MRI Forum 22

"Zheng He's Fleet—The Pinnacle of Ancient Chinese Shipbuilding"

by Vong Kit Han & Ana Brito, Macau Maritime Museum


Summary of the Presentation

Due to China's geographical features, maritime activities emerged very early on. As the long history of shipbuilding unfolded in China, the unique style of Chinese junk was born. Over the years, the Chinese junk was refined by shipbuilding craftsmen's persistent trials and experiments, leading to numerous innovations and inventions that had far-reaching implications for the world's maritime development at large. Zheng He's gigantic ocean-going fleet in the 15th century reflected the competence of finely built Chinese ships to conquer the oceans. Unfortunately after Zheng's expeditions, shipbuilding in ancient China was thrown into stagnation as a result of the nation's conservative political atmosphere, and the superiority of Chinese ships was soon superseded by western ships. Consequently the ancient art of Chinese shipbuilding was forgotten and buried in history.

Thanks to the painstaking efforts by historians and shipbuilding experts, the ancient art of Chinese shipbuilding has been rediscovered and the layout plans of several ships have been successfully reproduced with the help of modern Chinese shipbuilding techniques. It is the aim of this presentation to showcase the tradition and characteristics of ancient Chinese shipbuilding through the analysis of a series of scale ship models made on the basis of the aforementioned ship plans.

Profiles of the Speakers

Vong Kit Han, responsible for the Maritime History Unit of the Macau Maritime Museum since 1992. Bachelor in History from the University of Jinan in Guangzhou; Master in History from the University of Macau (Instituto de Estudos Portugueses). Her current research interests focus on Chinese maritime history, particularly ancient shipbuilding and Zheng He's voyages.

Ana Brito, responsible for the Maritime Ethnology Unit of the Macau Maritime Museum since 1995. Graduated in Anthropology from ISCTE, Lisbon and obtained an M. Phil. Degree in Anthropology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1995. Former lecturer in the Macau Polytechnic Institute and presently invited lecturer of the Institute for European Studies of Macau (IEEM) and the Institute for Tourism Studies of Macau (IFT) where she has been teaching a course on local festivities for the Higher Diploma in Cultural Tourism. Her research interests are the fishing community, traditional shipbuilding, local festivities and religion.