More silk and Silk Road goods are believed to have reached the West via sea routes — often collectively referred to as the Maritime Silk Road — than by overland routes.Much of the trade on the Maritime Silk Road was carried out by Arab, Persian and Indian ships not Chinese ones. The trip was dangerous. Many ships disappeared and no one has any idea where they went down. A few went down in well-known dangerous places like the Gelasa Straight, a funnel-shaped passage between the small Indonesian islands of Bangka and Belitung, where the warm tropical waters are freckled with treacherous ship-sinking shallow reefs and submerged rocks.

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “From the ninth to fourteenth centuries, navigation flowed along sea routes in Asia. Ships both large and small plied these routes in great numbers back and forth in the seas off China and even as far as the Indian Ocean, making contact with other civilizations in East and Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and the Arabian Peninsula. With the discovery of new navigation routes in the late fifteenth century, European ships began to make their way to the East in increasing numbers, expanding the distribution of Chinese porcelains” and other goods “made for foreign trade to Europe and the West from the original areas in Asia and Africa, creating a truly global network for trade and commerce. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Sea Route of Silk Roads is the maritime trade route connecting the East and the West, by taking advantage of monsoon, ocean currents and traditional navigation technologies. Geographically, the cultural heritage of Sea Route of Silk Roads in China were distributed along the coastal lines and particularly represented by the sea port cities like Guangzhou, Quanzhou, Ningbo and Nanjing. To fulfill its function as ports, these cities had established a comprehensive eco-system including production facilities, docks, shipyards, warehouse, navigational facilities, maritime trade markets, etc. Consequently, considerable cultural monuments and sites were derived from the flourished maritime trade, urban life and cultural exchange. Chronologically, the period of Sea Route of Silk Roads covers from the Qin and Han Dynasties of China (BC 221-AD 220) to middle 19th century, when the steamship began to replace the sailboat and greatly changed the ancient navigational activities. [Source: State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China]

“The Chinese Section of Sea Route of the Silk Roads can be viewed as a cultural bridge linking different regions and nations with rich historical information. Among the heritage sites along the route, the port cities like Quanzhou. Guangzhou, Ningbo and Nanjing stand as the most important junctions. The well preserved monuments and sites in these cities embody the cultural communication among different civilizations, and witnessed the great historical events like Zhenghe's Navigation, Marco Polo's Travel, and Monk Jianzhen's Sailing to ancient Japan, etc.On the other hand, the shipyard and other maritime sites witnessed the genius exploitation of monsoon, ocean current by ancient people.

Sea Routes in Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province and Quanzhou City, Fujian Province-from Western-Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220) to Qing Dynasty (1644–1911)

South China Sea

The South China Sea lies south of Guangdong and Fujian Provinces and Hong Kong. By some reckonings it is the world's largest sea, covering 3,500,000 square kilometers (1,400,000 square miles). A marginal sea that is part of the Pacific Ocean, the South China Sea stretches from the Karimata and Malacca straits to the Strait of Taiwan and carries tremendous strategic importance. Today it carries roughly a third of the world's shipping, carrying over $3 trillion in trade each year, and accounts for a tenth of the world's fish catch, which are critical for the food security of millions of people in Southeast Asia.

In the last 2,500 years mariners for Malaysia, China and Indonesia navigated the South China Sea to trade sandalwood, silk, tea and spices. China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines all have 200-mile coastal economic zones in the South China Sea. All of these countries also claim the Spratly Islands which are in the middle of the sea Below the South China Sea is an estimated US$3 trillion worth of oil, gas and minerals. Fisheries in the South China Sea have been decimated by overfishing and polluting chemicals from shrimp farms and factories.

The South China Sea is south of China; east of Vietnam; west of the Philippines; east of the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, up to the Strait of Singapore in the western, and north of the Bangka Belitung Islands and Borneo. In recent years, China’s claim that the entire sea is it exclusive possession has been a hot international issue and a point of outrage with China. Web Sites: Wikipedia Wikipedia South China Sea Virtual Library South China Sea Virtual Library

Sea Silk Road Sites in Fujian Province

Fujian Province is warm and semi-tropical and is situated China’s southeastern coast. It is separated from Taiwan by the narrow Taiwan Straits. It has traditionally been one of China’s major windows to the world and has served as a base for China’s foreign communication. The Chinese is hometown of many overseas Chinese. Throughout the world there are more than ten million overseas Chinese of Fujian origin and many more than that if you go back a few generations.

