Ford, John D. "Formosa." Chapter XIX in An American cruiser in the East: Travels and studies in the far East. New York: A.S. Barnes, 1898. Pp. 320-330.

Chapter XIX


[P. 320] The island of Formosa, Tai-wan of the Chinese, is about ninety miles off the coast of China, from which it is separated by the Strait of Fo-kien, and it lies between Nan-hai and Tong-hai, the Southern and the Eastern seas. It extends from 21 54' to 25 19' of north latitude and 121 15' to 122 5' of east longitude, and contains very nearly 15,000 square miles. It shelters the coast from Amoy to the Yellow Sea, by warding off the typhoons.

The Tan-shan Mountains extend the whole length of the island from north to south, and have several lofty peaks and volcanoes. Me-kang-shang, or "wooded mountain," is over 12,000 feet high, Shan-chas-shan, or Mount Sylvia, is about 11,000, and Dodd's Range is fully 11,000 feet in height. The mountain range divides Formosa into three natural divisions, -- the mountains, the western plains, and the precipitous coast.

The island shows many evidences of volcanic formation, and is in the curved line which sweeps along the Pacific coast of North America, the Aleutian Islands, Eastern Siberia, the Kural, and the Japanese Islands, through Formosa and on to the Philippines. Ho-san, or "Fire Mountain," sends forth steam and sulphur, and the hot springs of vapor and sulphur near Tam-sui are famous.

[P. 232] The streams on the eastern side are mere mountain torrents and cascades, but the western side has several rivers, the most important of which is the Tam-sui.

The scenery is enchanting, and it so impressed the old Spaniards that, in their delight, they named it Isla Formosa, beautiful island.

The vegetation is tropical and luxurious. The mountains are covered with dense forests of palms, camphor-trees, and aloe, and beautiful wild flowers are in profusion. The climate is tempered by the breezes from ocean, sea, and mountain-top, and the temperature averages 82 Fah. in the summer season, and about 52 Fah. in the winter months, while the rainfall is about 120 inches each year.

Takow, Formosa

Takow is situated near the southern end of Formosa. The approach to its open harbor and anchorage there is difficult for sailing vessels at all times, and impossible during the six months of the monsoon season. The water is deepest on the northern side, and the harbor must be approached from that direction.

The city is built on a point of land which juts out into the harbor, and it presents the appearance of great commercial activity. From the top of "Monkey Hill," above the foreign residences, a beautiful view can be had of the surrounding country and the harbor, where hundreds of barelegged fishermen haul their great seines, while near them the puffing exhaust of the steamer's hoisting-engines sends little clouds of vapor into the air as they whip their cargoes in or out.

The country from Takow to Poabi (the nearest settlement of native aborigines, whom the Chinese call Pepo-hoans, or "strangers of the plains"), is very beautiful, being filled with waving palm-trees, tall bamboos, and wild flowers, but one must be always wide awake and on the lookout for snakes in this country. It is very common to see the great yellowish-green serpents wound around the [p. 324] limbs of overhanging trees, or coiled up, or moving on the ground. When they stretch out their dreadful heads, and start hissing towards you, it is well to have a reliable stick in hand to be used promptly. Some of these creatures measure ten feet in length. They are fascinatingly beautiful but deadly, and, when met, the fight must be to the death.

There are many caves about this country, but in inspecting them it is necessary to remember the serpents, as these are their favorite places of resort.

The Pepo-hoans have been crowded back from their fertile plains, -- the rich alluvial lands that were their ancestral homes, -- and they are now settled on the mountain-sides. These people are good workers, good haters, and good fighters. They still hold in loving remembrance traditions of the Dutch, who were once in possession of the land, and who were kind to their fathers until driven out by the Chinese.

The native huts at Poabi are built on terraces three or four feet high, and are very picturesque. They are made of a framework of bamboo interlaced with reeds and covered over with thick clay. A thatching of dried leaves completes the roof, and a few coating of whitewash gives the house a neat, tidy appearance. A fencing of prickly stems extends around these huts, throwing a shade over them, and guarding the inmates against sudden attacks from an enemy. Many of the huts are built around the three sides of a square lot, with an open space in the centre where the family pass the evening together. When it is cool, a fire is made in this open space, and old and young assemble there, forming a circle on the ground. They sit together with arms crossed, smoking tobacco or chewing the betel, and talking, while their dogs are in an outer circle surrounding them. They will often sing, but they have no musical instruments for accompaniment. Their [p. 325] voices are harsh, unpleasing, and discordant, but the scene is enjoyable because it is novel, quaint, and weird.

Formosa has three classes of inhabitants: the Chinese, from Amoy and Swatow; the subjected natives, many of whom have intermarried with the Chinese; and the unsubdued aborigines, who defy the authority of China, and carry on wars whenever they have an opportunity. These aborigines are believed by some to be of Malay, by others, of Japanese origin. They are divided into many tribes and clans, and have several dialects. Some tribes have women chieftains, who are said to be bold fighters. These people are of medium stature, broad-chested, and muscular. They have full, round foreheads, which do not recede, large mouths, broad noses, and beautiful, full, black eyes. They have remarkably large hands and feet. Their women wear their hair in loose braids wound around their heads in turban fashion. Their dress is shabby. When near the Chinese they dress better, but are less affable, -- they seem to become shy and restless. Tattooing is universally practised amongst them. They are thoroughly honest; and when they die they are buried in a sitting position, similar to the Japanese method of burial. Their furniture and utensils are all made of bamboo, -- beds, tables, chairs, buckets, jars, hats, even their paper and pens. The women make a fine cloth from hemp, into which they weave colored threads, and produce ornamental effects.

