The following is part 3 of a condensed version (with footnotes omitted) of “African and Japanese Mercenaries in Southern China and Southeast Asia, c. 1550-1650” by Richard Bradshaw, in Kokujin Kenkyu 76 (April 2007), published by the Japan Black Studies Association.
Chinese and Sino-Japanese merchant-pirates also recruited Japanese and African mercenaries. In the early Zheng Zhilong (or Nicholas Iquan), father of the famous Coxinga, recruited about 500 African soldiers from Macao to form his “Black Guard”. Zheng Zhilong and his raider-traders were a multicultural military force that included numerous Japanese, but he trusted his African troops more than any of his other soldiers and used them as his bodyguards.
After the Manchus took Beijing in 1644, Zheng Zhilong and his son Coxinga became staunch supporters of the Ming loyalist resistance in southern China. Zheng Zhilong was eventually convinced to join the Manchus and took 300 of his African mercenaries with him. These African soldiers were soon incorporated into the Manchu army and fought as a separate unit against Ming loyalists who Zheng Zhilong’s son Coxinga continued to support. Coxinga’s mother was Japanese, his bodyguards were African and Indian, and his chief envoy was an Italian missionary. Among his ‘Chinese’ loyalist troops were German and Dutch defectors as well as Japanese and Sino-Japanese soldiers.
In 1661 Coxinga attacked the Dutch fort at Zeelandia in Taiwan. Dutch commander Frederick Coyett complained about Coxinga’s elite musketeer ‘black-boys,’ some of whom he suspected of being recruited from among former slaves of the Dutch. Once again, these African mercenaries fought alongside Coxinga’s multicultural force of Japanese as well as Indian and Malay soldiers. The Dutch were defeated and forced to leave Taiwan and to this day Coxinga is considered a national hero by both mainland and Taiwanese Chinese because he is regarded as the first to defeat European imperialists. He did so with the help of Japanese, African and European mercenaries.
Evidence of encounters between Japanese and Africans in many other locations in Asia during the early modern period can undoubtedly be uncovered. In c. 1600, the Captain of Malacca had a Japanese bodyguard, for example.
The study of encounters between Japanese and Africans on land and at sea between Africa and Japan can add to our knowledge of African and Japanese diasporas as well as to the history of Japanese-African relations. This brief account of a few encounters between Japanese and African mercenaries in southern China and Southeast Asia during the early modern period will hopefully stimulate more research on this topic.