Fujian is one of China's smaller provinces. It covers 121,400 square kilometers (46,900 square miles), is home to about 39 million people and has a population density of 320 people per square kilometer. About 65 percent of the population lives in rural areas.Fuzhou is the capital and largest city with about 5.5 million people. Xiamen is also a large city, with about four million people. About 98 percent of the people in Fujian are Han Chinese with small numbers of She one percent of the population) and Hui (0.3 percent). Fujian people speak Min, which includes Hokkien dialects, Fuzhounese, followed by Mandarin and Hakka.

The name Fujian came from the combination of Fuzhou and Jianzhou (a former name for Jian'ou) two cities in Fujian, during the Tang Dynasty. Even though it is dominated by Han Chinese, it is regarded as one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse provinces in

Places in Fujian Province Associated with the Maritime Silk Road: City of Quanzhou: 1) Liusheng Pagoda (N24 48 38 E118 43 17); 2)Wanshou Pagoda (N24 43 21 E118 40 21); 3) Stone Inscriptions at Mount Jiuri (N24 57 09 E118 31 17); 4) Kiln Site of Cizao at Mount Jinjiaoyi (N24 51 16 E118 28 02); 5)Tin Hau Temple and Site of Deji Gate (N24 53 52 E118 35 03); 6) Kaiyuan Temple (N24 55 01 E118 34 52); 7) Qingjing Mosque (N24 54 21 E118 35 13); 8) Stone Carving of Mani at Cao'an Temple (N24 46 25 E118 31 47); 9) Islamic Tombs (N24 54 38 E118 36 56); 10) Luoyang Bridge (N24 57 30 E118 40 18); 11) Zhenwu Temple (N24 52 58 E118 37 01); 12) Maritime Market of Tukeng Village at Quan Harbor (N25 09 44 E118 56 31); 13) Kiln Site of Dehua (N25 29 16 E118 15 24); 14) City of Putian Primary Temple of Mazu at Meizhou (N2 5 23 E118 8 42); 15) Tin Hau Ancestral Temple at Xianliang Harbor (N25 7 49 E119 7 30); 16) City of Zhangzhou Site of Yue Harbor (N24 25 31 E117 51 06); 17) Kiln Site of Nansheng (N24 13 34 E117 23 09);

History of Fujian

Archaeological discoveries in 2011 revealed that Fujian was inhabited in the Neolithic Age by the middle of the 6th millennium B.C.. An early Neolithic site from this period — with numerous tools made of stones, shells, bones, jades, and wheel-made ceramics and evidence of weaving — is located on Pingtan Island about 70 kilometers southeast of Fuzhou.

Ancient Fujian was the home of the kingdom of Minyue. After the fall of the Qin dynasty in 206 B.C. a civil war broke out between two powerful warlords, Xiang Yu and Liu Bang. The Minyue king Wuzhu sent his troops to fight with Liu and bet paid off. Liu was victorious and founded the Han dynasty. In 202 B.C., he restored Minyue's status as a tributary independent kingdom, allowing Wuzhu to construct his fortified city in Fuzhou as well as a few locations in the Wuyi Mountains, After Wuzhu's death, Minyue maintained its militant tradition and launched several expeditions against its neighboring kingdoms in Guangdong, Jiangxi, and Zhejiang, primarily in the 2nd century B.C. This was stopped by the Han dynasty as it expanded southward.

During the Tang Dynasty (618–906) eras a large influx of migrants settled in Fujian. The area had not been Sinicized until around this time. During the Tang, Fujian was part of the larger Jiangnan East Circuit, whose capital was at Suzhou. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279) Fujian or Guangxi was the origin of the ethnic Chinese Tran who migrated to Vietnam along with a large number of other Chinese, during the Vietnamese Ly dynasty, where they served as officials.

After the establishment of the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1279–1368), Fujian became part of Jiangzhe province, whose capital was at Hangzhou. At that time Fujian was a major trading area and like Guangzhou (Canton) was an stop on the Maritime Silk Road. Marco Polo (1254-1324) described the city of Fuzhou in Fujian Province as an "important center of commerce in pearls and other precious well provided with every amenity that it is a veritable marvel." The Fujian city of Quanzhou was "a great resort of ships and merchandises...that is one of the two ports in the world with the biggest flow of merchandise." [Sources: Mike Edwards, National Geographic, May 2001, June 2001, July 2001]

From 1357-1366 Muslims in Quanzhou rebelled in the Ispah Rebellion, advancing northward and even capturing Putian and Fuzhou before the rebellion was crushed by the Yuan. All the foreigners in Quanzhou city were massacred or deported and not surprisingly the city was shunned afterwards by international traders. After the establishment of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), Fujian became a province, with capital at Fuzhou. In the early Ming era, Quanzhou was the staging area and supply depot of Zheng He's naval expeditions to the west. The Ming and Qing (1644–1911) era were a time when Fujian both lost and absorbed refugees, particularly during 20-year of sea trade ban under the Kangxi Emperor (1662–1722), a measure taken to combat the refuge Ming government of the pirate Koxinga in Taiwan.


