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Hero or Villain? The evolving legacy of Shi Lang in China and Taiwan

  • RONALD C. PO (a1)

For over two centuries, prominent officials, literary figures, and intellectuals in China have paid special attention to the legacy of Shi Lang. Compared to many other historical figures, Shi Lang remains essential to our understanding of the cross-strait tension and the murky outlook for its future. Although the image of Shi Lang continues to mean different things to different individuals, to some degree, his significance to one particular community is also communicated to other communities. By analysing most of the previous appraisals and examinations of Shi Lang, we can reveal the historical narratives of this man as being continually under construction in a shifting and mutually reinforcing process. This article aims to examine the ways in which the legacy of Shi Lang has percolated throughout Chinese history, since the Qing dynasty, and also how it continues to function in the present day. It is fascinating to not only delineate how the story of Shi Lang has evolved as a legacy, but also to explore the rich variety of ways in which an individual or a community has adapted the narratives that make up the story of Shi Lang to suit the demands of different historical settings and perspectives.

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This article owes a great debt to Robin D. S. Yates, Grace Fong, Philip Buckley, Andrea Janku, Lily Chang, and the two anonymous reviewers, whose insights and suggestions are crucial to its gestation. I am very glad to have the opportunity to record my gratitude here.

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1 Wills, John E., Mountain of Fame: Portraits in Chinese History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 224.

2 Andrade, Tonio, Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China's First Great Victory over the West (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), pp. 124136; Wills, John E. Jr, ‘The Seventeenth-century Transformation: Taiwan under the Dutch and the Cheng Regime’, in Rubinstein, Murray A. (ed.), Taiwan: A New History (New York: Routledge, 2015), pp. 84106; Clements, Jonathan, Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty (Stroud: The History Press, 2005).

3 Sheng, Bing, ‘Zheng Chenggong yu Shi Lang zhijian de enyuan [Kindness and Enmity between Zheng Chenggong and Shi Lang)’, Lishi yuekan, vol. 38 (March, 1991), pp. 8689.

4 Dreyer, Edward L., ‘The Myth of “One China”’, in Chow, Peter C. Y. (ed.), The ‘One China’ Dilemma (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 2628.

5 Hang, Xing, Conflict and Commerce in Maritime East Asia: The Zheng Family and the Shaping of the Modern World, c. 1620–1720 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), p. 81.

6 Jiexian, Chen, Bu titou yu Liangguo lun [Not Shaving Hair and the Two-states Theory] (Taipei: Yuanliu chubanshe, 2001), p. 149; Ran, An, Shi Lang da jiangjun: Pingding Taiwan chuan qi [The Great General Shi Lang: Pacifying Taiwan] (Beijing: Xinhua chubanshe, 2006), pp. 511.

7 Xueyu, Zhou, Shi Lang gong Tai di gong yu guo [Contributions and Faults of Shi Lang's Attack on Taiwan] (Taipei: Taiyuan chubanshe, 1990).

8 Qian, Lin, ‘Kangxi tongyi Taiwan de zhanlue juece (The Kangxi Emperor's Strategic Decision to Unify Taiwan)’, Qingshi yanjiu, vol. 3 (August, 2000), pp. 4449.

9 John R. Shepherd, ‘The Island Frontier of the Ch'ing, 1684–1780’, in Rubinstein, Taiwan, pp. 107–132; Mote, Frederick W., Imperial China 900–1800 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 849; Wanyao, Zhou, Haiyang yu zhimindi Taiwan lunji [Essays on Maritime and Colonial Taiwan] (Taipei: Lianjing chuban shiye gufen youxian gongsi, 2012), p. 182; Tan, Zhang, Zheng Jing Zheng keshuang jishi [Histories of Zheng Jing and Zheng Keshuang] (Taipei: Taiwan yinhang, 1966); Yuzhai, Huang, Ming Yanping wang sanshi [The Kingdom of Yanping the Third] (Taipei: Haixia xueshu chubanshe, 2004).

10 Weiqing, Shi, Shi Lang nianpu kaolüe [A Chronicle of Shi Lang's Life] (Changsha: Yuelu shushe, 1998); Kanori, Ino, Taiwan bunkashi [A Cultural History of Taiwan], vol. 1 (Taihoku-shi: Nanten Shokyoku, 1994), pp. 187191.

