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The Archaeological Researches into Zheng He's Treasure Ships

Rear Admiral Zheng Ming (retired), The Beijing Association for the Studies of Zheng He ' s Voyage

(Nov.2, 2004)


Whether there existed large-size treasure ships (44 zhangs) has been a key and controversial research topic in researches on Chinese Ming history and Zheng He's voyages. An important breakthrough on this issue has been achieved since the author and scholars both at home and abroad initiated Zheng He's treasure ship restoration and replication project at the end of the 20 th century. For example, “ ‘the large-size' and ‘medium-size' treasure ships were ridden by the Ming Emperor Yongle and imperial households and high-ranking officials of central organs, by which they voyaged and visited only on the inland rivers instead of the open seas after attending the ceremonious setting-sail rites. The remaining ‘small-size' treasure ships voyaged to the western ocean after replacement and replenishment in Liujia Harbor and Taiping Harbor,” [1] proposed Prof. Xu Gongsheng (Fujian Teachers University) in 2004. “The large-size treasure ships were 44.4-zhang (138-meter) long and 18-zhang (56-meter) wide, which greatly exceeded the bigness of the Fengtian Hall (renamed as ‘the Hall of Supreme Harmony' later) and Lingsi Hall (The Mausoleum of Emperor Yongle), so it seemed to perpetrate a crime of overstepping their authorities from the point of view of the feudal patriarch etiquettes,” proposed Mr. Wang Yabo (Wuhan) in 2002: “The castles on the decks of treasure ships should be in conformity with the proportional relationships and a set of believable buildings, but Zheng He was an eunuch, so he violated the legally constituted authorities if he could enjoy them.” [2] We can draw a conclusion by analyzing the abovementioned papers: The large-size treasure ships had actually been constructed and ridden by the Emperor Yongle to review Zheng He's expedition fleet. It is more justifiable .

Prof. He Guowei ( Wuhan University of Technology ) also noted in 2004: “The scale features of Zheng He's treasure ships can be summed up as three words: large and flat . …the scale proportions that deviated from the features of the sea ships,…particularly compared with such scale proportion of the beam as width-depth and width-draft proportion,…more extremely than river ships,…inevitably led to the existence of defects in marine technologies,…they were pinned down by the wind force during voyages,…the seaworthiness was not so good,…the steering was not so agile,…the intensity of hull structures was weak…” [3] We can draw a conclusion by analyzing this paper: As giant Yangtze River ships for use of an emperor, which were both “towering and incomparable” and not for voyages to the western ocean, the features of the large-size treasure ships met the service requirements and were not technological defects.

All the argumentations of abovementioned three authors make out: The large-size treasure ships recorded in ancient books had indeed existed, and been for use of the Emperor Yongle. After completing my studies, I feel there is believable new significance in these three experts' analysis and like to provide my complementary analysis for getting advices from scholars of various circles.

1. By analyzing the historical illustrations, we know that the large-size treasure ships do not voyage to seas or to the western ocean. The frontispiece of “Tian Fei Jing” (“The Worship of the Celestial Spouse”) shows the majestic posture of Zheng He's expedition fleet. The ship types on this illustration and “Zheng He's Nautical Charts” in “Wu Bei Zhi” (“The Records of Armaments and Military Provisions”) should be the main ship types of Zheng He's voyages, all were six-mast 2,000-liao sea ship type or smaller type of treasure ships instead of large-size nine-mast treasure ships. [4] , [5] , [6] These viewpoints have been demonstrated in related theses written by Prof. Tang Zhiba (Wuhan Naval Engineering University), Prof. Xin Yuanou ( S hanghai Jiao Tong University) and me, so I would not repeat them in this paper. Prof. Xin Yuanou supplemented this analysis by writing: “Marco Polo described that the six-mast Quanzhou vessels …had four masts and usually two additional small masts, which can be erected or lay down according to the weather conditions.” Both Treasure ships and Quanzhou vessels “expressed the same meaning in different words”. [9] On all accounts, these two illustrations in the literatures of Zheng He's voyage were depicted in Ming Dynasty historical books because they could prove that the 2,000-liao sea ships were the main ship type of Zheng He's expedition fleet. The large-size treasure ships ought to play the “leading roles” because they were both huge and significant. They were not depicted just because they were not put out to sea and the ship types among Zheng He's expedition fleet. But the large-size treasure ships had joined the ceremonious setting-sail rites during Zheng He's voyages, reviews of Zheng He's expedition fleet, therefore their roles and importance should not be negated or debased just because of this point.