Quanzhou (150 kilometers southwest of Fuzhou) is the closest mainland city to Taiwan. Located just across the Taiwan Strait from Taiwan, it was once was a great city called Zaiton that was the beginning of the "Silk Road of the Sea." Marco Polo (1254-1324) described the city as filled with "all the ships from Indie" and having Hindu temples, Christian churches and mosques. He called it "a great resort of ships and merchandises...that is one of the two ports in the world with the biggest flow of merchandise." The Polos left China from Zaiton (Quangzhou) in 1281 with the Mongol princess and a fleet of 14 ocean-going ships that contained 600 people, plus sailors (Marco Polo's estimate), and two years of supplies.

The great Muslim explorer Ibn Battuta arrived here in 1344. From 1357-1366 Muslims in Quanzhou rebelled in the Ispah Rebellion, advancing northward and even capturing Putian and Fuzhou before the rebellion was crushed by the Yuan. All the foreigners in Quanzhou city were massacred or deported and not surprisingly the city was shunned afterwards by international traders. Today, many Muslims live in their old quarter of Tumen Street around the Qingjing Mosque, which has been there for more than 1,000 years. Modern Quanzhou is home to 1.6 million people and its metro area has over 6.1 million.

Websites: Travel China Guide Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books; Getting There: Quanzhou is accessible by long distance bus and high speed train. Quanzhou is served by the high-speed Fuzhou–Xiamen Railway, part of the Hangzhou–Fuzhou–Shenzhen High-Speed Railway. Travel China Guide (click transportation) Travel China Guide

Ancient Quanzhou (Zayton)

The Historic Monuments and Sites of Ancient Quanzhou (Zayton) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in.2016. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The site “is a serial nomination of the representative monuments and sites of Quanzhou (Zayton)-an important port city in China in the prosperous period of the Maritime Silk Roads. A total of 16 monuments and sites are nominated, categorised into “historical sites and relics of navigation and trade”, “historical sites and relics of multiculture” and “historical sites and relics of urban construction and land transport”, representing the prosperity of Quanzhou in the Song (960-1279 A.D.) and Yuan (1271-1368 A.D.) dynasties as an important hub of the Maritime Silk Roads from multiple perspectives. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“Quanzhou (Zayton) was an important hub of the navigation and trade routes through Indian Ocean and western Pacific from the 10th to the 14th century. It was the largest port city of maritime trade in the east in the golden age of the Maritime Silk Roads in the Yuan Dynasty (the 13th century to the 14th century). With magnificent cultural background, extensive spatial dimension of interchange, and a comprehensive system of communication facilities, “MHistoric Monuments and Sites of Ancient Quanzhou (Zayton)” exhibits the cultural exchange of the peoples from the countries along the coast of the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific in their prosperous period of commercial trade before the Age of Discovery in the 15th century. The nominated monuments and sites exhibit Quanzhou (Zayton)’s contribution to the exchange system of the Maritime Silk Roads and interchange of the Chinese people and foreigners in China on religious beliefs from the 10th century to the 14th century and their representation in the urban culture, architectural design and sculpture art.

“Historic Monuments and Sites of Ancient Quanzhou (Zayton)” testify to the development of the ocean civilization and the unique ocean culture in China’s southeast coastal area in the prosperous period of the Maritime Silk Roads from the 10th century to the 14th century as well as the tradition of exchange, fusion and harmonious co-existence of the different religious cultures in Quanzhou brought along by navigation activities.

“Historic Monuments and Sites of Ancient Quanzhou (Zayton)” is directly associated with the significant events of Zheng He’s voyages to the west and tangibly associated with the spread of Islam, Manichaeism, Hinduism and Nestorianism in the southeast coastal area of China. The monuments and sites are directly associated with the following literary works: Travels of Marco Polo, Travels of Friar Odoric, Ibn Battuta’s Rihla, Records of Foreign Countries, and A Synoptical Account of the Islands and Their Barbarians. These events, communications and works had great influences on the Chinese history as well as the world history.”