11 See, for example, Wills, John Jr, ‘Maritime China from Wang Chih to Shih Lang [Shi Lang]’, in Spence, Jonathan and Wills, John (eds.), From Ming to Ch'ing: Conquest, Region, and Continuity in Seventeenth-century China (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), pp. 228234; Wachman, Alan M., Why Taiwan? Geostrategic Relationales for China's Territorial Integrity (Singapore: NUS Press, 2008); Weiqing, Shi, Shi Lang zai Taiwan xunyede yanjiu [Shi Lang's Land Policies in Taiwan] (Shanghai: Shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe, 2015); Zaiquan, Xue, Shi Lang yanjiu (Beijing: Zhongguo Shekui kexue chubanshe, 2001); Xiaotian, Zhang, Jinhai da jiangjun [The Great General who Pacifies the Ocean] (Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 2006); Bilian, Xie, Shi Lang gong Taiwan [Shi Lang's Attack on Taiwan] (Tainan: Tainan shizhengfu, 2005).

12 Cohen, Paul A., Speaking to History: The Story of King Goujian in Twentieth-century China (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2009), pp. 228229.

13 Burner, Jerome, Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), pp. 3435.

14 Ibid., p. 60.

15 Cohen, Speaking to History, p. 234.

16 For instance, Guan Yu was portrayed as a loyal national hero, and even defined as the God of War (see Louie, Kam, ‘Sexuality, Masculinity and Politics in Chinese Culture: The Case of the “Sanguo” Hero Guan Yu’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 33, no. 4 (October, 1999), pp. 835859; Duara, Prasenjit, ‘Superscribing Symbols: The Myth of Guandi, Chinese God of War’, The Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 47, no. 4 (November, 1988), pp. 778795), whereas Yue Fei was widely seen as a patriot and national folk hero (see Yanming, Gong, Yue Fei pingzhuan [Assessment on Yue Fei] (Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe, 1969)); Zengyu, Wang, Jinzhong baoguo: Yue Fei xinzhuan [For the Country: A New Biography of Yue Fei] (Shijiazhuang: Hebei renmin chubanshe, 2001). These canonizations both perpetuated and reflected their accumulating popularities among ordinary people.

17 Elvin, Mark, Changing Stories in the Chinese World (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), p. 5.

18 guan, Zhongguo diyi lishi dang'an (ed.), Kangxi qiju zhu [The Chronicle of the Kangxi Emperor], vol. 2 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1984), p. 1028.

20 Lin, Xia, Minhai jiyao [Important Events Off the Coast of Fujian] (Nantou: Taiwan sheng wenxian weiyuan hui, 1995), juan shang, 17a.

21 Shenxing, Zha, Deshulou zachao (Yangzhou: Jiangsu Guangling guji keyinshe, 1986), juan 9, 8a ; Kangqi, Chen, Lanqian jiwen (Taipei: Wenhai chubanshe, 1970), juan 12, 11b.

22 Liuqi, Ji, Mingji nanlüe [The Miscellaneous Records of the Late Ming] (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1995).

23 E'ertai, , et al. Baqi tongzhi [History and Statutes of the Eight Banners] (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1987), juan 192, 2301.

24 Xia Lin, Minhai jiyao, p. 14.

25 Zi, Xu, Xiaotian jinian (Taipei: Datong shuju, 2000), p. 964.

26 Shujing, Huang, Taihai shicha lu [Record of a Tour of Duty in the Taiwan Strait] (Haikou: Hainan chubanshe, 2001), p. 82.

27 Yonghe, Yu, Pihai jiyou [Small Sea Travelogue] (Taipei: Taiwan yinhang, 1959). This edition is an edited print version of Pihai jiyou. If we consult the original version (printed in 1700 [Kangxi 39 nian]), Yu Yonghe did not mention Shi Lang either.

