Formosa

The hazy geography of early times distinguished so imperfectly between Formosa and Luchu that it is often difficult to know which of the two is intended. Equally obscure is the early history of the island. The Chine would seem to have discovered it at the beginning of the seventh century, but the curtain falls again for over six hundred years. From the beginning of trustworthy records, the spectacle presented to us is that of a mountainous, forest-clad interior inhabited by headhunting savages of Malay race, and a flat western seaboard overrun by buccaneers from various lands. A peculiar tribe of Chinamen, called Hakka, permanently settled this western coast during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; but the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the Spaniards, all of whom, about A.D. 1600, were striving together for colonial supremacy, endeavoured with partial temporary success to gain a foothold. The Japanese did likewise, both as peaceable traders and as pirates. Takasago, one of their names for Formosa, dates from that time, having been first applied to a sandy stretch which was thought to resemble the celebrated pine-clad beach of that name near the present town of Kōbe. The other Japanese, or rather Chinese, appellation-Taiwan ("terraced bay")-was at first confined to one of the trading stations on the coast,-to which is not quite certain. Our European name comes from the Portuguese navigators, who, with somewhat exaggerated enthusiasm, called what they saw of the place Ylha Formosa, that is, the "Beautiful Island."

Dutch rule asserted itself as paramount over a large portion of Formosa from 1624 to 1661, and to Dutch missionaries we owe the first serious attempts at a study of the aborigines and their multifarious dialects. Several young Formosans were even sent to Holland to study theology, a circumstance which gave rise to one of the most audacious literary frauds ever perpetrated. A Frenchman, pretending to be a native convert, published, under the pseudonym of George Psalmanazar, "An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa",-ever line of which, including an elaborate grammar, an alphabet, and a whole religious system, was pure invention, but which deceived the learned world almost down to our own day. The Dutch were ousted from Formosa by Koxinga (Koku-sen-ya), the son of a Chinese pirate by a Japanese mother. But his rule was short-lived, and the island passed in 1683 under the control of the Chinese Government, which retained it until its cession to Japan, in 1895, as one of the conditions of peace after the war between the two nations. The aborigines had already incidentally felt the force of Japanese arms in 1874, when an expedition was sent under General Saigō to chastise them for the murder of some shipwrecked fishermen.

Formosa, as sufficiently indicated above, falls naturally into two unequal parts. To the west a narrow alluvial plain, richly cultivated by industrious Chinese living in towns and villages, slopes gently to the sea. Eastwards the country rises into mountain ranges covered with virgin forests of camphor laurel and other huge trees, beneath whose shade wild beasts and wild men fight for a subsistence. Mount Morrison, which stands almost exactly under the Tropic of Cancer, forms the culminating point of the island, and the highest peak of the whole Japanese empire, as it has an altitude of 14,350 ft., or 2,000 ft. more than Fuji. For this reason the Japanese have re-christened it Nii-takayama, that is, the "New Lofty Mountain". The cliffs of the east coast of Formosa are the highest and most precipitous in the world, towering in places sheer six thousand feet from the water's edge.

It is not for nothing that so many nations have striven for the overlordship of Formosa. Tea, camphor, sugar, fruits and vegetables of every kind, are produced in immense quantities, while coal and gold are known to abound, though the store of metals has as yet scarcely been touched. But there are several indispensable preliminaries to the exploitation of these riches by their present enlightened owners. The aborigines must be subjugated, and not only they, but armed bands of Chinese rendered desperate by real and fancied grievances. For several years things went wrong with the Japanese attempts to colonise their new dependency. A perpetual clamour rose from the press of every shade of opinion and from public men anent the waste, the corruption, the misgovernment, and malpractices of every kind that were rampant. Foreigners told exactly the same tale, adding details about the shameless lives led by officials, and the insolence of the soldiery and imported coolies, who, peasants for the most part at home, there got brevet rank as representatives of the conquering race. On all sides the cry was that a false start had been made, and that an entirely new departure was needed, if this island-"Beautiful," but unhappy-was ever to have rest. Since then reform has been earnestly laboured for at Tōkyō, and considerable progress, both material and moral, has been made. Roads have been pushed through the forests, lighthouses and railways have been constructed, the Japanese school system and the conscription law have been introduced. Evidently, the official intention is that the incorporation of' Formosa with the Japanese empire shall be no mere form of words, but, so far as may be, an actual assimilation of the conquered to the conquerors.

It would not be possible at the present day, in however brief a sketch of Formosa, to omit all reference to the Rev. Dr. Mackay, recently deceased, the pioneer missionary, and author of the first general account of the land and its people. Never, in the wildest flight of imagination, could any layman have guessed the nature of the evangelising method on which this excellent man chiefly relied. It was-tooth-drawing!!! "Toothache," writes he, "resulting from severe malaria and from beetle-nut chewing, "cigar-smoking, and other filthy habits, is the abiding torment "of tens of thousands of both Chinese and aborigines. . . . "Our usual custom in touring through the country is to take "our stand in an open space, often on the stone steps of a "temple, and, after singing a hymn or two, proceed to extract "teeth, and then preach the message of the gospel. . . . . "I have myself, since 1873, extracted over twenty-one thousand, "and the students and preachers have extracted nearly half that "number. . . . . The priests and other enemies of the "mission may persuade people that fever and other diseases have "been cured, not by our medicines, but by the intervention of "the gods; but the relief from toothache is too unmistakable, "and because of this, tooth-extracting has been more than anything "else effective in breaking down prejudice and opposition."

Book recommended. The Island of Formosa Past and Present, History, People, Resources, and Commercial Prospects, by J. W. Davidson.