Battle of Liaoluo Bay
|Battle of Liaoluo Bay|
|Part of Sino–Dutch conflicts|
|Ming Dynasty China||Dutch East India Company
|Commanders and leaders|
|Zheng Zhilong||Hans Putmans
|50 large junks, 100 small junks||9 Dutch warships, 50 pirate junks|
|Casualties and losses|
|3 vessels damaged
80 KIA, 150 WIA
|3 vessels lost, 1 vessel captured
93 company employees lost
The Battle of Liaoluo Bay (Chinese: 料羅灣海戰; pinyin: Liàoluó Wān Hǎizhàn) took place in 1633 off the coasts of Fujian and Kinmen. It involved the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the Chinese Ming dynasty's navies. The battle was fought at the north coast of the island of Kinmen, in the Taiwan strait. A Dutch fleet under Admiral Hans Putmans was attempting to control shipping in the Taiwan strait, while the southern Fujian sea traffic and trade was protected by a fleet under Brigadier General Zheng Zhilong. This was the largest naval encounter between Chinese and European forces before the Opium Wars two hundred years later.
The Ming dynasty of the 17th century had relaxed its age old practice of banning maritime trade, allowing the Chinese coast to bustle with commercial activity. The Ming navy, however, had been poorly maintained and ineffectual, such that pirates had practically controlled this trade. The pirate leader Zheng Zhilong in particular dominated the Fujian coast, his ships decked with European cannons and mercenaries from Japan to Africa. The Ming court, in its decline, recruited Zheng Zhilong in 1628 rather than to try and destroy him. Although the more piratical elements of his fleet deserted him after he surrendered to the Ming, Zheng's new status as a Ming admiral allowed him to go after his former lieutenants. He was aided in this anti-pirate campaign by the Dutch under the governor of Taiwan, Hans Putmans.
The Dutch had been trying to gain permission to trade freely in China without much success. In 1622 they established a position on the Pescadores, but were militarily defeated by the Ming in a war lasting from 1623-1624, and forced the Dutch to withdrawn from the Pescadores and establish themselves on Taiwan instead. Zheng Zhilong had promised to lobby on the Dutch's behalf if the Dutch helped defeat his former subordinate Li Kuiqi (李魁奇), but when the deed was done in February 1630, Putmans received no guarantees about trade. Unbeknownst to Putmans, Zheng Zhilong had not been able to fulfill his promise because he now serves a new Governor of Fujian, Zou Weilian (鄒維璉), who was hostile to the Dutch. Putmans believed that Zheng Zhilong had turned back on his promises, and, allying the Dutch with Liu Xiang's (劉香) pirates, Putmans attacked Zheng's base in Amoy by surprise on July 7, 1633.
The sinking of the European-styled Chinese fleet
Zheng Zhilong had adapted European technology throughout his maritime career, decking his ships with European cannons and mercenaries, but in 1633 he had built a new fleet according to European designs: whereas most Chinese junks held at most eight smaller cannons, Zheng's new ships had two reinforced gundecks that could hold up to thirty-six large guns, shooting out of Western-inspired gunports. Putmans would later write about these ships in admiration: "Never before in this land so far as anyone can remember, has anyone seen a fleet like this, with such beautiful, huge, well-armed junks."
However, the new fleet was not given a chance to prove its worth against the Dutch, for it had offered no resistance against the Dutch as they sailed around the Gulangyu Island into the harbour of Amoy, thinking they were friendly. The Dutch fired at the Chinese fleet without warning, and as soon as it was apparent that the Chinese would not be able to shoot back, Putmans ordered his men to destroy the fleet by hand to save powder. At the end of the day, only three large junks escapes being burned or hacked to pieces, while there was only one Dutch casualty — a sailor had died setting a fire.
Following the destruction of Zheng Zhilong's fleet, the Dutch roamed the seas with impunity, pillaging villages and capturing vessels. Putmans hoped these piratical activities would force China to agree to his demands for free trade; quite the opposite, Putmans's actions had united the political enemies Zheng Zhilong and Zou Weilian together. Planning a counterattack, Zheng rebuilt his fleet as Zou gathered commanders from all over the Fujian coast. Zheng also recruited locals willing to join by rewarding each volunteer 2 silver. If the battle lasts longer than expected, the reward will be increased to five silver. Zheng put the locals on 100 small fire boats, manned by 16 people each. If a boat sets fire to one Dutch ship, they would be rewarded 200 silver. If they present a Dutch head, they would be rewarded 50 silver.
The battle of Liaoluo Bay
The Dutch East India Company's fleet was commanded by the ships Jacht, Broeckerhaven, Stootodijck, and Weiringen. The Dutch had anchored at Liaoluo Bay off Kinmen Island with 9 vessels and 50 junks belonging to their Chinese pirate allies flying the VOC flag. Zheng, on the other hand, had around 150 junks consisting of imperial ships, merchant ships, and his own personal vessels. Fifty of these were large junks.
The decisive encounter happened on October 22 in which Zheng's fleet met the Dutch ships and 50 ships from Chinese pirate allies. Zheng ordered his fleet to ignore the latter and focus on attacking the Dutch fleet. Knowing that the Chinese ships could not match the Dutch ships in a firefight, Zheng Zhilong instead resolved to use fire ships. In order to fool the Dutch to expect otherwise, Zheng choose to use large warjunks as the fire ships, decking them with cannons and soldiers (who were equipped with bamboo tubes and were to jump overboard just before crashing the ship into the enemy fleet.) The Dutch did not expect the large warjunks to come straight at them, hence they did not even have time to raise their anchors. Ming fire ships set fire to the Jacht and Brouckerhaven. Slooterdijck was hooked on by 4 Chinese warships. After repulsing two boarding attempts, the Dutch ship was defeated and captured. Weiringen was sunk by cannon from Ming warships. Hans Putman fled with his remaining ships. His pirate allies were then defeated in turn.
Ming officials hailed the victory as a "miracle at sea", since Chinese victories against European ships "had been extremely rare". The victory at Liaoluo Bay had reestablished the prestige and authority of China in the Taiwan Strait, as Hans Putmans, realizing that his plan had brought upon the opposite effect, ceased his piratical activities on the Chinese coast. Putmans's superiors in Batavia especially ordered him to stay away from China and "out of harm's way so [Dutch ships] won't be exposed to the kind of fury and resolution the Chinese displayed at Liaoluo Bay."
Zheng Zhilong had earned Zou Weilian's respect through this battle. Zou recommended Zheng for promotion in a memorial to the throne but Zheng, in his newfound fame as someone who could keep the Dutch under control, used his influence to remove Zou from power. Now that Zheng had removed political opposition, he was free to grant the Dutch trading privileges, which was both Zheng and Putmans wanted originally. With the final defeat of the pirate Liu Xiang in the 1640s, Zheng Zhilong held uncontested hegemony over the overseas Chinese trade. He had become one of the richest men in China, with his annual income estimated at three to four times that of the whole Dutch East India Company.
- Andrade, Tonio (2011). Lost colony : the untold story of China's first great victory over the West. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691144559.