In 1624 the Dutch East India Company began trading with Formosa [Taiwan]. The Dutch in their zeal for the spread of Christ’s kingdom sent the missionary along with the merchant. Two Scripture readers (more literally Sick-Comforters) were first sent. One of them soon returned but the other, Dirk Lauwrenzoon, continued the work till May, 1626. The first minister who arrived there was George Candidius who landed May 4, 1627. He at once began very zealously to learn their language so as to preach to them. In his letter written December, 1628, he says: “I have used great diligence to learn the language of the people and to instruct them in the Christian faith and have succeeded so far that a fortnight before Christmas of the present year there were 128 persons who knew the Lord’s Prayer and were able to explain in the most satisfactory manner the principal articles of the Christian faith but who for certain reasons have not yet been baptized.”
After Candidius had been there two years, Rev. Robert Junius arrived. He preached for two years in Dutch, but being moved by a great desire for the conversion of the heathen, he with great difficulty, learned their difficult language. His success was astonishing. Men of all ranks and conditions were converted. Fifty natives were trained to teach, who had six hundred students. Churches were planted in twenty-three towns.
The Dutch missionaries took pains to furnish them with suitable catechisms, Scripture translations, etc. The headquarters of the mission was at Sakan.
In 1631, Candidius was called away to go to Batavia, in Java. His heart, however, was in the mission work at Formosa and he returned again two years later. The Lord so greatly blessed the missionary labors for two years that by 1635 they had received seven hundred adults into the Church.
So hopeful was the outlook that they reported to the Dutch Governor in 1636 that at least fifteen additional ministers would be needed to take possession of the fields that were opening up to them.
But in 1637 Mr. Junius was left alone as Mr. Candidius returned to Holland after having labored in Formosa for ten years. Yet he writes encouragingly in a letter dated October
23, 1640. He says: “A few days ago we visited five villages, where we preached and baptized many of the inhabitants, who had been under instruction for some time. I found them to be very zealous, coming regularly, morning and evening to the house of the schoolmasters, to be instructed until they were able to repeat fluently the prayers, etc. The largest number of persons who received baptism was at Soulang, one hundred and twenty persons, among them a grown-up person who had never been instructed, but who earnestly begged to be baptized saying, ‘Examine me, for I wish to be baptized.’ He answered so well the questions put to him, that it delighted his hearers and the next day he was baptized. Up to the present time one thousand and seventy persons have been baptized at Soulang.”
In twenty-three villages he induced the people to abandon their idols. In six villages he baptized upwards of fifty-four hundred persons.
But in 1661 political dangers began to threaten this prosperous mission. The Ming dynasty in China was supplanted by the present Manchu-Tartar dynasty in 1644. Koxinga, one of the most daring spirits of that age, refused allegiance to the new dynasty. He collected a large fleet, which swept the seas, and had tens of thousands of adherents on the land. But with all his bravery, he was not able to stem the tide of the Tartar leaders. He was driven back in China, until he was compelled to leave China and seek some islands as a refuge for his forces. Unfortunately, he turned his eyes toward the fertile island of Formosa. With his coming the sad persecutions of the Reformed missions began. In 1661 Koxinga landed at Formosa and summoned the Dutch garrison at Zeelandia to surrender immediately, or else they would be put to death by fire and the sword. But the Dutchmen are not accustomed to surrender so quickly and they refused. He then began the siege of Fort Zeelandia. It lasted nine months. During this time the Dutch tried in every way to strengthen their position, but the enemy very vigorously blockaded them, while at the same time they ravaged the country far and near, cruelly inflicting terrible cruelties on the natives and the Reformed missions. Especially did they single out ministers and school teachers, who were threatened with every sort of indignity, even death itself.
The journal of John Kruyf, kept during the siege, gives sketches of these sufferings. He says: “Van Druyvendal and a schoolmaster named Franz Van der Voorn, with three other Dutchmen, were brought to Sinkang. The first two were crucified at Sakam. Rev. Mr. Hambroek finally gained Koxinga’s permission to offer up a prayer for them. After they had hung on their crosses for three days, they were carried, still alive, on the crosses to Sinkang, and here the crosses were again planted in the ground until the sufferers died.”
