CHINESE SHIPS, SEA DEFENSES AND MARITIME TRADE IN THE QING DYNASTY

SHIPPING IN THE QING DYNASTY


Qing-era trading ship

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Vessels of the Qing dynasty sailing in East Asia often had on their sterns words "Voyage with the Tailwind" to signify the sailors' wish for a safe and smooth voyage. Here the monsoon season ran usually after the summer solstice, breezing a flow of southwest winds from July through September, and northeast in November and December. Merchants set their sails and went with the seasonal fair winds to conduct their business everywhere. As trading activities in East Asia became increasingly active in Tang and Song periods, the monsoon not only propelled the vessels, but also the economies and civilizations. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“The early Qing Dynasty was marked by a period of frequent war engagements and high instability along the coastal regions. The Revolt of the Three Feudatories and Koxinga's resistance against the Qing government led to the imperial court to issue evacuation orders and sea bans. This brought great disruptions to the livelihood of the coastal population who relied heavily on sea trades and completely obliterated their sea trade business. To stabilize the coastal community, Emperor Kangxi (year in power: 1662-1722), after conquering Taiwan in 1683, issued a decree to the scholars in September commanding the initiation of sea trades.

The decree was recorded as follows: "The initiation of sea trades will provide favorable results to the coastal population of the Fujian and Guangdong province. It shall benefit residents of the two provinces by allowing them to be self-sufficient in civil trades and finance. We are responsible for the initiation of such trade as it is beyond the power of both the peasants and merchants. By imposing minimal taxes, it allows us to build armies for the two provinces without creating a heavy burden on the residents. It also reduces our cost of transportation. It promotes economic freedom and protection for both the people and our government, which warrants its implementation." Based on this account, we can see the level of importance that Emperor Kangxi attached to coastal trades in providing freedom and protection for the people as well as a source of revenue for the government. \=/

“Given that the Manchu warriors were good at archery on horseback, lacking talent at sea, the empire built a new coastal navy with the Green Camp as the main force, a rare move in her typical military system, the core of which had always been the Eight Banners....Toward the later part of the dynasty, under the influence of Western knowledge, a navy school was established in Fuzhou to train new officers. Two navy troops, one North and the other South, were also installed, hence stumbling onto the road to a modernized navy... Frequent campaigns produced many famed officers, such as Shi Lang (1621-1696), Lee Changgeng (1750-1807), and Wang Delu (?-1842), whose battle merits earned them respective ennoblement. However, with extremely prosperous coastal trade, gangs of pirates emerged. Cai Qian (1761-1809), Zhu Fen (?-1808), and Chang Baozai (1786-1822) during the Jiaqing reign were among the most powerful, causing much social havoc to the coastal areas.” \=/

Website on the Qing Dynasty Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Qing Dynasty Explained drben.net/ChinaReport ; Recording of Grandeur of Qing learn.columbia.edu Ming and Qing Tombs UNESCO World Heritage Site: UNESCO World Heritage Site Map ; Forbidden City: FORBIDDEN CITY factsanddetails.com/china; Wikipedia; UNESCO World Heritage Site Sites World Heritage Site ; Temple of Heaven: Wikipedia Wikipedia UNESCO World Heritage Site UNESCO World Heritage Site ; Empress Dowager Cixi: Court Life During the Time of Empress Dowager Cixi etext.virginia.edu; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Books on Cixi royalty.nu; The Last Emperor Puyi Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; His Widow's Account hartford-hwp.com/archives; Puyi Biography royalty.nu/Asia Chinese History: Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization depts.washington.edu ; Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia ; Books: "Cambridge History of China" multiple volumes (Cambridge University Press); "Chronicle of the Chinese Emperor" by Ann Paludan, "The Last Emperors: A Social History of the Qing Imperial Institutions" by Evelyn S. Rawski (University of California Press, 1999). "Forbidden City" by Frances Wood, a British Sinologist,

Coastal Defenses During the Qing Dynasty


Qing-era military station

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “With the sea routes accessible for commerce, also came the need for coastal defense. From the Ming dynasty on, the politico-economic tributary system intended for strengthening the international prestige of China greatly furthered the trade along the coast. Selected ports were opened for this purpose; at the same time, the defense system to protect China's coast against both domestic and foreign pirates also came into existence gradually. People started to actively learn about, to explore, and to manage oceans and seas, achieving progress in shipbuilding and navigation technologies. As China gained more and more knowledge about the world overseas, her coastal society was also experiencing rapid changes. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“China's coastline extends more than 18,000 kilometers, twice as long as the Great Wall. The Qing emperors attached great importance to coastal defense and repeatedly stressed the point to their ministers and officials. To effectively manage maritime affairs both in offense and defense, the court stationed the navy force along the coast and constructed forts strategically placed. \=/