Wars are common, not only with the Chinese, but between native tribes, and the heads of the slain are always preserved as trophies. Young men and boys often sleep in the "skull-chambers," in order that they may become courageous.

Many tribes show a considerable amount of skill in the arts of civilization. The houses of the village of Ka-fri-ang, for instance, are built of stone, tiled with immense slabs of [p. 326] stone, and fitted with comfortable sleeping and cooking arrangements, and places for storing materials of personal and household use.

The Chinese portion of the island is divided into five districts, -- North Formosa, Chang-hua, Ki-ai, Tai-wan, and Feng-shang.

There are some very important towns on the island. Kelung is in the north, near the mines. Howeie has over one hundred thousand inhabitants. Fwo-tre-tia is a dozen miles from the mouth of the Tam-sui River, in the tea district, and has a population of over thirty thousand. Mengka is farther up the river, and boasts of over forty thousand inhabitants. Teukchasu, a walled town in the Tam-sui district, contains a population of fifty thousand. Tai-wan, the capital, which has grown from the old Dutch fort "Zelandia," contains more than one hundred thousand, and there are many towns of ten thousand inhabitants or less; while the whole Chinese territory is spotted with villages. The entire population of Formosa is estimated at two and a half millions of people.

The mechanical force of the elements is nowhere more graphically portrayed than on this island. During the rainy season, the waters rise and cover vast beds, open up new passages across the land, and flow towards the eastern plain. Rocky heights confine the beds of the streams, and the torrents carry great quantities of soil and sand, which the currents cause the sea to deposit along the eastern coast. In this way, the port of Thai-ouau is disappearing, and that of Takow has been formed further down the coast. There are no harbors on the eastern coast; there we find mountains and the most beautiful scenery, but the west coast has the fertile plains and the ports.

The soil in the plains, of sand and rich alluvial clay, is covered with a thick vegetable mould. The Chinese inhabitants brought their mode of agriculture with them, and [p. 329] pineapples and many plants and fruits are grown in abundance. Tea, sugar, rice, the sweet potato, millet, wheat, barley, maize, indigo, hemp, peanuts, and jute are raised in such quantities as to be among the important exports of the island.

The fauna includes several varieties of deer, wild boars, bears, goats, monkeys, squirrels, panthers, and wild-cats. The ox takes the place of the horse, and dogs are kept for hunting purposes.

The rivers and neighboring seas are well stocked with fish. Turtles, flying-fish, and coral-fish swim in the warm waters, and fine little oysters and clams lie upon the rocky beds under the waters.

Coal, sulphur, oil, and turpentine are articles of export. The principal coal fields are in the northern part of the island near Kelung and Tam-sui. This coal is highly bituminous and free-burning.

The island of Formosa was known to the Chinese from a very early date. They called it "Kilung," and its inhabitants Fung-fai, or "southern barbarians." In the sixteenth century, when the Portuguese, the Spaniards, and the Dutch were scouring these seas in quest of gold and conquest, they all happened to discover Formosa about the same time. The Dutch were a little ahead, and built the fort Zelandia, which has now grown to be the town of Tai-wan. They established a mild form of government, and conciliated the aborigine natives; but when the Tartars conquered China, some of the defeated followers of the Mings crossed over to Formosa, drove off the Dutch, took possession of a large portion of the island, and formed a government under which the natives have always been restless. In the latter part of the sixteenth century, the Chinese of Formosa acknowledged the Emperor of China, and since that time Formosa has formed part of the Chinese Empire.

[P. 330] In the latter part of the seventeenth century, a terrible typhoon swept over the island, throwing down the buildings on shore, and wrecking twenty-eight war vessels. Later in the same century a great rebellion broke out, and order was not restored until over one hundred thousand men had perished by the casualties of war.

Formosa is a dangerous coast in the monsoon and typhoon season, and until the days of steam navigation was known only on account of the dangerous navigation in the locality, the fierce winds which draw through its channel, and the large number of wrecks that were strewn along its hospitable shores. But in these days of steam-power and a better acquaintance with the surroundings, we can stand off or on, as we please, and have no fear of the dangers that lurk about "Isla Formosa."

Shipwrecked crews used to run great risks from the cannibal natives and from the cruelty of the Chinese. In 1842 the British brig "Ann" was lost, with fifty-seven persons on board, of whom forty-three were executed at Tai-wan; and as late as 1872, the crew of a Japanese vessel shipwrecked on the coast was murdered by the savages. The Japanese government sent an expedition to punish the assassins, and a war between China and Japan seemed imminent; but it was avoided by China's payment of seven hundred thousand dollars as compensation to the friends of the murdered men, and an additional sum to cover the expenses of the expedition, after which the Japanese troops were withdrawn from the island.

Since 1877, roads have been constructed throughout the Chinese territory, the resources of the island are being rapidly developed, and A[n]ping and Takow have been strongly fortified.