Sights in Quanzhou

Kaiyuan Monastery (on Xi Street) is one of the most beautiful temples found along the Chinese coast. Covering over 30,000 square meters, the main hall contains 100 stone pillars, each one carved with a different beautiful design. Carved on the beams are 24 flying dancers and angel-like singers. In front of the main hall are two 750 year old stone towers, the oldest in China. Qingjing Mosque (on Tumen Street) is modeled after the Great Mosque in Syria. It is over 1000 years old.

Chongwu Ancient Town a historical site reputed to be "one of the largest ports in the world" by Marco Polo. Built in 1384 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to fight against the Japanese pirates, the town is the best-preserved T-shaped stone-walled city in China. Some of the building are made with heavy local granite, is a prominent feature of the town. A large sculpture park is located on the narrow strip south of the fortress, between the city wall and the beach. The stone carving artworks are worth a look.

According to the Chinese government website: “The town is also famous for its uniquely dressed up Hui'an maidens, who wear short cyan jackets and skintight black hip huggers which flare out the legs, but they carefully cover their heads with colorful scarves and conical hats. Hui'an maidens are well known for their work ethic and kindness Admission: 25 yuan (US$3.93) per person;

Historic Monuments and Sites of Ancient Quanzhou (Zayton) includes, the report to UNESCO says, “a multitude of property types, which demonstrate the prosperity of Quanzhou between the 10th and 14th century, the thriving period of the Maritime Silk Roads. In terms of navigation and trade, the property has included major infrastructure sites for an ocean trade port, such as docks, pagodas for navigation, management authorities, temples for god and goddess of the sea and commodity production sites, all of which are in relatively good integrity. The 16 monuments and sites, with related geographical features and abundant archaeology relics, represent all the values of the serial property.

Near Quangzhou

South Putuo Temple (at the foot of Five Old Men's Peak) was built in the 8th century and covers over 30,000 square meters. It boasts magnificent main halls and minor buildings, 28 jade Buddhas and tens of thousands of Buddhist scriptures written in both Chinese and foreign languages.

Meizhou Island (halfway between Quangzhou and Fuzhou) is a small island close to the shore of Putian and regarded as the home of goddess Matsu, the patron deity of fishermen and sailors in southern China and East Asians. Meizhou is regarded as the birthplace of Matsu, or Mazu, and the place she died. During the Ming Dynasty many temples dedicated to her were built across China. These temples have also been built in other countries with large numbers of Southern Chinese inhabitants. Matsu is said to have been a small girl plucked from the ocean by fisherman during a tempest in A.D. 975. After she died at the age of 27 she was worshipped as the Sea Goddess, and became an important deity for Chinese living along the coast. The temple that honors her sits on hill and offers fine views of the sea.

Pilgrimages and beach vacation are two reasons people come to Meizhou Island. Jiubaolan beach is located in the southwest of the island. Its soft sand and clean sea have earned the beach the nickname "China's Hawaii." Erwei Stone Park, a cluster of amazing stone landscapes, is also worth seeing; Admission: 65 yuan (US$10.22) per person. Guanghua Temple on mainland Putian is also worth checking out.

Sea Silk Road Sites in Guangdong Province

Guangdong Province covers 179,800 square kilometers (69,400 square miles) and has a population density of 630 people per square kilometer. About 57 percent of the population lives in rural areas. Guangzhou is the capital and largest city, with about 13.2 million people. Some parts of the province are so densely populated that in some places hundreds of houses are squeezed into a few acres of land where there are no streets, no yards, no trees; nothing except for houses.

Han Chinese make up the overwhelming majority of the province's population. The largest subgroup of Han Chinese in Guangdong are the Cantonese people, followed by the Teochew people in Chaoshan and the Hakka people in Huizhou, Meizhou, Heyuan, Shaoguan and Zhanjiang. There is a small Yao population in the north. Other smaller minority groups include She, Miao, Li, and Zhuang. A 2005, survey counted 79.1 million permanent residents and 31 million migrants who lived in the province for at least six months of the year.

Places in Guangdong Province Associated with the Maritime Silk Road: City of Guangzhou (Nanhai Temple and Site of Dock (N23 07 46 E113 15 51); 23) Guangxiao Temple (N23 07 46 E113 15 51); 24) Minaret of Huaisheng Mosque (N23 07 46 E113 15 51); 25) Tomb of Ancient Islamic Savant (N23 07 46 E113 15 51); 26) City of Jiangmen Shangchuan Commerce Island (N21 44 46 E112 46 46); 27)City of Yangjiang Site of Nanhai I Shipwreck (N21 34 33 E111 52 10)

Guangzhou (Canton)

Guangzhou (130 kilometers north of Hong Kong) is China's fifth largest city after Shanghai, Beijing. Chongqing and Tianjin, with 13.2 million people (two thirds of them residents and one third of them migrants). It has long a long history as a trading port and long been regarded as the most Westernized city in China. Trade between China and Europe was largely conducted from here. In the Mao era people picked up Hong Kong radio and television stations and could buy international newspapers on the streets.