The National Palace Museum’s collection of maps includes Qing-Era “Coastal Defense and Fortification Map of Zhejiang and Fujian” is a long scroll paper painting (length: 38 centimeters; width: 1060 centimeters): that comprises eight totally separate maps”. One of the maps “not only includes natural landscapes related to marine navigation such as mountains, islands, islets, reefs, gravel, entrances to water as well as critical oceanic boundaries and sailing-related advices, it also offers an extensive account of the major coastal military facilities in Zhejiang and Fujian such as naval camps, naval bases, fort, stations, ports, warships, Mazu temples, and towers, adequately revealing the vigorous operations performed by the Qing government toward the coastal defense in the area.” \=/

Qing Dynasty Hire the British to Improve Its Navy and Coastal Defenses

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “As far as naval development by the end of the Qing Dynasty was concerned, although the Qing Government was capable of making and importing ships, the training of senior naval officers required a great deal of time and effort. Therefore, recruiting professionals from abroad and sending soldiers to study overseas became a contingency strategy for the Qing Court. Because the former could show immediate results, therefore, the Qing Court commenced the hiring of Western naval professionals. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“After the experience from the Sino-French war of 1884-85 — in which a French naval force defeated the Chinese in the Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam — , the Qing Government placed an even greater emphasis in terms of its coastal defense, and attempted to hire more British professional to train its naval forces.

A scroll from 1885 depicts a naval training exercise at Taku Forts on the Hai River, about 60 kilometers southeast of Tianjing: “The Northern Naval Squadron (Dingyuan,zhenyuan, zhiyuan, chaoyong, and yangwei [types of iron-clad ships) and the Southern Naval Squadron (nanchen, nanrui, and kaiji) were positioned in the deep water regions of Shannan while the five torpedo ships were positioned in the shallow water regions to complete formation drills and target practice. The port's own target practice began shortly in the afternoon, where Krupp breech loading cannons measuring 24 centimeters by 12 centimeters were used for repeated shots. Finally, a simulation involving eight naval mines were conducted.”

Tongan Ships


travelling barge

Tongan ships were large traditional sailing vessels that emerged in the middle of the Qing Dynasty. Named after the place they were constructed, Tong-an, Fujian, they were first widely used in the private sector and by pirates before finally becoming the naval mainstay of the Qing court. Before the arrival of steamships in China, Tong-an ships were the most representative sailing vessels. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

Tongan ships possessed a winch at the bow, an item not found on its predecessor, the ganzeng ship. The number and height of the masts were also greater for the Tongan ship than the ganzeng ship, indicating speed superiority. Furthermore, the side of the large-scale Tongan ships were also noticeably higher than the other ships. Major features on the ships were its masts, sails, rudder, cannons, hatch covers, frames, cabinets, narcissus doors, embrasures, cannon platforms artilleries, powder kegs, sergeants, flags and ropes. Flags on the front mast and small sails installed on the main and rear mast were used for wind direction detection. A painting showing below the deck depicts clear pictures of rabbits' ears, horseback trotting, a water snake, keel, and rudder. \=/

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Tong-an ships were originally used as merchant ships. However, due to their ease of operation, they gradually became used by the navy during the late Qianlong Era. During the Jiaqing Reign, the Qing Court began using large Tong-an ships to suppress pirates and maintain naval superiority. After William Pitt Amherst's arrival in China, Emperor Jiaqing rebuilt the naval base in Tianjin with Tong-an ships. \=/

