Zheng Chenggong (Chinese: 鄭成功) was a military leader whose loyalty to the Ming dynasty led him to fight the new Manchu Qing (Ch’ing) dynasty until his death in 1662; because he recovered Taiwan from Dutch colonial rule, I heard a great deal about him while I was teaching English in Taiwan, and I wondered why he was known in English as Coxinga. It turns out Joel of Far Outliers has wondered too, and in the course of reading (and blogging) Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty by Jonathan Clements he found the answer:

Coxinga … was said to have greatly impressed the bookish Emperor of Intense Warring [the remaining Ming pretender who had retreated to Fuzhou as the Manchus invaded]. Still only a youth of twenty-one, the former Confucian scholar was made assistant controller of the Imperial Clan Court. The childless Emperor also commented that he was disappointed not to have a daughter he could offer to Coxinga in marriage, and bestowed him with a new name. Once Lucky Pine [Fukumatsu], then Big Tree [Da Mu, a nickname from Sen 'Forest'], the boy was now given the appellation Chenggong, thereby making his new given name Zheng Chenggong translate literally as ‘Serious Achievement’. In a moment of supreme pride for his family, the boy was also conferred with the right to use the surname of the Ming ruling family itself. It amounted to a symbolic adoption, and he was often referred to as Guoxingye, the Imperial Namekeeper. Pronounced Koksenya in the staccato dialect of Fujian, and later transcribed by foreign observers, the title eventually transformed into the ‘Coxinga’ by which he is known to history.

Or, as the Wikipedia article linked above to his name puts it, “Koxinga or Coxinga is the Dutch Romanization of his popular name ‘Lord with the Royal Surname’ (國姓爺).”


  1. xiaolongnu says:

    Fab! I always wanted to know what was up with this name. Thanks Joel and LH for clearing that right up.

  2. I’m still a little confused. The childless Emperor of Intense Learning gave him a Japanese name? (Fukumatsu)

  3. I’m confused about the Fukumatsu too. Joel?

  4. Sorry. I excerpted that part earlier, in a New Year’s post entitled Coxinga’s Sino-Japanese Parentage. It’s one of the things that made we want to read the book, not just his parentage, but the international milieu he moved in: Portuguese priests, Dutch traders, Japanese samurai, African bodyguards, Taiwanese aborigines, Manchu generals, and a wide assortment of Chinese characters of different regions, classes, professions, and loyalties. Coxinga’s father, Nicholas Iquan, met his mother in Hirado, but later married a more respectable Chinese lady from his home province of Fujian.
    In retrospect, I suppose that post could work as a literary kadomatsu to welcome in the New Year.

  5. The perishing dynasties kept up appearances as long as they could. Thus, the retreating “Emperor of Intense Warring”.
    A fairly detailed account of the last days of the Jurchen Chin dynasty has been translated. In the end they were trapped in a small provincial town controlling a few hundred square miles of land, but the court ritual and grand proclamations continued as usual.

  6. Chikamatsu’s “The Battles of Coxinga” is my favorite Japanese puppet play! It makes much of how a half- Japanese guy saves China. The play opens on a beach in Japan.
    I bought the Clements book a few weeks ago after reading about it in a blog that you linked to — I forget which one. Is Coxinga having another 15 minutes of fame?

  7. I’d always assumed that Coxinga was a Portuguese transcription of the Mandarin guo xing ye, because of the x in the name (x = /ʃ/ in Portuguese), thus coxinga = co-xing-a. But the internet seems adamant that it’s from the Dutch, in which case I guess x must be /ks/ (does/did Dutch use the letter x?), and coxinga = cok-sing-a, transcribing the Fukienese pronunciation of guo xing ye.

  8. Exactly. The Wikipedia gives the Taiwanese/Fukienese form as Kok-sèng-iâ/Kok-sìⁿ-iâ, of which Coxinga is a reasonable representation (though it leaves out the palatal glide or whatever that -i- is).

  9. michael farris says:

    I thought I was the only one who thought it looks Portuguese … It _still_ looks portuguese to me and I still hear [ko'SiNg@] in my mind’s ear when I look at it.

  10. I don’t think it’s quite as cut and dry as LH makes out. Early Portuguese accounts of China frequently use “x” in romanizing Chinese names (Xanadu from Xangdu from Shangdu 上都 is a well-known example). On the other hand, when does Dutch use “x” rather than “ks” ?
    Looking at the original Dutch translation of the letter from Coxinga to Frederick Coyett dated 1662, (images of the manuscript are available at, his name is consistently given as “Coxinja” rather than “Coxinga”. Googling also produces a lot of Dutch pages which refer to the “Zeeroover Coxinja”. Coxinja certainly gives a better representation of the final syllable of the Chinese Guoxingye.
    In “An Introduction to Taiwanese Historical Materials in the Archives of the Dutch East India Company” at, Coxinga’s name is apparently spelled as “Cocxinja” in the Dutch sources, which supports the hypothesis that the “x” in his name represents the initial sound of the second syllable rather than a combination of the final sound of the first syllable and first sound of the second syllable.
    So I wonder when the spelling “Coxinga” ia first attested?

  11. xiaolongnu says:

    I don’t know that x is totally unheard-of in early modern Dutch; there’s a 17th century painter called Weerix, if memory serves (no clue about his first name — Petrus?). Sorry, not my field.

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