Guangzhou (formerly Canton or Kwangchow) is the capital of Guangdong Province and the gateway to southern China. Over 2,000 years old, it lies at the heart of one of the world's busiest and most thriving economic regions: the Pearl River Delta and has close contact with Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Guangzhou is (1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles) south of Beijing and 1450 kilometers (900 miles) southwest of Shanghai.

According to legend Guangzhou was surrounded by barren land before five men riding five rams came to the city pronging prosperity. The legend is immortalized with a statue that stands at the center of Guangzhou. As early as the 7th century Guangzhou had 200,000 foreign resident, including Arabs, Persians, Indians, Africans and Turks. It was the main trading center between China and Europe before Opium Wars and was where the events that sparked the Opium Wars (1839-42) took place

A settlement now known as Nanwucheng was present in the Guangzhou area by 1100 B.C. A description of the place in the 4th century B.C. said it was little more than a stockade of bamboo and mud. In 214 B.C., Panyu was established on the east bank of the Pearl River to serve as a base for the Qin Empire's first failed invasion of the Baiyue lands in southern China. In 113 B.C., through marriage, Panyu was absorbed into China's Han Dynasty.

Canton and Maritime Trade During the Tang Dynasty (618-907)

During the Tang dynasty (618-907), thousands of foreigners came and lived in numerous Chinese cities for trade and commercial ties with China, including Persians, Arabs, Hindu Indians, Malays, Bengalis, Sinhalese, Khmers, Chams, Jews and Nestorian Christians of the Near East, and many others. In 748, the Buddhist monk Jian Zhen described Guangzhou as a bustling mercantile center where many large and impressive foreign ships came to dock. He wrote that "many big ships came from Borneo, Persia, Qunglun (Indonesia/Java)...with...spices, pearls, and jade piled up mountain high", as written in the Yue Jue Shu (Lost Records of the State of Yue). In 851 the Arab merchant Sulaiman al-Tajir observed the manufacturing of Chinese porcelain in Guangzhou and admired its transparent quality. He also provided a description of Guangzhou's mosque, its granaries, its local government administration, some of its written records, the treatment of travelers, along with the use of ceramics, rice-wine, and tea. [Source: Wikipedia +]

During the An Lushan Rebellion Arab and Persian pirates burned and looted Guangzhou in 758, and foreigners were massacred at Yangzhou in 760. The Tang government reacted by shutting the port of Canton down for roughly five decades, and foreign vessels docked at Hanoi instead. However, when the port reopened it continued to thrive. In another bloody episode at Guangzhou in 879, the Chinese rebel Huang Chao sacked the city, and purportedly slaughtered thousands of native Chinese, along with foreign Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Muslims in the process. Huang's rebellion was eventually suppressed in 884. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The Chinese engaged in large-scale production for overseas export by at least the time of the Tang. This was proven by the discovery of the Belitung shipwreck, a silt-preserved shipwrecked Arabian dhow in the Gaspar Strait near Belitung, which had 63,000 pieces of Tang ceramics, silver, and gold (including a Changsha bowl inscribed with a date: "16th day of the seventh month of the second year of the Baoli reign", or 826, roughly confirmed by radiocarbon dating of star anise at the wreck). [Source: Wikipedia +]

Beginning in 785, the Chinese began to call regularly at Sufala on the East African coast in order to cut out Arab middlemen, with various contemporary Chinese sources giving detailed descriptions of trade in Africa. The official and geographer Jia Dan (730–805) wrote of two common sea trade routes in his day: one from the coast of the Bohai Sea towards Korea and another from Guangzhou through Malacca towards the Nicobar Islands, Sri Lanka and India, the eastern and northern shores of the Arabian Sea to the Euphrates River. +

Early Europeans in Canton Area

As elsewhere in Asia, in China the Portuguese were the pioneers, establishing a foothold at Macao (Aomen in pinyin), from which they monopolized foreign trade at the Chinese port of Guangzhou (Canton). Soon the Spanish arrived, followed by the British and the French. Trade between China and the West was carried on in the guise of tribute: foreigners were obliged to follow the elaborate, centuries-old ritual imposed on envoys from China's tributary states. There was no conception at the imperial court that the Europeans would expect or deserve to be treated as cultural or political equals. The sole exception was Russia, the most powerful inland neighbor.