“The sudden uninvited arrival of an English diplomatic envoy, William Pitt Amherst (1773-1857), to Tianjin in June, 1816 and his subsequent arrival in Tongzhou raised Emperor Jiaqing's serious concerns regarding the level of security of the region. Emperor Jiaqing, who was known for engaging in vigorous attempts to wipe out the pirates in the southeast, summoned chancellors to organize the building of a naval base in Tianjin. Direct Viceroy Xu Kun proposed the building of four large-sized Tongan ships and four small-sized Tongan ships as the naval base, and the assignment was to be carried out by the provinces of Jiangnan, Zhejiang, Fujian, and Guangdong. As the Ji and Cheng-type Tongan ships were cross-ocean vessels which were more suited for the broader oceans in Tianjin, Wang Zhiyi, Viceroy of the Fujian and Zhejiang Province, suggested the building of the Ji and No. 1-type Tongan ships instead. To allow the Tongan ships from the various provinces to incorporate the same shapes and forms, Wang Zhiyi compiled two booklets describing the various types of lumber to be used including their size and thickness. \=/

Qing-Era Ships and Navigation Devices


Keying junk in America

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Sailing at sea in Qing dynasty required a variety of vessels and navigational equipment, depending on specific hydrologic conditions. Overall, Fujian and those provinces along the north coast employed the Ganzen and Tongan ships, Guangdong the Mi yachts.... All of these vessels were modeled after the private and merchant ships. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

Feng ships were used for maritime trade in Southeast Asia. An imprinted dated to 1755 “contains images of the feng ship used by diplomats. The "Feng Ship Illustration" provides a detailed image showing the feng ship's overall structure. The feng ship possessed traits similar to common fu ships with double mast, double sails, pointed bottom base, double anchors, and multiple train crews. However, because the trip to Ryukyu was longer, feng ships were generally larger than the other vessels that were used. Compared to the common fu ships, the biggest difference that could be found on the feng ships were the vast number of studding sails, such as the touqi and toumu that extended forward along the bow of the ship, the headpiece and chahua placed at the top of the large mast, and weisong that was hanged on the Mazu sea goddess flag post. They were different from the bamboo sails used for main sails, and were made from lighter sail materials to provide additional sailing power. In addition, an extra anchor was equipped and fixed to the left side of the ship. To pray for smooth voyages, the shipbuilders installed holy lamps at the stern, erected a holy room in the tail cabin, hanged Mazu flags on the Mazu flag post, and designed five round-shaped bird totems along both sides of the ships. \=/

“Auxiliary sails were often added to pick up extra speed; for navigation compasses and sandglasses were key instruments, the former to determine directions and the latter to measure time. The traditional Chinese sea voyage system, called 24-shan, are exactly the same as the one used in astronomical devices; both counting time in the unit of geng. For keeping the vessels in good condition, regular maintenance was conducted at military shipyards to change and cleanse sails. \=/

The compass used a 24-way positioning system as well as a simplified 8-way positioning system. The glass drain, that is, the hourglass, was used to control the steering time. Maps were often ancient nautical charts that conveyed the geographical information by using two units of measurement, which were position and navigation time. \=/

Tongan Warships


Late Ming-era war junk (1562)

The biggest and most heavily armed of the Tongan ship family were also class 1 and class 2 warships. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “ The No. 1-type Tongan ship was 22 meters long with a mainmast measuring 22 meters high. It was smaller than the Ji-type Tongan ship and has a normal-size mainmast as opposed to those observed in the Ji-type ships. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“The No. 1-type Tongan ship possessed six primary cannon outlets, which were used for two 600-kg red cannons, two 480-kg red cannons, and two 300-kg cannons. In addition, four 60-kg and four 48-kg artilleries were used for a total of 14 firing outlets. \=/

“The Ji-type Tongan ship was 26 meters long with a mainmast measuring 29 meters high. As shown in the diagram, the biggest difference between Tongan ships and old naval ships was the three masts, which boosted the sailing speed as a result of more sails. Going by the Imperially Endorsed Regulations and Precedents on War Vessels of the Fujian Province, the height of the mainmast in Tongan ships was approximately three meters higher than those found in ganzeng ships, leading to the inference that a headpiece (a supplementary sail) could be attached to the mainmast. \=/

“The Ji-type Tongan ship possessed eight primary cannon outlets, which were used for two 1,440-kg red cannons, two 1,200-kg red cannons, and four 900-kg red cannons. In addition, one 480-kg and sixteen 84-kg short-ranged artilleries were added for a total of 25 firing outlets.” \=/

