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TAIWAN: The Island of Formosa.


A small, but historically important map of Taiwan made by the American Commodore Matthew C. Perry, a key part of his proposal to have the United States annex the island.



This small, but important, map of Taiwan is based on a draft made by Commodore Matthew C. Perry of the U.S. Navy in 1854, when his party visited the island as a side trip during his famous mission to open Japan to Western trade.   The impressively accurate general outline of the island is largely based upon British hydrographic surveys, although the northern regions are predicated on original observations by Perry and his officers.  Major habours and key towns are carefully labeled, while the mountain ranges along the east coast and northern regions are expressed through hachures.  The coast of Mainland China appears in the upper left corner, while the Pescadores Islands appear immediately to the west.


Following the United States’s acquisition of a Pacific coastline in the 1840s (California, Oregon, Washington State), she was eager to expand her presence in the Pacific trade.  The resounding success of the British colony of Hong Kong (founded 1842) as trading base encouraged American action, as well as serving as a warning that the U.S. was well behind it competition in the race to exploit East Asia’s riches.


In 1852, President Millard Fillmore deiced that America’s first bold foray into East Asia was to forcefully open up Japan to Western (and preferably American) trade and political influence.  Since the 1630s, Japan’s ruling military feudal regime, the Tokugawa Shogunate, had enforced a policy of national isolation, Sakoku.  This policy banned virtually all Japanese contact with Westerners, save for the presence of a Dutch trading base at Deshima (Nagasaki).  Fillmore believed that a show of naval force would shock the, by then, fragile Shogunate into signing a trade treaty with America.


Commodore Matthew C. Perry (1794 – 1858), a veteran officer from a most distinguished Rhode Island naval family, was charged to lead the expedition.  During two visits to Japan in 1853 to 1854, Perry managed to coerce the Shogunate onto agreeing to open their country to Western trade (ratified by the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, July 29, 1858).


As a side trip, during his second visit to Japan, Perry and his party landed at Keelung Harbour, an excellent natural port located near the northern tip of Taiwan (Formosa).  From 1683 up to the 1850s, Taiwan had been an under-developed region of the Chinese Empire, with Han Chinese migrants progressively displacing the indigenous peoples.  Perry’s party remained on the island for ten days, assessing the virtues of the northern regions, during which they found a large ‘Coal Field’ near the harbour (as noted on the present map).


The combination of the excellent harbour and the coal deposits (in the era of steam ships) rendered Keelung an ideal potential location for an American trading base.  Upon Perry’s return Stateside, bearing a draft of the present map in hand, he advocated that the U.S. annex at least the northern part (if not all) of Taiwan from China to serve as trading base, in the same way that Hong Kong had benefitted Britain.  This idea was taken very seriously in Washington, with Peter Parker, the U.S. Consul in Shanghai working tirelessly to advance the proposal.  However, the rise of internal tensions in America, which led to the U.S. Civil War (1861-5), placed the Taiwan annexation plan on ice.  By the time the conflict had concluded, the opportunity had passed.


The present map was published within Perry’s official account of his expedition to Japan and East Asia, written on his behalf by Francis L. Hawks, Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan: performed in the years 1852, 1853, and 1854, under the command of Commodore M.C. Perry, United States Navy, by order of the Government of the United States (3 vols., Washington, D.C. 1856), of which the present map appeared in volume 1, opposite page 482.


References: OCLC: 495568781.


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