The threat of Koxinga's invasion of the Philippines in 1662

Sunday July 14, 2013 ()

Koxinga or Zheng Chenggong   
Koxinga or Zheng Chenggong (Photo credit: Win Corduan's Blog).   
In 1644, China was conquered by the Manchus (Qing dynasty). Peking capitulated at once and the Ming dynasty was overthrown, but it was only by many years of fighting that the Manchus overcame the Chinese of the central and southern provinces. These were years of turbulance, revolt, and piracy.

One Chinese adventurer who rose to a romantic position during this disturbed time was Zheng Zhilong, a native of Nan'an, Fujian, China, a Chinese merchant and pirate, who once lived in Macao with his uncle where he had been converted to Christianity and baptised as Nicholas Iquan Gaspard. He afterwards went to Japan and engaged in trade where he gained great wealth, a maritime empire which stretched from Fujian to Japan.

His son was Koxinga (or Kue-Sing) known by his Chinese name, Zheng Chenggong, was born as Zheng Sen in 1624 in Hirado, Japan to a Japanese mother (said to be a daughter of a Japanese lord), raised there until the age of seven and then moved to Nan'an county in Quanzhou in Fujian province of China.

The threat of Koxinga

Koxinga was a Ming dynasty loyalist and the chief commander of the Ming troops on the maritime front for the later emperors of the withering dynasty. The name Koxinga actually comes from a southern Chinese pronunciation of a title, "Lord of the Imperial Surname", given to him by a grateful Ming prince.

For years he resisted the armies of the Manchus, and maintained an independent power over the coasts of Fukien and Chekiang. The forces of the Manchus became too formidable for him to longer resist them upon the mainland, and Koxinga determined upon the capture of Formosa and the transference of his kingdom to that island.

For 38 years Formosa (present day Taiwan) had been dominated by the Dutch, whose fortresses commanded the channel of the Pescadores. The colony was regarded as an important one by the Dutch colonial government at Batavia. The city of Taiwan, on the west coast, was a considerable center of trade. It was strongly protected by the fortress of Zealand, and had a garrison of 2,200 Dutch soldiers. After months of fighting, Koxinga, with an overpowering force of Chinese, compelled the surrender of the Hollanders and the beautiful island passed into his power.

Exalted by his success against European arms, Koxinga resolved upon the conquest of the Philippines. He summoned to his service the Italian Dominican missionary, Vittorio Riccio, who had been living in the province of Fukien, and in the spring of 1662 dispatched him as an ambassador to the governor of the Philippines to demand the submission of the archipelago.

Manila was thrown into a terrible panic by this demand, and indeed no such danger had threatened the Spanish in the Philippines since the invasion of Li-ma-hong. The Chinese conqueror had an innumerable army, and his armament, stores, and navy had been greatly augmented by the surrender of the Dutch. The Spaniards, however, were united on resistance. The governor, Don Sabiano Manrique de Lara, returned a defiant answer to Koxinga, and the most radical measures were adopted to place the colony in a state of defense.

The colony was weak and unprepared for defense, and consequently terrified. There were 25,000 Chinese living in Parian, north of the Pasig River, in Manila. Fearful lest these Chinese cooperate in the designs of Koxinga, they were all ordered to leave the Islands. Unable to do so at once, and fearful of massacre, they arose in rebellion and assaulted the city of Manila. The result was a terrible massacre, which cost the lives of thousands of the Chinese. Other bands wandered off into the mountains, where they perished at the hands of the natives. Others, escaping by frail boats, joined the Chinese colonists on Formosa.

On May of 1662, Governor and Captain General de Lara having put Manila in a state of defense, called in the Spanish forces and the missionaries from the outposts of Mindanao and Ternate in the Moluccas. The threat of Chinese invasion forced the Spanish to withdraw their forces to Manila, leaving some troops in Jolo and by Lake Lanao to engage the Moro in protracted conflict, while Zamboanga was immediately evacuated.

But the blow never fell. Before Riccio arrived at Taiwan, Koxinga was dead, and the peril of Chinese invasion had passed.

The Aftermath

The Jesuits, on retiring with the Spanish forces from the Moluccas, brought with them their warlike neophite converts together with their miracle working patron saint, the Holy Child of Ternate. The warriors were encamped in Manila until the death of Koxinga. Clashes between these foreign and warlike Malays, and the native Tagalogs caused the government to give the Malays a reservation near the mouth of Manila Bay. A few fishermen among them settled on the neighboring island of Corregidor. On the reservation on the mainland, they established a settlement and called it Ternate (which was for a long time a barrio of Maragondon, Cavite), after their homeland in the Mollucas.

The Philippines had suffered irretrievable loss. Spanish prestige was gone. Manila was no longer, as she had been at the commencement of the century. Once again the Spanish sovereignty was confined to Luzon and the Visayas. The Moluccas were forsaken, never again to be recovered by Spaniards. The Chinese trade, on which rested the economic prosperity of Manila, had once again been ruined. For a hundred years the history of the Philippines is a dull monotony, quite unrelieved by any heroic activity or the presence of noble character.


  1. The progressing Philippines, Charles Whitman Briggs, The Griffith & Rowland press, Philadelphia, 1913.
  2. A history of the Philippines, David P. Barrows, American book company, New York, 1905.
  3. The Philippines, John Foreman, Filipiniana Book Guild, Manila, 1980.
  4. How to remember Koxinga: Contested legacy, The Economist, July 27, 2012.
  5. Wikipedia (about Koxinga)


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