Maritime Trade During the Qing Dynasty

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Despite a short period of ban on maritime trade during the Qing dynasty, the empire in general maintained a close tie with many overseas countries via trade and commerce, especially the ones in East and Southeast Asia. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“The commercial relations usually ran on the typical for-profit models of merchants. Among these, a unique tribute-trade system worked both politically and economically, in which the imperial China, with her abundant resources, attracted foreign lands to form a lord-and-vassal relationship. In return for the tributes, the court bestowed the guests with many times precious presents. The latter were not only allowed to trade, but also waived import and export taxes. \=/

The control of the import and export supplies can be described as strict during the Qing Dynasty. A memorial dated to 1765 “shows that even for tributaries as humble and obedient as the Ryukyu Kingdom, only products such as silk and medicine were allowed for purchase. The sales of items such as the historical records, weaponry, gunpowder, and ox horns were prohibited. When Qianlong banned the export of silk in 1759, countries such as the Ryukyu Kingdom were prohibited from the purchase of satins. It was only because of the request made by the King of the Ryukyu Kingdom that Qianlong began to adopt the example set by the English and permitted the sale of native silk up to 5,000 catties and silk up to 3,000 catties for a total of 8,000 catties. As these silks were raw silks that were unsuitable for weaving, the Ryukyu Kingdom later requested that the raw silks be converted to satins for 2,000 catties instead. The conversion rate which was adopted in the calculation did not follow the straightforward ratio of 1:1 but rather the example set by the English at 1:1.2. To show the court's good grace, Qianlong marked "why not?", granting permission to the said request.”\=/


Chinese junk Keying


Fishing During the Qing Dynasty

A memorial from the Qing Dynasty reads: “One has to make a living off one's given circumstances. So those who live by the seas live off the seas. From salt and fish to overseas commerce and religious beliefs, everything is centered around and is influenced by the seas. On the other hand, some had to rely on fishing to sustain themselves and their families. The more capable ones went to seas to try their luck with commerce. Both groups were subject to the violent and capricious temper of the sea gods. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“During the fishing seasons, the Provincial Commander of Zhejiang was required to lead the navy for oceanic supervision to oversee the coastal operations. The affairs recorded a memorial submitted by Qiu Lianggong in 1816 provided a detailed account concerning some of these operations. The fishing seasons in Zhejiang took place in the months of April and May, a period which was marked by the yellow croakers roaming the sea. Croaker hunting was not limited to the ships of Zhejiang, it also included those from the provinces of Fujian and Jiangnan. Fearing "retaliation attempts made by fishing boats after suffering losses," it was necessary for the governor to dispatch the navy to supervise the sea. The vessels that could be found in the sea were not exclusive to fishing boats, it also included merchant ships which allowed immediately trades. Qiu appeared to have been supervising the oceans during the entire two months, as "all of the official documents" had been delegated to the Assistant Regional Commanders for processing. Only those of high urgency were sent "directly to the Provincial Commander to process." \=/

Ryukyu Kingdom: an Example of a Tribute State of China

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Among the many East and Southeast Asian vassal states of the Qing dynasty, Chosun (Korea), the Ryukyu Kingdom, and An Nam (Viet Nam) paid regular tributes to China. The tributary envoys from the former two mostly came over the land routes, while the latter, from far out beyond the East China Sea, had to risk storms to make their tributary journeys. Palace memorial reporting the return to Fujian from Ryukyu. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“The major reason why some countries were willing to become a tribute state to China was because of the material supplies that can be gained or purchased from China during the tribute process. These were material supplies that the tribute state lacked or was short of. Therefore, from the standpoint of the tribute state, the greater the number of tribute occurrences, the greater it could benefit the state. \=/

According to a memorial dated to 1788: “The Ryukyu Kingdom (Okinawa) was able to dispatch its ships a multiple number of times to China: it began with a request for a title to be bestowed, where the envoys and a ship were dispatched; once the titles were granted, another group of envoys and a ship were sent carrying tributary gifts from Ryukyu Kingdom to thank the emperor, first arriving Fujian and later reaching the capital; next, tributary gifts were offered during the regular, periodic tribute period; finally, upon the envoys' return to Ryukyu, another pickup ship would be sent to Fujian. \=/


