The Great Rebel-Quelling General Koxinga Zheng Chenggong, Lord of the Imperial Surname and Last Defender of the Ming Dynasty, was a hardcore ocean-raiding scurvy pirate captain who, over the course of his short 12-year career terrorizing the high seas at the helm of a fleet of warships, ascended from his already-badass station as a vicious, marauding sea-dog to become the adopted son of a Chinese Emperor, a national hero in Japan, Communist China, and Taiwan (thus marking the first and only time in recorded history those three places have ever agreed on anything), and the only pirate to ever end up being – I shit you not – worshipped as a living God of War.
If that's not good enough for you, the name Koxinga actually used to be transliterated Cocksinja, and I can't be the only person on the planet juvenile enough to think that looks like "Cocks Ninja". I'm not sure if the weird mental image of a hilarious dick-punching ninja this conjures up helps his badass cred or not but I cannot in good conscience continue writing this article without mentioning that first.
The future Pirate God of Taiwan was born in Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan, some time in 1624 when his Japanese mother was knocked up by one of Southern China's most infamous pirate lords. One of the many legends surrounding Koxinga's life claims that he trained as a samurai as a young child, working out his <i>katana</i> chops with a highly-respected Japanese sword instructor as early as six years old, but who knows if that's true or not. What we do know for sure is that some time in the early 1640s he was called back to China by his father to help take part in one of the most successful pirate empires the world has ever seen, and from that point on Koxinga never looked back at anything other than the burning wreckage of any vessel stupid enough to try and share the South China Sea with him.
Koxinga's dad had started off as some random pirate jobber nobody, but over a long and storied and excruciatingly violent career he'd built up such a massive armada of sea-roving hardasses that the Emperor of China finally decided, "Fuck it, I'm not even going to try to screw with this asshole anymore," and offered him a position as an Admiral in the Ming Chinese Navy. This is made even more awesome by the fact that Koxinga's dad lived in the province of Fukien, thereby making his official title "The Fukien General," a rank that presumably carries even more weight when forcefully spoken in a low-class British accent. What's even better is that while Koxinga's dad was collecting Imperial paychecks for being a pirate-huntin', Emperor-lovin', kickass Fuckin' General, he still kept up his own illicit pirate activities on the side, AND ran a a lucrative on-the-downlow black-market silk trade with the Dutch and British East India Companies. It was so out of control that by the time Koxinga was summoned back to town to help pops out with his operation he was stepping into a massive criminal empire that generated over 100,000 silver taels a year (which is a lot of taels… it works out to about 4.5 tons of silver a year).
A badass Chinese pirate ship. Koxinga would command a fleet of roughly 800 vessels like this.
Well despite being offered a leadership position in one of the most successful organized crime operations in Chinese history, Koxinga tried to do the Michael Corleone thing and headed off to study government administration at the prestigious Nanking University instead. Ok, sure, so that was going well for a while, but everything went to shit in 1644 when a massive uprising by the barbarian Jurchens of Manchuria swept into Beijing, obliterated the armies of the Ming Dynasty, hung the Emperor from a lotus tree, and then declared the creation of a new Imperial Dynasty known as the Qing. The Emperor's only surviving son – the man who according to Chinese custom was now the True Emperor – fled to the only person he knew had a chance of protecting him: Koxinga's dad.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of booty might not have been enough to motivate Koxinga to follow in his dad's footsteps, but when it became a matter of defending the Last Surviving Emperor of the Ming Dynasty against a marauding horde of usurper foreign barbarians from hell, this dedicated kicker of other peoples' asses hauled his shit back home and prepared to defend China with his life. He was symbolically adopted by the Emperor, given a badass sword, an Imperial Seal with the words "Great Rebel-Quelling General" on it, and the title Koxinga (meaning "Lord of the Imperial Surname"), and sent out to kick the shit out of the Qing armies that were methodically destroying everything in their path like an industrial-grade riding lawnmower mulching a LEGO village into plastic dust.
A badass Ming Dynasty two-handed sword modeled after the Japanese no-dachi.
Koxinga was pretty much unmatched in his prowess as a warrior, barricading any and all entry points to Fukien with his massive nutsack and routinely bitch-slapping the Qing every single time they tried to bust in and kick the shit out of the Last Ming Emperor. Unfortunately, his battlefield successes didn't end up doing his beloved Emperor a whole hell of a lot of good, because about six months after Koxinga won a major victory Koxinga's dad betrayed the Emperor, stabbed his own son in the back, sold out to the Qing, and surrendered Fukien to the enemy. Koxinga's dad had been promised by the Qing that he could keep his position and title if he'd just give up the Emperor. The Qing rewarded him for his loyalty by kicking him in the balls, dismantling his pirate armada, drowning the Emperor in a well, and then dragging Koxinga's dad back to Beijing in chains, where they'd toss him in a dungeon and let him rot for 15 years before summarily executing him. Which sucked.