According to Columbia University's Asia for Educators: “Many Europeans had contact with China over the centuries. When Marco Polo traveled to China in the thirteenth century, he found European artisans already at the court of the Great Khan. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, priests such as the Italian Matteo Ricci journeyed to China, learned Chinese, and tried to make their religion more acceptable to the Chinese. These contacts were made usually by individual entrepreneurs or solitary missionaries. Although some Western science, art, and architecture was welcomed by the Qing court, attempts to convert Chinese to Christianity were by and large unsuccessful. More importantly, the Chinese state did not lend its support to creating a significant number of specialists in Western thinking. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, consultants Drs. Madeleine Zelin and Sue Gronewold, specialists in modern Chinese history, Primary Sources with DBQs,]

In 1636, King Charles I authorized a small fleet of four ships, under the command of Captain John Weddell, to sail to China and establish trade relations. At Canton the expedition got into a firefight with a Chinese fort. Other battles occurred after that. The British blamed the failure in part on their inability to communicate.

Sights in Guangzhou and Guangdong That Date to the Silk Road Era

Museum of the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King (Metro Line 2, Yuexiu Park station, Exit E) .contains a jade burial suit made of pieces of jade in which royal members in Han dynasty China were buried. The museum houses the 2,000-year-old tomb of the Nanyue King Zhao Mo who ruled from 137 to 122 B.C. The tomb was discovered in downtown Guangzhou in 1983.

Guang Xiao Si Temple is one of the oldest temples in Guangzhou. In the 1970s workmen accidently broke a Buddha statue, which turned out to be hollow and had 70 little figurines inside. Unfortunately most of them were quickly snatched as good luck charms and not that many of them are left.

Site of Nanhai I Shipwreck (in Yangjiang, 150 kilometers west of Hong Kong) is the wreck of a Song Dynasty boat that sailed well before the dismantling of China's fleet during the Ming Dynasty. The Song Dynasty was a time when China's sailing fleet was well developed. Chinese boats were making it all the way to India and Africa. The boat was discovered by accident in 1987 by a team of English and Chinese researchers who were searching for an English boat thought to have gone down in the area. The Chinese archaeologists, however, weren't prepared to take on the large and complicated excavation. [Source: Lauren Hilgers, Archaeology, September/October 2011]

The Nanhai was in shallow water but the visibility was terrible. An archaeologist said: "We would have had to conduct excavations by feeling our way along the bottom of the sea floor." In 2001, archaeologists revisited the wreck with a bigger budget — $20.3 million — which was used to build a custom saltwater tank on Hailing Island in Guangdong, part of a new Maritime Silk Road Museum, which opened in 2009. Archaeologists actually lifted the boat — along with the silt in which it was buried — out of the ocean and into the tank for study. The spectacle of a 3,000-ton steel cage being pulled out of the water earned shipwrecks a place in China's popular consciousness.

Guangdong Maritime Silk Road Museum

Guangdong Maritime Silk Road Museum (in Yangjiang, 150 kilometers west of Hong Kong) houses the Nanhai No. 1 wreck and is also called the Nanhai No. 1 Museum. According to UNESCO: “The wreck of the Nanhai No 1 was found in the western part of the mouth of the Pearl River (Zhu Jiang), the starting point of China’s “Marine Silk Road”. It did once connect China with the Middle East and Europe. It takes its name from 'Nanhai' - the South China Sea. The wreck is in exceptional condition. It is thought to contain 60,000 to 80,000 precious pieces of cargo, especially ceramics.

“The wreck is currently still entirely covered by silt so that its location and shape had to be verified by sub-bottom profiler. It was recovered in an exceptional exploit – a bottomless steel container was placed over the wreck site. The lower part of the container was sharpened and it was driven into the seabed by placing heavy concrete weights on the container. The surrounding area was then dug out, the container closed from below with steel sheets and the whole raised.