28 Liangbi, Liu, Chongxiu Fujian Taiwan fuzhi [Recompilation of the Fujian Gazetteer] (Taipei: Taiwan sheng wenxianhui, 1977), pp. 4041; Guangdi, Li, Rongcun yulu xuji [A Sequel to the Rongcun's Quotation] (Beijing: Beijing chubanshe, 2000), juan 9, ‘Shi Lang’. For further discussion, see Dengshun, Lin, ‘Shi Lang Qiliu Taiwan yi’ tansuo [An Examination on Shi Lang's Proposal for Keeping Taiwan]’, Quoli Tainan shifan xueyuan xuebao, vol. 38 (2004), pp. 4359.

29 Japan encroached Taiwan in 1873 (Mudan Incident), whereas the French did so in 1884 (the Sino-French War).

30 Zhidong, Zhang, Zhang wenxianggong zouyi (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2002), ‘dianzou 1’, 1242. Guangxu Shuntian fuzhi (Taipei: Wenhai chubanshe, 1965), juan 101, ‘renwu zhi 11’, 2638.

31 Ke, Xu, Qingbei leichao [Qing Petty Matters Anthology] (Taipei: Taiwan shangwu yinshuguan, 1983), 11a; Guanying, Zheng, Shengshi weiyan [Commentaries on the Splendid Era] (Beijing: Zhongguo renmin daxue chubanshe, 2014), 25a.

32 Jin Wuxiang, Suxiang suibi (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1995), 21a.

33 Kikuchi, Yuko, Japanese Modernisation and Mingei Theory: Cultural Nationalism and Oriental Orientalism (London: Routledge Curzon, 2004), pp. 181182.

34 In the Republican era, Shi Lang fared better than some other Qing figures who were harshly criticized as emblems of national humiliation. Zheng Guofan, Zuo Zongtong, and Li Hongzang were three significant examples. See Po, Ronald C., ‘“Zeng Zuo Li” yi jiancheng de youlai yu neirong hanyi zhi yanbian [The Triumvirate in Late Imperial China: A Discussion on the Abbreviation “Zeng-Zuo-Li”]’, Si yu yan, vol. 48, no. 3 (September, 2010), pp. 136.

35 See, for example, a five-part account of Zheng Chenggong's heroic achievements in the Beijing newspaper Shibao (The Truth Post), dated 17–22 March 1934.

36 See Huang, Ray, 1587, a Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981), pp. 156188; Ko-wu Huang, ‘Remembering Shi Kefa: Changing Images of a Hero in Late Imperial and Early Republican China’, a paper presented at the New England Regional Meeting of the Association for Asian Studies (25 October 2003); Jiang, Sun and Donglan, Huang, ‘Yue Fei xushu: Gonggong jiyi yu guozu rentong [Narratives of Yue Fei: Public Memory and National Identity]’, Ershiyi shiji, vol. 86 (December, 2004), pp. 88100.

37 Erxun, Zhao, Qing shigao [Draft History of [the] Qing] (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1977), juan 260, liezhuan 47.

38 Heng, Lian, Taiwan tongshi [Complete History of Taiwan] (Shanghai: Shanghai shudian, 1991), juan 30, liezhuan 2.

39 Croizier, Ralph C., Koxinga and Chinese Nationalism: History, Myth, and the Hero (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977), pp. 5052.

40 Renjie, Jiang, Jiegou Zheng Chenggong [Deconstructing Zheng Chenggong] (Taipei: Sanmin shuju, 2006), pp. 118123.

41 Zhou Xueyu, Shi Lang gong Tai di gong yu guo, p. 24; Ge, Peng, ‘Minzu dajie, Qianqiu gongzui: Tan Pan Mingxiang Qing de Shi Lang [Contribution and Blunders: On Shi Lang the Defector from the Ming to the Qing]’, Lishi yuekan, vol. 38 (March, 1991), pp. 7885.

42 Tsai, Shih-shan Henry, Lee Teng-hui and Taiwan's Quest for Identity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), pp. 137162; Zhidong, Hao, Whither Taiwan and Mainland China: National Identity, the State and Intellectuals (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010), pp. 5459; Hsu, Chien-Jung, The Construction of National Identity in Taiwan's Media, 1896–2012 (Leiden: Brill, 2014), p. 153.