2. By analyzing the total number of crewmen of Zheng He's expedition fleet, his main ship type is proved to be 2,000-liao sea ships. There are various records about the total numbers of ships and crewmen of Zheng He's expedition fleet for seven times. Although they were not entirely at one, they were about the same (see attached table 2) [6] . The total number of ships was between 48 and 208, and the total number of crewmen was between 27,000 and 27,800. “Judging by the crewmen, ship number and tonnage, Zheng He's expedition fleet ordinarily had more than 27,000 crewmen and 200 ships. Calculating by 200 ships that each could carry more than 130 crewmen--there were dozens of large-size treasure ships among 208 ships, the displacements of which were tens of thousands of tons. Furthermore, each large ship could carry thousands of crewmen. It shows that was not proportioned among the crewmen, ship number and tonnage,” proposed Prof. Zhangs Jian (Sichuan University) in 2004. “The ratiocination is comparatively believable that Zheng He's large-size treasure ships were ten-odd zhangs long, several zhangs wide and had a displacement of thousand-odd tons.” [13] There are snippets of records regarding the complements of each ship at that time. So, Researchist Fan Zhongyi (Chinese Academy of Military Science) specially verified the complements of naval fleets in early Ming Dynasty and then proposed: “In Zhejiang coastal areas…there were 548 escorts in early years,…one 400-liao ship with 100 crewmen; one 200-liao ship with 75 crewmen.” [7] He also analyzed the relations between the complements and dimensions of Fujian ships and escorts, and then believes: “Zheng He's 2,000-liao sea ship could carry at most 483 crewmen and at least 285 crewmen. There are about 400 crewmen” [8] . There was no ancient book discovered that records the complements of the large-size 44-zhang treasure ships. Their volumes were several times larger than the 2,000-liao sea ships. The entire complements might include approximate 1000 crewmen, because they could not lift about, handle the sails, operate the rudders and weigh the anchors with less than two or three hundreds of crewmen, there should be shifts arranged during navigation, that is to say, 300-odd crewmen and sailors should be doubled anyway and there should a believable squadron of officers and noncommissioned officers. Mr. Chen Yanhang (an expert on literature and history in Xiamen) believes too in 2004 after analysis, the large-size treasure ships “could carry 1000 crewmen”. [12] In that case, if there could be 48-63 large-size treasure ships for various voyages, viz. average 50 large-size treasure ships, together with other ships, the total number of crewmen should exceeds 50,000 crewmen. This does obviously not tally with 20,000-odd crewmen recorded in ancient books. If assuming that the main treasure ships are 2,000-liao sea ships, 50 ships per voyage and 400 crewmen per ship, there should be 20,000-odd crewmen, the other 100-odd ships are smaller eight-scull ships and 50-odd crewmen per ship, there should be 6,000-7,000 crewmen. Taking it by and large, it tallies with 27,800 crewmen recorded in ancient books. These can prove that: Zheng He's expedition fleet used dozens of 2,000-liao sea ship type treasure ships as the main ships, together with 200-odd medium-size 1,500-liao sea ships and small-size eight-scull ships, carried 20,000 sailors and crewmen. These basic types of ships played the roles of treasure ship, escort, transport and water ship, formed the integrated expedition fleet and put to the western ocean.

3. By analyzing the records on the broken stone tablets in Jin Hai Si (the Temple of the Calm Sea) in Nanjing, the main ship types of Zheng He's voyages were 2,000-liao sea ships, without noting the large-size treasure ships. But it can be concluded from the tablet inscriptions in the Tian Fei Gong (the Palace of the Celestial Spouse) at Xiaguan that Emperor Yongle had ridden the large-size treasure ships and reviewed Zheng He's expedition fleet.