“The Nanhai No. 1 is exhibited at Hailing Island close to Yangjiang, a three-hour drive from Guangdong. The museum features an aquarium with the same water quality, temperature and environment as the spot in which the wreck was discovered. Archaeologists will now excavate the vessel inside the aquarium, thereby enabling visitors to observe underwater archaeological work in a museum environment. The remains of the ancient vessel are expected to yield critical information on ancient Chinese ship building and navigation technologies. Its significance has been compared to the famous Chinese terracotta warriors discovered in Xian. Location: ten miles silver beach, Hailing Island, Yangjiang City, Guangdong Province. Hours Open: 9:30am – 5:00pm

Sea Silk Road Sites in Zhejiang Province

Ningpo (160 kilometers south of Shanghai) lies in the east of Zhejiang Province at the mid-point of the Chinese coastline. As the birthplace of Hemudu culture with a history of more than 7,000 years, Ningbo has witnessed the rise and fall of numerous dynasties. Present-day Ningbo is one of the most developed cities in Zhejiang. It is a industrialized area and port city with 8.2 million people and connections to more than 600 ports in 216 countries.

Since the Tang dynasty Ningbo has been an important commercial port. Arab traders lived in Ningbo during the Song dynasty when it was known as Mingzhou, as the ocean-going trade passages took precedence over land trade during this time. Another name for Mingzhou-Ningbo was Siming. It was a well known center of ocean-going commerce with the foreign world. These merchants did not intermingle with native Chinese, instead practicing their own customs and religion and inhabiting ghettos. They did not try to proselytize Islam to the Chinese. Jews also lived in Ningbo, as evidenced by the fact that, after a major flood destroyed Torah scrolls in Kaifeng in 1642, a replacement was sent to the Kaifeng Jews by the Ningbo Jewish community. [Source: Wikipedia

Places in Ningpo and Zhejiang Associated with the Maritime Silk Road: Baoguo Temple (N29 58 57 E121 30 57); 19) Site of Yongfeng Warehouse (N29 52 36 E121 32 36); 20) Asoka Temple (N29 50 54 E121 44 24); 21) Tiantong Temple (N29 48 21 E121 47 27)

Baoguo Temple (15 kilometers north of Ningbo) is the oldest and most completely preserved wooden structure in South China. The main hall of the present temple dates back to 1013. Located on the side of Lingshan Mountain, the temple embraces Shan Men (Mountain Gate), Tian Wang Dian (Hall of Heavenly King), Da Dian (Grand Hall), and the Scripture Repository, occupying an area of 13,000 square meters. the Grand Hall is still studied by architects and aspects of it are still a mystery. The hall was built without a single nail or beam. In addition, it is said no birds have ventured inside to make nests, nor have insects, and no dust has accumulated. The Bell Tower, the Drum Tower and the Guest House are situated along the hall. Travel Information: Seventeen showrooms are open to tourists. Location: Anshan Village, Jiangbei District, Ningbo, Tel:0574-87586317/83070065 Getting There: take bus No. 332 Hours Open: 8:30-16:30; Admission: 20 yuan; Website: (in Chinese)

Sea Silk Road Sites in Nanjing and Jiangsu Province

Nanjing (240 kilometers west of Shanghai) has a history that spans 2,400 yearsand has been the site of many important historical events. After the Mongols were driven out in the 14th century, it was the capital of China for about 50 years. It was selected because it was less vulnerable to attacks by horsemen than cities further north. Nanjing was the home of the great Chinese eunuch explorer Cheng Ho. His "tomb" is empty because he died during his last voyage and was buried at sea. Modern Nanjing (also known as Nanking) is located in the Yangtze River Delta. It is a pleasant tree-filled, industrial city with 6.5 million people in the city proper and 12 million in the metro area.

Qinhuai River (flowing for five kilometers through the southern part of Nanjing) was famous from the 14th to the early 20th century for its restaurants, brothels, and beautiful lantern boats. This part of Nanjing has recently been restored. Along its banks is the Temple of Confucius, a popular cultural center that sometimes hosts local kunju drama, tea houses, shops and inns. One can try over 200 different kinds of food at the local snack bars at the river’s entertainment area. .

Today, the scenic belt along the Qinhuai River features many attractions. Constructed in 1034 during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the Confucius Temple, known as Fuzimiao in Chinese, is a place to worship and consecrate Confucius, the great philosopher and educator of ancient China. Other attractions include Zhanyuan Garden, Ming walls, Egret Islet and China Gate. Having a boat tour along the river to enjoy Nanjing's fantastic night scene is always a great way to see the city.

