The CCP Invokes the Legacy of Koxinga in Its United Front Propaganda for Taiwan

The CCP Invokes the Legacy of Koxinga in Its United Front Propaganda for Taiwan

The CCP Invokes
The CCP Invokes the Legacy of Koxinga in Its United Front Propaganda for Taiwan

John Dotson is the deputy director of the Global Taiwan Institute and associate editor of the Global Taiwan Brief

Cheng Ch’eng-kung (鄭成功), better known as “Koxinga” (國姓爺) in most international histories, is one of the most famous—and colorful—figures in the history of Taiwan. The legacy of Koxinga has been invoked in different ways over past decades by the Nationalist Party (KMT, 國民黨) and Chinese Communist Party (CCP, 中國共產黨) in their polemical battle over China’s future. This year marks the 360th anniversary of Cheng and his followers ending the Dutch colonial presence in Taiwan, and Koxinga’s legacy has been revived once again by the CCP—with multiple events this spring and summer commemorating the “recovery of Taiwan” (收復臺灣) that were sponsored and publicized by the CCP’s united front apparatus, as well as by organizations within Taiwan. 

The Historical Legacy of Koxinga in Taiwan and China

In the decades following the Manchu seizure of Beijing and establishment of the Qing Dynasty in 1644, Cheng Ch’eng-kung became one of the most prominent military commanders in the resistance against the Manchu conquest of China. After many years resisting Qing armies from a fiefdom in Fujian Province, Cheng relocated his forces to southern Taiwan in the early 1660s. There, they campaigned against Dutch forces and seized Fort Zeelandia in 1662, effectively ending the Dutch colonial presence on the island. Unable to achieve his ambition to reverse the Manchu conquest and restore the deposed Ming Dynasty, Cheng and his descendants (following Cheng’s early death from malaria, only a few months after defeating the Dutch) ruled over the declared Kingdom of Tungning (東寧王國), a state that governed southwestern Taiwan and the Penghu Islands until it was conquered by a Qing expedition in 1683.  

Under the years of the Kuomintang dictatorship in Taiwan (1945-1987), Cheng Ch’eng-kung was celebrated in KMT historiography and propaganda as a great Chinese national hero. The story of Cheng and his Ming loyalist troops bore obvious parallels to the story the KMT regime wished to present about itself and its leader Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石): that of a heroic figure who resisted the conquest of China by a foreign force (the ethnic Manchus in one case, Soviet Communism in the other); who was forced by military pressure to retreat from the mainland; who reclaimed Taiwan as Chinese territory; and who established a redoubt on Taiwan, awaiting the opportunity to liberate China from foreign tyranny and restore its legitimate government. [1] 

For its part, the Chinese Communist Party regime also lionized Koxinga, but with a very different take on the story: in the CCP version, Cheng was a nationalist figure who fought to free Taiwan from foreign imperialism, and who unified the island with China. As written in a CCP propaganda magazine in early 1961:

Three hundred years ago, in 1661, Cheng Cheng-kung (Koxinga), the famous general of the Ming Dynasty, sailed at the head of a fleet from the Chinese mainland and landed on the Chinese island of Taiwan, then occupied by the Dutch colonialists. After nine months of bloody fighting, he drove out the Dutch and recovered Taiwan for China. Ever since then Cheng Cheng-kung has been honoured by the Chinese people as a national hero […] the Chinese people, including their compatriots in Taiwan, are unswerving in the struggle against foreign aggressors and to bring Taiwan back to the bosom of the motherland. [2] 

United Front Events in 2022 Promoting the Legacy of Koxinga

This year, the 360th anniversary of Cheng and his followers ending the Dutch colonial presence in Taiwan, has seen multiple events commemorating the “recovery of Taiwan” (收復臺灣)—many of them sponsored and publicized by the CCP’s united front apparatus. These CCP-promoted events tend to leverage either marginal figures from fringe political parties in Taiwan, or else persons from the pro-unification wing of the Pan-Blue coalition. One such example was a March 27 event held in Taipei, convened under the title “The Historical Significance of Cheng Ch’eng-kung’s Recovery of Taiwan” (鄭成功收復臺灣的時代意義). The host for the event was Wu Rong-yuan (吳榮元), the chairman of the Taiwan Labor Party (臺灣勞動黨), a fringe pro-communist party that functions as a mouthpiece for CCP narratives (see examples here and here). As quoted in PRC media, Wu stated that the anniversary 

[…] made clear that Taiwan is an inherent part of Chinese territory, demonstrating that both sides of the Strait belong to one China on the basis of historical facts and legal principles; this proves that opposing ‘independence’ and advancing unification uphold historical justice, [and] possess the essential conditions of legitimacy and legality. The history of Cheng Ch’eng-kung’s driving out the Dutch colonizers and recovering Taiwan offers significance and historical inspiration for today’s [efforts] to accomplish national unification, uphold national sovereignty, and oppose separatism.

Larger events, stressing these same basic themes, were held in mid-June in both Taiwan and China’s Fujian Province. On June 14, the CCP’s Central Taiwan Office (Taiban, 中共中央台辦) hosted another political event near Cheng’s ancestral home in the city of Quanzhou-Nanan (泉州南安). [3] At this event, Taiban director Liu Jieyi (劉結一) asserted that “inside Taiwan island ‘Taiwan independence’ forces are continuously plotting ‘independence’ provocations, [and] certain foreign forces are scheming to ‘use Taiwan to control China’.” By contrast, according to Liu, Cheng’s legacy affirmed the PRC’s sovereignty over Taiwan: 

Cheng Ch’eng-kung’s driving out the Dutch colonizers, and recovering the treasured island of Taiwan, was an immortal exploit for the Chinese nation (中華民族). Cross-strait compatriots together commemorate the 360th anniversary of [Cheng’s] recovery of Taiwan; the most important [thing] is to carry forward the great patriotic spirit [… and] conform to historical trends, advance together cross-strait relations and peaceful development, and promote the process of the peaceful unification of the motherland. 