Various kinds of 18th century Chinese ships


Dealing with Disasters at Sea During the Qing Dynasty

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: A record of oceanic disaster dated to 1861 “entails a number of Korean citizens who were set adrift by fierce winds to the Ryukyu Kingdom. Although two of China's tribute states were involved, the affair itself was relatively straightforward and possessed its own standard operating procedure. Concerning the question as to why the citizens were not sent back by the Ryukyu Kingdom directly to Korea given that direct transport was available between the two countries could be explained by the following reasons: First, when considering the tribute states such as Korea, Ryukyu, and Annam (now Vietnam), the distance between each tribute states was relatively farther than that of China. In addition, as both Korea and Annam were connected to China, the escort (by land) became much safer; second, China, as the "mother" state amongst the tribute states, the resort to China as the primary system of rescue was fairly natural; third, China was unmistakably the dominant power during the Ming and Qing Dynasty, although the members of the tribute states were not able to speak Chinese, they had a moderate command of the Chinese characters. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Based on these reasons, the Ryukyu Kingdom sent the Korean citizens during their routine tribute mission to China. Listed below were the procedures taken by the Fujian officials to settle the Korean citizens: First, the victims were sent to the Min and Houguan County and properly treated. Located just outside Fuzhou, the two counties were an appropriate selection to settle the victims. Questions still remain to be solved, however, as to why the victims had to be located separately when only nine of them were present. Second, due to unfamiliarity with the incidents which had befallen these victims and language barriers that existed, it became apparent that a translator would be needed. \=/

“Fortunately, as one of the victims had a slight knowledge of Chinese characters, the individual was thus "given a pen and a paper to put their experience in writing." The officials subsequently learned that all nine individuals were from Jeolla who, on Sept. 25 of Xianfeng's 9th year of reign (1859), went on a fishing trip and was set adrift by fierce winds before landing in the Ryukyu Kingdom. "On Nov. 17 of Xianfeng's 10th year of reign (1860), they boarded the tributary ship from the Ryukyu Kingdom, before finally arriving Fuzhou on Feb. 4 of Xianfeng's 11th year of reign." Question remains unanswered as to why a period of two and a half months was taken by the Ryukyu Kingdom in bringing the tribute gifts. Regarding the method to send back the Korean citizens, the following passage was recorded, which read "according to conventional practice… [the citizens] were to be escorted back to the capital by land for the Ministry of Rites to have them returned to Korea (by land) along with the Korean tribute envoys." However, the emergence of the Taiping Army who had caused obstructions to the routine travel routes had forced the officials to contemplate the option of keeping the Korean citizens in Fujian for the time being. The victims responded by saying that they had been forced away from their home for two years since the incident, and as they could no longer bear the desire to return home, they sincerely wished to be sent home immediately. At this precise moment, a group of civil and military officers in charge of transporting rice to the capital were on their way to the capital by taking the sea route. Despite prohibited in the original operating procedure, the officials saw the need to "to be able to re-evaluate the current situation and improvise accordingly," and subsequently sent the Korean citizens to the capital. At the same time, the officials sent rapid requests informing each coastal province to prepare the corresponding naval support to provide escort. The responsible departments were also notified.” \=/

Compensation for a Shipwrecked Tribute Vessel and Its Victims


According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The said pickup ship in this memorial, however, suffered a violent wind attack which caused the ship to strike a rock, crushing the ship. All the goods that were on the ship and money were afloat. The countermeasure and procedure which the local officials took following the incident were as follows: first, the survivors and the luggage items salvaged were checked and verified, after which the victims were sent to Fuzhou to settle as in conventional practice. According to a similar incident which had occurred in 1747, disbursement from the public fund which contained food, money, and clothing would be provided for each individual. The Xinghu Department was also delegated to ensure compliance with the applicable laws. As the pickup ship sank after being destroyed and no other transportation vehicle was available for the Ryukyu Kingdom envoys to return home, the "ships deemed unfit for usage due to damages suffered" plan derived from the cases in 1747 and 1753 were adopted to aid the victims: 1,000 taels would be disbursed from the public fund to the Ryukyu Kingdom envoys to allow them to purchase the materials necessary to build the boat. In an organized and orderly fashion, the local officials showed the ability to learn from past experience, and handled the incident flawlessly. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“An attachment was also provided that second diplomat Ruan Tingbao had died from illness in Pingyuan County, Shandong. Provincial Governor of Shandong requested for a grant of 500 taels to be brought back by the survivors. Such request was likely to have been forwarded by the Ministry of Rites to the Fujian Province, who processed the request in the following manner: Tekeshen, the Governor in charge of tribute state affairs, issued a response after listening to the suggestions offered by the first diplomat of the Ryukyu Kingdom and official Weng Bingyi. Tekeshen stated that should a person die in China under such circumstance, the individual needed not to be transported back to his/her home country, and he/she could be buried, in reference to the old cases, in the province of Fujian. After a review of the old cases, it was confirmed that such execution was indeed valid, and the deceased was thus buried in Fujian with an attached note. According to the old cases, however, only 20 taels were required to be rewarded for the deceased. \=/

