wanted to take it deeper and make it more interesting.”

Charlie Wu
Charlie Wu is managing director of the Asian-Canadian Special Events Association.

Deep and inclusive discussions

In his speech, Wu discussed his association’s curation of annual TAIWANfest events in Toronto and Vancouver, which promote understanding of different countries. Later this year, TAIWANfest will host a dialogue with the Netherlands. According to Wu, it will likely include content from the lecture series in Taipei.

Following Wu’s presentation, Wang moderated speeches by four former Taiwanese graduate students in the Netherlands: Liang-Yu Chen (陳亮宇), David Chou (周承彥), Dominique Wong (王曉朗), and Senhan Wang (王升含).

Wang says that he appreciates the Dutch people’s way for holding in-depth discussions on public issues.

On May 20, the Taiwanese former graduate students talked about the Dutch polder model of consensus-based political decision-making, the bicycle revolution in the Netherlands, the past history of colonization, and the Dutch government’s public apology over slavery.

Jolan Hsieh
Siraya scholar and activist Jolan Hsieh discussed the impact of colonialism.

Some Taiwanese may feel that the Dutch approach of talking through problems is inefficient, Wang says. But he points out that people in the Netherlands are able to have complete and comprehensive discussions. And this has led to some surprisingly innovative public policies in connection with the climate crisis, gender and sex education in schools, and transportation, among other areas.

On May 27, Wang moderated a presentation by Jolan Hsieh(謝若蘭). She’s a lecturer in the department of ethnic relations and cultures at National Dong Hwa University in Taiwan.

Hsieh, a Siraya activist and scholar, discussed how past colonial regimes have harmed Indigenous peoples. She also explained what can be done to remedy past injustices.

Dutch transport
The Taiwanese can learn a great deal from the Dutch transportation system. Photo by Ericsw.

Gender education and transportation

On June 10, Asian-Canadian Special Events Association staff member Ann Cheng (鄭宛純) moderated the final talk. The last speech featured Shu-Yi Huang (黃淑怡), who has researched gender education at Utrecht University. She discussed how the Netherlands addresses this issue. It has the lowest teenage pregnancy rate and lowest proportion of sexually transmitted infections in Europe.

That was preceded by a presentation by Anne Chung (鍾慧諭), former director of the Taipei City Government Department of Transportation. Chung, a professor at Feng Chia University, was joined by faculty colleague Tsu-Jui Cheng (鄭祖睿) in a discussion moderated by Wang.

They described how Dutch citizens transformed their transportation system by focusing on the movement of people rather than the movement of motor vehicles. As a result, the Dutch have highly efficient rapid-transit, street car, and cycling networks.

Wang says that Taiwan is notorious for its high traffic-fatality rate, which is five times the rate of Japan’s. Meanwhile, Wu points out that Taiwanese can learn from the Dutch example.

“People say the best thing about Taiwan is its people,” Wu says. “But when they get on a bicycle, they get on a motorcycle, or they get in a car, they become a different animal. They don’t see pedestrians the same way.”

This is the final installment of Pancouver’s six-part series on Canada, the Netherlands, and Taiwan. Pancouver created this in partnership with Taiwan Insight, which is the online magazine of the Taiwan Studies Programme at the University of Nottingham. Taiwan Insight has published different versions of the articles on its website. Follow Taiwan Insight on Twitter @UoNARI_Taiwan. Follow Pancouver @PancouverMedia. Charlie Wu is the general manager of the Society of We Are Canadians Too, which owns Pancouver.

Take Action Now

Pancouver fuels creativity and promotes a more inclusive society. You can contribute to support our mission of shining a spotlight on diverse artists. Donations from within Canada qualify for a tax receipt.

Share this article



Related Articles

The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam Indian Band), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish Nation), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation). With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.

The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

© 2023 The Society of We Are Canadians Too Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions

We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.