Images: Two views of the June 14 activities organized to honor Koxinga in the Chinese city of Quanzhou-Nanan (Fujian Province). Image above: CCP Central Taiwan Office Director Liu Jieyi speaks at a conference commemorating the 360th anniversary of the “recovery” of Taiwan. (Image source: China Daily) / Image below: A parade held as part of the “Cheng Ch’eng-kung Cultural Festival,” also celebrating the historical “recovery” of the island. (Image source: Toutiao.com)

Particularly noteworthy was the participation of former KMT Vice-Chairman and Secretary-General Tseng Yong-chuan (曾永權) in a coordinated, parallel event held in Chiayi (嘉義) in southwestern Taiwan. As summarized in the pro-Pan Blue United Daily News (聯合報), Tseng used the occasion to state that:

Today cross-strait compatriots cherish the memory of the hero Cheng Ch’eng-kung, this is because we commonly inherit and carry forward Cheng Ch’eng-kung’s spirit and Cheng Ch’eng-kung’s culture, advancing cross-strait compatriots’ heart-to-heart concordance. On the basis of persisting in the “92 Consensus” [九二共識] and opposing Taiwan independence, [we should] positively advance cross-strait relations and peaceful development, maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

Tseng’s status as a senior former KMT official, as well as the invocation of the controversial “92 Consensus” in his comments, lent a greater political cast to the event from the Taiwan side. It also fits with a larger pattern of senior former KMT officials bandwagoning with CCP united front and propaganda efforts—such as former KMT chairperson Hung Hsiu-chu’s (洪秀柱) visit to Xinjiang in May, during which she denied the overwhelming evidence of systemic cultural genocide directed at the Uyghurs and other Muslim peoples in the region. However, it should be noted that no current senior KMT officials appear to have engaged in the Koxinga anniversary events, perhaps due to perceived sensitivities connected to upcoming local elections.

For its part, the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC, 大陸委員會)—the cabinet-level agency of Taiwan’s government charged with formulating policy towards the PRC—strongly criticized both the CCP-organized Koxinga memorial events, as well as the participation by persons from Taiwan. MAC identified the events as part of united front tactics intended to divide Taiwan’s society, and further warned against participating in any such events that advocated for “One China” (一中國) or a “One Country, Two Systems” (一國兩制) model, or that otherwise advocated “democratic negotiations” (民主協商) (a CCP slogan for united front engagement with private persons or organizations, which sidesteps Taiwan’s government). 


Long the subject of dueling historical narratives surrounding Taiwan, the legacy of Koxinga is as fraught with controversy as ever. In past decades, both the KMT and the CCP were eager to adopt his mantle: whether as a hero holding out on Taiwan while maintaining hopes of liberating the mainland, or as a patriotic figure battling against foreign imperialism. For its part, the Taiwan nativist / pro-independence spectrum of Taiwanese political opinion has traditionally been more ambivalent about Koxinga: still revered by many as a hero in the island’s history (as seen in the many popular shrines dedicated to him), but viewed more skeptically by others as an interloper from China, whose imposed state in the southwest of Taiwan proved transitory in nature. Further complicating the legacy—and an aspect of Koxinga’s life that both KMT and CCP propaganda have tended to omit—was his half-Japanese heritage (his mother was Japanese), with the potential implications that holds for reevaluating Japanese historical legacies in Taiwan.

For the CCP, little has changed in the overall narrative, but as the united front activities of this year illustrate, first and foremost in contemporary CCP propaganda is Koxinga’s role in “recovering” Taiwan as Chinese territory. In this sense, the historical memory of Koxinga—what some historians refer to as a “mnemonic regime”—is being harnessed as part of the CCP’s intensifying drive to assert a position of absolute sovereignty over Taiwan. [4] What is dramatically different now is the extent to which some figures from the pro-unification Pan-Blue right (in curious conjunction with the marginal extreme left) have jettisoned the old KMT narrative of Koxinga as a heroic resistance fighter against tyranny in China. Such figures now appear eager to embrace the CCP’s Koxinga narrative as a means to assert Taiwan’s status as an inherent part of China. This shifting interpretation of Koxinga’s legacy is yet another sign of how dramatically the KMT has transformed over the years, and how the CCP’s united front efforts are seeking to exploit that transformation.

The main point: The legacy of Cheng Ch’eng-kung, or Koxinga, has long played a role in both KMT and CCP propaganda messages related to Taiwan. This year, CCP-sponsored united front events have played upon Koxinga’s role in the “recovery” of Taiwan to further assert Beijing’s sovereignty over the island and its inhabitants. 

[1] Ralph C. Croizier, Koxinga and Chinese Nationalism: History, Myth, and the Hero (Cambridge, MA: Harvard East Asian Monographs, 1977). See in particular chapter 5, “His Undisputed Legacy in a Divided China,” pp. 63-78.


[2] Peking Review, June 2, 1961 (Vol. 4, No. 22), https://www.marxists.org/subject/china/peking-review/1961/PR1961-22.pdf.


[3] It is worth noting that the CCP Taiwan Affairs Office (a party body) and the PRC State Council Taiwan Affairs Office (a nominal state body) are in fact one and the same organization. Liu Jieyi, the current director, is dual-hatted as the head of both.


[4] For an exemplary exploration of the meaning of a “mnemonic regime” in a different context in Taiwan’s history, see: Dominic Meng-Hsuan Yang, The Great Exodus from China: Trauma, Memory, and Identity in Modern Taiwan (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2021).