“Although unrelated to tribute affairs, personal items and luggage carried by victims who were forced to enter the customs as a result of poor weather conditions essentially earned the same legal rights as those coming in on the grounds of tribute affairs; they were therefore exempted from tax duties. This reason behind this decision was likely due to the following facts: one, victims of shipwrecks had already suffered losses from the disaster; two, other than to engage in tribute-related affairs, victims of shipwrecks often had no interest in coming to China. They could also be fisherman who were fishing out in the area, but were forced to the coast due to violent weather conditions, that is, their original objective of travel was not the engagement of trades. This memorial explains the tax collection procedure involving the goods carried by the victims of the said shipwreck: the Taijiang taxation protection and verification section under the Fujian Customs calculated the taxable income and reported the number to the chancellor in charge of the Fujian Customs (which was Yade in this instance), who then had to decide on whether or not to collect this money. The chancellor later decided to follow conventional practice and exempted the tax payment. He subsequently reported the incident and his decision to the imperial court.” \=/

Sea Gods and Superstitions of Coastal People During the Qing Dynasty

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Religious beliefs along the coastal areas are markedly different from those of the inner land where the typical object of faith and worship is Guan Gong, a strong, upright, and virtuous figure from the north. The coastal folks, however, seek the motherly protection of the female deity Mazu. Her tender image comforts their hearts, providing refuge from the seas. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

When travelling mariners “were often challenged with the danger of stormy weathers, and as a result various gods were being worshipped to ensure their safety and smooth sailing. One memorial dated 1806 reveals that three gods were worshipped on the feng ships: Mazu, Shangshu, and Nagong are based on actual people in Chinese history. \=/

“Shangshu — whose surname was Chen and given name was Wenlong — was a native of Xinghua, Fujian. He was the top minister in 1269 in terms of his ability to respond to the emperor's questions, and he held the title of Canzhizhengshi (a member of the Chancellor's cabinet) as recorded in the History of Song. Because of his bravery in saving naval vessels during the Yongle Era, he was bestowed the title of the Naval Shangshu. Nagong — whose surname was Bu and given name was Yan — was a native of the Nakou Village, Fujian. A scholar in the late Ming Dynasty, he was absentminded one early morning and saw poisonous snakes being dumped into the well water. To save the village from drinking the water, he volunteered to try the water as proof, and was subsequently deified. He gained prominence during the Five Dynasties Era as a result of various supernatural occurrences, and was the most highly worshipped god by sailors. \=/

Mazu and the White Conch: A Symbol of Smooth Sailing


golden Mazu

A memorial dated to 1733 concerning the celebration of Mazu, according to the National Palace Museum, Taipei reported: “After recovering Xiamen in 1680, Kangxi crowned Mazu as a goddess. After Shi Lang conquered Taiwan, Kangxi also ordered to have the Mazu Temple built in Putian County (southeast of modern day Putian City), Meizhou. On the request by Ryukyu Kingdom diplomat Haibao, the local officials of Meizhou were to perform religious celebrations every spring and fall. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“After Zhu Yigui forces were successfully defeated in 1721, Minister Shan Jibu who was in charge on monitoring the region of Taiwan, submitted a memorial to the emperor and was granted the "Praised by the Gods and Sea (referring to Mazu)" horizontal inscribed boards, which were hanged in Meizhou, Xiamen, and Taiwan of Fujian Province Hao Yulin and Governor of Fujian Zhao Guolin therefore requested that the old Mazu Temples in Taijiang, Fujian where thousands of believers gathered to pay their respect to the goddess to follow the Meizhou scenario and be granted the emperor's horizontal inscribed boards. They also asked for the emperor to issue a decree for all citizens to perform the religious celebration of Mazu during the seasons of spring and fall. In addition, they pleaded for the emperor to command "all temples without the religious celebration of Mazu to carry out such act as she had provided unquestionable protections for those travelling on the sea," revealing the influence that Mazu had on the coastal regions of the provinces. \=/