After having analyzed these inscriptions on this broken stone tablet, Prof. Xin Yuanou and others noted in 2002: “Zheng He's treasure ships were 1,000-ton class 2,000-liao sea ships…. Analyzing from the contents of the tablet inscription, this tablet was built during Zheng He's voyage, and the contents involved tallied with the historical Zheng He's activities. The contents on this tablet affirmed that ships put out to sea were mostly large ships (absolutely not small ships) and there were no problems with constructing 1,000-ton class 2,000-liao sea ships by judging from the shipbuilding capabilities at that time.” [9] We can see clearly the inscriptions on this broken stone tablet: “…, In the 3rd year of Emperor Yongle (1405), admirals and their troops rode the 2,000-liao sea ships and eight-scull ships,…In the 7th year of Emperor Yongle (1409), admirals and their troops rode the 1,500-liao sea ships and eight-scull ships…” This tablet inscription recorded that the largest sea ships were 2,000-liao instead of 44.4-zhang large-size treasure ships.

O n the one hand, it shows that the recorded main ship types of Zheng He's expedition fleet were 2,000-liao sea ships instead of large-size treasure ships for use of an emperor; on the other hand, believing the recorded contents are much of the previous three times of historical voyage facts, it was possible that the large-size treasure ships for use of an emperor had not been constructed yet. Ma Huan joined Zheng He's fourth voyage, “Ying Ya Sheng Lan” (“Triumphant Visions of the Ocean Shores”) was the first document that definitely recorded the large treasure ships and their dimensions by Ma Huan (Ming dynasty) after being in company with Zheng He's voyage. Prof. Xu Gongsheng construed: “There were 63 treasure ships this time (Zheng He's fourth voyage) in total, 15 treasure ships more than the third time. ‘The large-size' and ‘the medium-size' treasure ships should be constructed by treasure ship yard specially for use of Emperor Yongle and imperial households and high-ranking officials of central organs to attend the ceremonious setting-sail rites, Ma Huan could clearly record the length and width dimensions, but the remaining 61 small-size treasure ships should be 1,500-liao to 2,000-liao Sha ships (flat bottom ships) or sea ships. The construction sites were different and the length and width dimensions, too, so Ma Huan could not record down one by one.” [1] This construe can illustrate that the broken stone tablet was built before the large-size treasure ships for use of an emperor had been constructed. “‘Ying Ya Sheng Lan' was written after that, so Ma Huan gave the circumstantial evidence that the large-size treasure ships were for the unique use of an emperor.” The main ship type of Zheng He's voyage was 2,000-liao sea ship and belongs to ‘small-size' treasure ships.

The Palace of the Celestial Spouse at Xiaguan in Nanjing was built in the 5th year of Emperor Yongle (1407) after Zheng He came back from his first voyage. After Zheng He came back from his fourth voyage in the 14th year of Emperor Yongle (1416), he applied for and got the approval of Emperor Yongle, and the “Yu Zhi Hong Ren Pu Ji Tian Fei Gong Zhi Bei” was erected in Celestial Spouse Palace with the 699-word tablet inscription that Emperor Yongle wrote in his own hands. The tablet inscription was very vivid, described the scenes of fleets and navigations. For example, “Setting the sails and swaying the stems were breezily and smoothly,” “ships keep in contact, riding the wind, controlling the flying sails,” “driving the flying vehicle and charming the rainbow flags,” and so on and so forth. [10] We can suppose: Emperor Yongle had a strong feeling when he was reviewing personally Zheng He's expedition fleet on waters, so he could write out so vivid tablet inscription and verses. It gives the another circumstantial evidence that Emperor Yongle might attend the ceremonious setting-sail rites on the large-size treasure ships on the waters before Zheng He set sail for his fourth voyage in the 11th year of Emperor Yongle (1413) or after he returned home with drums beating and banners flying in the 13th year of Emperor Yongle (1415).