This, as you might imagine, left Koxinga in a little bit of a jam. The Emperor and the Dynasty he was supposed to protect were dead. His father was incarcerated. He was an outlaw. All that remained of the largest pirate army in world history was himself and about a dozen of his closest commanders, all holed up in a small Confucian temple in some remote part of the mountains.
But Koxinga wasn't about to give up just because the odds were ridiculously-skewed against him and the rest of mainland China had already accepted their New Manchurian Overlords. Fuck that. He took out his zippo, ceremonially torched the scholar's robes he wore at Nanking University, and swore that he would only wear full plate armor until such time as the Qing were thrown out of China by their balls and the Ming Dynasty was restored to its rightful place on the Imperial Throne. One by one, his officers vowed to follow him.
Koxinga headed to Xiamen province, the last bastion of Ming Loyalty, and went to work rebuilding an army. Using his own charisma, his fervent dedication for kicking ass, and his exceptional ability to make the Qing Armies look like a bunch of inept spear-swinging morons straight out of a Dynasty Warriors game, the Last Hero of the Ming Dynasty assembled a massive army of loyal warriors and started beating ass everyone ass was to be found, kicking the shit out of his enemies in a series of campaigns that lasted almost 15 years. He constructed a mighty fleet of over 3,000 warships, which he used not only to attack Qing coastal fortifications and settlements, but also to raid their shipping pirate-style to finance his operations (a funding that was augmented by continuing his father's black-market silk dealing). On land, he attacked towns and forts, destroyed the Qing Armies with ambushes and badass fire-bomb attacks, personally leading from the front and beheading any of his officers cowardly enough to order their troops to retreat. One cool story involves a Qing warlord who ruled over an "impenetrable" island fortress waking up hung over and finding Koxinga standing in his bedroom. Another claims that Koxinga was standing on a hill coordinating an attack on a rival town one time, and when he bent down to tie his sneakers a cannonball came flying where his head just was and blew up Koxinga's shield-bearer, so Koxinga responded by capturing the town and having every artilleryman in the city executed. Yet another war story claims he was able to set up underground explosives that were capable of being remote-detonated (in 1659!), and when the Qing marched out to the battle he blew the ground out from under them and wiped them out. Every time he attacked, he won. Every time the Qing sent navies out to stop him, "putrid corpses and tangled wreckage strewed the shores of Xiamen."
Koxinga continued to build up his forces, and then in 1659, with his supplies and food getting short, he launched an all-out attack on the city of Nanking in a balls-to-the-wall effort to re-take the former Imperial Capital and re-establish the Ming Dynasty once and for all. His attack failed – he took the outer walls with a brilliant attack, but then all his men raided the liquor stores and got wasted, giving the Qing the opportunity to charge out and destroy them for their incompetence by setting them all on fire with flaming arrows and fire boats. Koxinga's massive army of 170,000 troops and 3,000 warships was reduced to a mere 15,000 soldiers – enough to win a few battles, but not enough to overthrow the Qing Dynasty.
But, as we've already seen, Koxinga was not a dude who understood the meaning of the phrase, "you're totally boned so why the fuck don't you just give up." Instead of calling it a day, he instead decided to do something totally fucking insane – he loaded 25,000 loyal citizens on a fleet of 800 warships, left China in Battlestar Galactica-style armada, and decided to conquer Taiwan from the Dutch and set up a new Chinese government-in-exile over there.
That's right folks – Koxinga, the Pirate King of Taiwan, took 25,000 people across the 100 mile Strait of Taiwan, landed his last 15,000 soldiers on the shores of Taiwan, besieged the Dutch-controlled Fort Zeelandia – their only military presence on the island – for nine months, assaulted it with a screaming horde of sword-swinging madmen, threw the "red-haired foreigners" out on their ginger asses, took their commander's daughter to be his concubine, and declared himself King of Taiwan, creating the first Chinese-controlled government of Taiwan in the process.
From his new base in Taiwan, Koxinga built up the infrastructure of the island, continued his trade routes with Japan, Southeast Asia, and Britain, beheaded a bunch of people, and swore to regroup, rebuild, and re-take China from the barbarian Manchus. Oh, and he also sent an envoy to the Philippines to inform the Spanish governor that he had about a year to prepare before Koxinga showed up and conquered the Philippines as well.
He never really got the chance. He died of malaria six months after takign Taiwan, at age 37, but his work was already done – he'd set up a dynasty that would rule Taiwan for 20 years (it would eventually be conquered by the Qing in 1683), and created a legacy that would see temples built in his honor across Taiwan. Today he's revered as the founder of Chinese Taiwan and a hero in Japan, China, and Taiwan.