43 Tedards, Bo, ‘Trajectories of Democratization’, in Blundell, David (ed.), Taiwan since Martial Law: Society, Culture, Politics, and Economy (Berkeley and Taipei: University of California Press & National Taiwan University Press, 2012), pp. xlixlxxvi; Miao, I-wen, ‘Cultural Tendency on Taiwan: A Politicised Product of Global–Regional–Local Nexus’, in Neder, Christina and Schilling, Ines-Susanne (eds.), Transformation! Innovation? Perspectives on Taiwan Culture (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2003), pp. 215235.

44 Suttler, Robert, Foreign Relations of the PRC: The Legacies and Constraints of China's International Politics since 1949 (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2013), pp. 149180; Keith, Ronald C., China as a Rising World Power and Its Response to Globalization (Abingdon: Taylor & Francis, 2005); Ford, Christopher, The Mind of Empire: China's History and Modern Foreign Relations (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2010), pp. 79.

45 Shisheng Zhao, ‘Strategic Dilemma of Beijing's Taiwan Policy: Chinese Nationalism and the Making of the Anti-Secession Law’, in Chow, The ‘One China’ Dilemma, p. 201; Shepperd, Taryn, Sino–US Relations and the Role of Emotion in State Action: Understanding Post-Cold War Crisis Interactions (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 7273.

46 Mackerras, Colin, The New Cambridge Handbook of Contemporary China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 185.

47 Yiling, Fu, ‘Zheng Chenggong yanjiu de ruogan wenti [A Few Questions about the Research on Zheng Chenggong]’, Fujian luntan, vol. 3 (April, 1982), p. 5.

48 Wutong, Chen, ‘Lun Shi Lang tongyi Taiwan de lishi goingji [An Assessment of Shi Lang's Achievement in Unifying Taiwan]’, Zhongguo bianjiang shide yanjiu, vol. 3 (March, 1996), pp. 1724; Sizhi, Wang and Yuancong, , ‘Shi Lang yu Qing chu tongyi Taiwan [Shi Lang and Qing Unification of Taiwan]’, Qingshi yanjiu, vol. 1 (January, 1997), pp. 5969.

49 See, for example, Mingzhu, Tang, ‘Shi Lang yu Qingchu Taiwan de tongyi [Shi Lang and the Unification of Taiwan in the Early Qing]’, Yunnan jiaoyu xueyuan xuebao, vol. 10, no. 4 (August, 1994), pp. 5560; Qinhua, Yang, ‘Ping Shi Lang zai weihu zuguo tongyi zhong de lishi zuoyong [The Role of Shi Lang in the Protection of a Unified China]’, Shehui kexue, vol. 11 (April, 1996), pp. 6872.

50 Lin Qian, ‘Kangxi tongyi Taiwan de zhanlue juece’, pp. 44–49; Wang Zhengyao, ‘Jianlun Shi Lang zai fazhan liang'an guanxi fangmian de zhongyao gongxian [Shi Lang's Role and His Contributions to Development on the Taiwan Strait]’, Zhonghua wenshi wang (online journal, dated 1 December 2004).

51 In fact, in one of his articles, published in 1997, Wang Hongzhi compares Zheng Chenggong with Shi Lang, but the article generated very little impact on academia. See his Zheng Chenggong, Shi Lang tongyi Taiwan geyou qigong [Zheng Chenggong and Shi Lang Had Similar Achievements in Unifying Taiwan]’, Yanhuang chunqiu, vol. 6 (June, 1997), pp. 6668.

52 Shi Weiqing, Shi Lang nianpu kaolüe, p. 3.

53 Wu Boya, ‘Shi Lang dui Qingchao tongyi Taiwan de gongxian [Shi Lang's Contribution to Unifying Taiwan during the Qing]’, Zhonghua wenshi wang (online journal, dated 29 March 2005).

54 See, for example, Weiqing, Shi (ed.), Shi Lang yu Taiwan [Shi Lang and Taiwan] (Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press, 2004); Zaiquan, Xu (ed.), Quanzhou wenshi yanjiu [Research on the History and Literature of Quanzhou] (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 2004).