Places in Nanjing and Jiangsu Associated with the Maritime Silk Road: Site of Longjiang Shipyard (N32 03 27 E118 43 55); 29) Tomb of the Boni King (N31 58 55 E118 46 37); 30) Tomb of Zhenghe (N31 54 15 E118 43 55); 31) Tomb of Hongbao (N31 52 49 E118 44 41);

Zheng He in Nanjing

Zheng He (also known as Chêng Ho, Cheng Ho, Zheng Ho, and the Three-Jewel Eunuch) was a Chinese navigator without a penis or a set of testicles whose achievements as an explorer rank with those of Columbus and Magellan but who has been largely forgotten because his travels had little impact on history. Zheng He lived much of his life in Nanjing. His huge fleet was built there and all seven of the grand expeditions led by Zheng began and ended in Nanjing. He died at sea during one of his expeditions but his tomb is in Nanjing. [Source: Frank Viviano, National Geographic, July 2005]

Zheng Ho (pronounced “jung huh”) embarked from China with a huge fleet of ships and journeyed as far west as Africa, through what the Chinese called the Western seas, in 1433, sixty years before Columbus sailed to America and Vasco de Gama sailed around Africa to get to Asia. Zheng also explored India, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, and Arabia with about 75 times as many ships and men as Columbus took with him on his trans-Atlantic journey.

According to Columbia University's Asia for Educators: “From 1405 until 1433, the Chinese imperial eunuch Zheng He led seven ocean expeditions for the Ming emperor that are unmatched in world history. These missions were astonishing as much for their distance as for their size: during the first ones, Zheng He traveled all the way from China to Southeast Asia and then on to India, all the way to major trading sites on India's southwest coast. In his fourth voyage, he traveled to the Persian Gulf. But for the three last voyages, Zheng went even further, all the way to the east coast of Africa. This was impressive enough, but Chinese merchants had traveled this far before. What was even more impressive about these voyages was that they were done with hundreds of huge ships and tens of thousands of sailors and other passengers. Over sixty of the three hundred seventeen ships on the first voyage were enormous "Treasure Ships," sailing vessels over 400 hundred feet long, 160 feet wide, with several stories, nine masts and twelve sails, and luxurious staterooms complete with balconies. The likes of these ships had never before been seen in the world, and it would not be until World War I that such an armada would be assembled again. The story of how these flotillas came to be assembled, where they went, and what happened to them is one of the great sagas — and puzzles — in world history.

Zheng He Sights in Nanjing

Zheng He Park (No. 35 Taiping Lane) is located at the original site of the private garden of Zheng He’s mansion, where he lived when he was the garrison officer of Nanjing. Formerly known as “Taiping Park” and built in 1953, Zheng He Park covers an area of 2.2 hectares. Inside the park are the Memorial Hall of Zheng He, the earliest one in China, and Shuangbao Pavilion. [Source: Annie Chen,, November 20, 2014]

Treasure Ship Shipyard Site (Zhongbao Village, on the Yangtze River, west of Nanjing in Gulou District) is a park built around a large series of ruins to commemorate the 600th anniversary of Zheng He’s voyages. Attractions inside the park include the Memorial Archway, Zheng He Bell, Museum Square, the Museum of Treasure Ships (bao chuan), the Watchtower, the Ancient Shipyard, and the Treasure Sailing Vessel.

Jinghai Temple (southwest of Lion Mountain) was ordered by Ming Emperor Zhu Di to reward Zheng He for his voyages.“Jinghai” means peace and calmness. Initially, the temple covered an area of about 2 hectares, and consisted of 80 rooms and halls including Diamond Hall, the Bell and Drum Tower, the Hall of Heavenly Kings, and the Founder’s Hall. Zheng He lived in the Jinghai Temple in his later years, and it was here he placed some of the rare treasures he took back from his many voyages.

Zheng He’s Tomb (southern part of Niushou Mountain) was built to commemorate the 580th anniversary of Zheng He’s voyages. The rectangular tomb runs for about 150 meters from north to south, and 60 meters from east to west, with a height of about 8 meters. The 28 steps in front of the tomb are divided into four groups and seven layers, signifying that Zheng He’s seven voyages.

Tianfei Palace (northern part of Jianning Road, at the foot of Lion Mountain, outside the Yifeng Gate in Xiaguan District) was built in 1407. Emperor Yongle named the palace after Tianfei to commemorate the peaceful return of Zheng He from his first voyage. Tianfei — known as called “Matsu” in Fujian, Guangdong, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia — is a peaceful goddess who serves as a kind of patron saint to navigators. To celebrate the 600th anniversary of Zheng He’s voyages, Tianfei Palace was rebuilt on the same site.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Nolls China Web site; CNTO; Perrochon photo site;; University of Washington; Ohio State University; UNESCO; Wikipedia; Julie Chao photo site

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization),, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020

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