In six memorials of cefeng (the granting of title), dated to 1800, the mentioning of the right-spiral white conch worshipped in feng ships for smooth sailing is often being brought up. Fortunately, we are finally able to learn the history and the origin of its power from one of the historical pieces. The right-spiral white conch was brought in by the Panchen Lama. When embarking on the mission to take down Lin Shuangwen's forces in 1787, Qianlong bestowed Fuk'anggan the white conch to be worshipped during the trip. Throughout the trip the sailors were met with extremely pleasant weather conditions, so after the mission was complete, the white conch became an item worshipped in the Governor-General of Fujian and Zhejiang's office. To ensure the safety of diplomat Zhao Wenkai on his trip to the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1800, Governor-General of Fujian and Zhejiang Yude submitted a memorial to the emperor requesting his permission for the white conch to be placed in the cabin of Zhao's ship. This subsequently became a tradition where future diplomats travelling to the Ryukyu Kingdom were given the white conch for good luck. \=/

Feng Ship Trip to Ryuhyu Islands


Mazu statue

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: A memorial dated to 1808 “reports to the emperor the incidents which had transpired during the trip. The trips from and to the Ryukyu Kingdom by Diplomats Qi Kun and Fei Xizhang were smooth trips that lasted only seven days each. Despite encountering storms along the way, the two were able to come out safe and unharmed. Although the ritual of succession and bestowing Sho Ko as the new king were the main objectives of the trip, the condolence ceremony held for the deceased king Sho On and the posthumous crowning were nonetheless another important mission that must be fulfilled. The imperial order used to issue the decree was subsequently kept in the Ryukyu Kingdom, serving as the country's national treasure. To thank the Qing Court for legitimizing his succession, the new king of the Ryukyu Kingdom sent his ministers to go back with the diplomats to Fujian and later to the capital city to offer their tributary gifts to the emperor. The white conch used to bring good luck for safe voyages were returned to the governor-general office for worship. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“The voyage to the Ryukyu Kingdom that Lin Hongnian and Gao Renjian embarked on lasted six days, one day faster than Qi Kun and Fei Xizhang's trip in 1808. However, the return trip was met with many twists and turns: they encountered two storms and took 11 days to arrive Wuhumen. This memorial mentioned that in return of the grace which had been bestowed upon them, the Ryukyu Kingdom offered two ships to the emperor, which left on the same day as the feng ship taken by the Qing's diplomats. After arriving Fujian, the script from the condolence ceremony was recited to worship Mazu and the god of the sea. The guanfang that belonged to the Governor-General of Fujian and Zhejiang was used in the stamping of this memorial. \=/

“When taking the sea route to Ryukyu, the Diaoyu Islands served as an important navigation mark for the diplomats. In fact, the most dangerous location throughout the voyage lied in the oceanic trenches that existed between the Diaoyu Islands and Ryukyu. As recorded in the The Ryukyu Kingdom, it read: "If fierce winds and waves are experienced when crossing the trenches, the ship crew must cast a live pig and sheep into the ocean; they must pour five dous of gruel into the ocean, burn paper ships, sound the zhengs, and beat the drums. The soldiers must put on their armor, expose their blades, and crouch as if fending off the attackers. The trenches can be defined as a boundary separating China and the foreign nations. To tame them, we must show our good grace while maintaining our prestige." \=/

An imprinted dated to 1755 “contains images of the feng ship used by diplomats. The "Feng Ship Illustration" provides a detailed image showing the feng ship's overall structure. The feng ship possessed traits similar to common fu ships with double mast, double sails, pointed bottom base, double anchors, and multiple train crews. However, because the trip to Ryukyu was longer, feng ships were generally larger than the other vessels that were used. Compared to the common fu ships, the biggest difference that could be found on the feng ships were the vast number of studding sails, such as the touqi and toumu that extended forward along the bow of the ship, the headpiece and chahua placed at the top of the large mast, and weisong that was hanged on the Mazu flag post. They were different from the bamboo sails used for main sails, and were made from lighter sail materials to provide additional sailing power. In addition, an extra anchor was equipped and fixed to the left side of the ship. To pray for smooth voyages, the shipbuilders installed holy lamps at the stern, erected a holy room in the tail cabin, hanged Mazu flags on the Mazu flag post, and designed five round-shaped bird totems along both sides of the ships. \=/

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated November 2016


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