55 Shilang da jiangjun official CCTV website: (accessed 6 March 2019).

56 ‘According to China National Radio, the TV drama that features Shi Lang describes how the patriotic general successfully completed the unification of the country and artistically presented the heroic deeds of General Shi Lang in pacifying Taiwan and realizing national unification’, cited in ‘The Great General Shi Lang’ on the website entitled ‘East-South-West-North’ ( (accessed 30 April 2019)).

57 Official website of Shi Lang yanjiuhui: (accessed 6 March 2019).

58 Su Shuangbi, ‘Zaitan lishi renwu pingjia de jige wenti [Commenting Again on Some Problems in Assessing Historical Figures]’, in Shi Weiqing, Shi Lang yu Taiwan, p. 8. This paragraph is translated by Xing Hang.

60 In fact, even though Shi Lang argued for not abandoning Taiwan, he also approached the Dutch and the English with the idea of selling the island to them in exchange for commercial advantages. See Wei-chung, Cheng, ‘Shi Lang Taiwan guihuan Helan miyi (Shi Lang's Secret Proposal to Return Taiwan to the Dutch)’, Taiwan wenxian, vol. 61, no. 3 (September, 2010), pp. 3574.

61 Kongzhao, Deng, Zheng Chenggong yu Ming-Zheng Taiwan shi yanjiu [Study of Zheng Chenggong and Taiwan History during the Ming-Zheng Period] (Beijing: Taihai chubanshe, 2000), pp. 226235.

62 Shuangyi, Zhu, ‘“Zheng Jing shi Taidu fenzi” shuo zhiyi’, Xiamen daxue xuebao zhexue shehui kexueban, vol. 167, no. 1 (2005), p. 70; Youxiong, Wu and Zaiquan, Xu, ‘Ruhe zhengque pingjia Shi Lang’, in Youxiong, Wu and Zaiquan, Xu (eds.), Shi Lang yanjiu (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 2001), pp. 167172.

63 Hang, Xing, ‘The Contradictions of Legacy: Reimagining the Zheng Family in the People's Republic China’, Late Imperial China, vol. 34, no. 2 (December, 2013), p. 13.

64 Skinner, William, ‘Presidential Address: The Structure of Chinese History’, Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 44, no. 2 (February, 1985), p. 277.

65 Dean, Kenneth, Taoist Ritual and Popular Cults of Southeast China (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 21.

66 See Laliberté, André and Lanteigne, Marc, The Chinese Party-state in the 21st Century: Adaptation and the Reinvention of Legitimacy (London: Routledge, 2008).

67 To the PRC, Zheng is an anti-imperialist hero whose defeat of the Dutch has been the subject of not a few television dramas and films.

68 Xianghui, Cai, ‘Shi Lang yu Taiwan shanhou’, in xianggongsuo, Tainan xian Jiangjin (ed.), Jiangjunxiang xiangming suyuan ji Shi Lang xueshu yantaohui lunwen ji [Conference on Shi Lang and the Origin of a Place Called Jiangjunxiang (the General Village)] (Tainan: Jiangjun xianggongsuo, 2002), p. 67.

69 Jianrong, Lu, Ruqin Taiwan: Fenghuo jiaguo sibainian [Invading Taiwan: 400 Years in Crisis] (Taipei: Maitian chubanshe, 1999).

70 Wong, Young-tsu, ‘Security and Warfare on the China Coast’, Monumenta Serica, vol. 35 (1981–83), pp. 113, 168169.

71 See Zhou Xueyu, Shi Lang gong Tai de gong yu guo.

72 Taizhong Shixing zongqinhui official website: (accessed 30 April 2019).

73 Online description of the General Shi Lang Memorial Museum: (accessed 6 March 2019).

74 Online version of the interview: (accessed 6 March 2019).

75 In assessing the legacy of Zheng Chenggong, Xing Hang already pointed this out in his ‘The Contradictions of Legacy’.

This article owes a great debt to Robin D. S. Yates, Grace Fong, Philip Buckley, Andrea Janku, Lily Chang, and the two anonymous reviewers, whose insights and suggestions are crucial to its gestation. I am very glad to have the opportunity to record my gratitude here.

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Modern Asian Studies
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