The same journal gives a further description of this Reformed school master. It says: “The interpreter Druyvendal and a young schoolmaster had each been fastened to a cross by having nails driven through their hands and calves of their legs, and another nail driven into their backs. In this sad condition they hung for three or four days, and then died after meat and drink had been withheld from them all that time.” These were Reformed crucifixions. These Reformed were crucified like their Saviour, who was crucified for them.
The Chinese, under Koxinga, forced all the inhabitants who had taken Christian names to take other names again, and threatened severe punishment if this command was not obeyed.
A very touching incident is told by Neihoff, which reveals a hero in a Reformed minister, who is worthy of being placed alongside of Regulus in ancient Roman history. He was Rev. Mr. Hambroek, who was sent by Koxinga to the Dutch governor to propose terms for the surrender of the fort, and to tell the governor that in case of refusal, vengeance would be taken on the Dutch captives of Koxinga. Hambroek came into the Dutch fort, being forced to leave his wife and children behind as hostages, which sufficiently proved that if he failed in his errand, he had nothing but death to expect from Koxinga.
Yet when he entered the Dutch fort, instead of trying to urge the garrison to surrender, he encouraged them to a brave defense by hopes of relief, assuring them that Koxinga had lost many of his best ships and soldiers, and had begun to be weary of the siege. When he had ended, the council of war refused to surrender, and as to himself, they left it to his choice to stay with them in the fort or return to Koxinga’s army, where he could expect nothing but present death. Every one entreated him to stay. He had two daughters in the fort who hung on his neck, overwhelmed with grief and tears at seeing their father go where he knew he must be sacrificed by the merciless enemy. But he represented to them that having left his wife and two other children in the camp as hostages, nothing but death could attend them if he did not return. So unlocking himself from his daughters’ arms, he returned to Koxinga’s camp, telling them at parting that he hoped he might prove serviceable to his poor fellow-prisoners.
On his return Koxinga received his answer sternly, and then enraged, he caused it to be rumored that the prisoners were inciting the people of Formosa to rise against him, and ordered that all the Dutch male prisoners should be put to death. This was done and some were beheaded, others killed in a more barbarous manner. Five hundred were put to death, fifty or sixty of them being stripped quite naked and buried alive together in a hole. The women and children were not spared, many of them being slain, though some of the best were preserved as slaves. Among the slain were four Reformed ministers-Hambroek, Mus, Winsem and Ampzingius, and many schoolmasters, who were beheaded, and who thus became martyrs. Meanwhile the garrison in the fort were enduring very great sufferings. Shut in by land and sea they suffered great want. And with the famine came sickness, so that they lost by disease and the sword 1,600 men.
They were finally compelled to surrender at the beginning of 1662, when the enemy allowed them to depart in their only remaining ship. The journal thus says: “Who can without tears remember the unexpected destruction and ruin of so many families and of nearly thirty ministers, partly in their lives, partly in their fortunes?” The next year when Mr. Bert arrived with a Dutch fleet, he found Koxinga’s son still ruling, who said that the Rev. J. de Leonardis and others were still at Sakam, and that he would be willing to open the island to the Dutch for trade and give them a settlement at Tamsui, if they would help him against the Tartars. But nothing came of these negotiations, so the Reformed who were really held as prisoners had to remain there in dreary exile, without any communication with Christian civilization and home, until September 2, 1684, twenty-three years afterwards. Then some of them escaped, of whom Alexander Schravenbroek, during his twenty-two years of imprisonment, had so fully mastered the language that the government engaged him as their interpreter.
Thus this promising Reformed mission was broken up. Valentyn gives the names of thirty-five Reformed ministers, as having labored there a longer or shorter time, the most prominent of whom was Robert Junius. Thus the mission, which in the nearly forty years of its existence had grown to 6,000 members, was scattered to the winds. The only thing that remained of the mission was a copy of the Gospel of St. Matthew, in the Formosan dialect, and that is to be found in the University of Leyden, Holland. This was about being printed for them when the Chinese invaders entered their land in 1661. It was prepared by the learned Gravius.
The island was closed to foreigners and Christians two hundred years ago, until the treaty of Tien-tsin (1866) opened it again. In time, the martyr Reformed Church of Formosa would again rise through the future missionary labors of the Presbyterian churches.
Abridged and Edited J.I. Good’s Famous Missionaries of the Reformed Church, The Sunday-School Board of the Reformed Church in the United States, 1903, Philadelphia. (with special thanks to the Publications Committee of the Reformed Church in the United States)
Maps courtesty of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology