Tonio Andrade

 

On his book Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China’s First Great Victory over the West

Cover Interview of December 09, 2011

A close-up

The book begins with an execution. Frederik Coyet, the leader of the Dutch colony that Koxinga captured, has been blamed for the lost colony, even though it wasn’t his fault. His reflections (he survives his execution day) set up the main questions of the book.

Coyet is a proud and cantankerous man, just one of a number of fascinating characters in the book, such as a whiny Dutch admiral with a speech defect, a foolhardy Chinese farmer, a couple of enterprising African boys, and a whole cast of pirates, rogues, and hustlers, including Koxinga’s father, a good looking but rather impoverished young man who made himself into the most powerful pirate in the world, far more impressive than the measly Caribbean buccaneers we hear so much about. The most fascinating character is Koxinga himself: proud, charismatic, stern, and unstable. He tended to get mad and chop off heads. He died in a fit of insanity.

All of these characters are drawn right from the historical sources. In fact, the sources I had available—sources that few historians have ever used—were remarkably rich. I tried to draw out from them the revealing personal details so that the book would be fun to read.

My goal was to talk about big issues in history through vivid narrative, and I hope that the book is read by people who might not ordinarily think of dipping into the 17th century.