4. By analyzing the shipbuilding statistics in “Ming Shi Lu” (“A Faithful Record of the Affairs of the Ming Government”) and excavations of the Treasure Ship Yard in Nanjing, we can prove that the main ship types of Zheng He's voyage were 2,000-liao sea ships and other ships constructed in batches. There were about 25 batches of more than 2,860 sea ships in total constructed or refitted during the years of Emperor Yongle, see attached table-1. [6] Four batches of which were clearly recorded as the treasure ships for use of Zheng He's voyage or newly constructed treasure ships, namely, Emperor Yongle ordered Fujian to construct 5 treasure ships for dispatching envoys to the countries of the western ocean in the 2nd year of Emperor Yongle (1404), ordered Commander Wang Hao to construct 249 sealift ships for dispatching envoys to the countries of the western ocean in the 5th year of Emperor Yongle (1407), ordered the Engineering Department to construct 48 treasure ships in the 17th year of Emperor Yongle (1408), ordered to construct 41 treasure ships in the 17th year of Emperor Yongle (1419), 343 ships in total [6] . From here we can see: it is entirely possible that the 2,000-liao sea ships used by Zheng He for his first voyage in the 3rd year of Emperor Yongle (1405) and his second voyage in the 5th year of Emperor Yongle (1407) were those 5 sea ships newly constructed in Fujian in the 3rd year of Emperor Yongle (1405), certainly included some old sea ships that were called up and refitted to join Zheng He's expedition fleet. The 1,500-liao sea ships used by Zheng He for his third voyage in the 7th year of Emperor Yongle (1409) may be those 249 sea ships Commander Wang Hao arranged in the 5th year of Emperor Yongle (1407) to construct in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Fujian, respectively. During the years of Emperor Yongle, A series of shipbuilding missions were assigned across the country, and the ship types may included Fujian ship, Sha ship, bird ship, Canton ship, etc. The main ship types of which are 2,000-liao and 1,500-liao sea ships, but other ship types are not absolutely excluded. All seagoing ship types may also be arranged to be constructed, refitted, and incorporated into Zheng He's expedition fleet. Zheng He's fourth voyage in the 11th year of Emperor Yongle (1413) extended the range and the preparation time was abundant, there must be many improvements of the main ship types on the bases of previous three voyages, therefore it was very likely to mostly select and use the most of 48 treasure ships that were ordered to be constructed by the Engineering Department in the 6 th year of Emperor Yongle. It was called “Treasure ships” instead of “Sea ships” when the time came. It illustrated that the sea ships had been improved after much employments during several voyages and could be called “treasure ships” after having reached to the level of construction in batches. It also illustrated that this series of missions was a specialized great treasure ship project that included large-size and medium-size treasure ships, and 2,000-liao sea ship type treasure ships and so on.

According to the textual researches by Mr. Luo Zongzhen (a researchist in Nanjing Museum), the Treasure Ship Yard in Nanjing “had six ‘docks' existed now, average 500-meter long and 40-meter wide, presented east-west direction, led to the passage of the Yangtze River. These docks are all located within the site of the Longjiang Shipyard, were shipbuilding dock at that time and the bigger docks among them may be the docks for constructing the treasure ships”. [11] Mr. Dun He (Wuhan) noted after investigated and researched the site of the Treasure Ship Yard: “The dock No.1 and No. 3 of them are bigger, and the biggest is more than 500 meters long and 82 meters wide, the smallest is more than 400 meters long and 40 meters wide. As it can be perceived, while a large-size treasure ship of 44.4 zhangs in length and 18 zhangs in width is being constructed in a dock, there are still 10-odd meters of workplaces on both sides, respectively. The two docks are long enough to construct three large-size treasure ships at the same time. The historical data recorded that the treasure ships were divided into large-size, medium-size and small-size categories, the dimensions of which are different… The fact that seven docks are different in size also illustrates that the specifications of the treasure ships constructed at that time were different.” [14] They both believe that the Treasure Ship Yard in Nanjing had indeed constructed the treasure ships of different specifications.

A treasure ship rudderstock (11.07 meters long) was unearthed in 1957 nearby the Zhongbao village at Xiaguan in Nanjing, which was originally considered as the corollary equipments of certain 44-zhang large-size treasure ship. Another two big rudderstocks were unearthed during disentombing the ruins of the Treasure Ship Yard in Nanjing in 2004, and are similar in length to that one. When scholars were textually researching and analyzing the 2,000-liao sea ships, they calculated the sea ships was 4.89 meters in the molded depth, and the three-deck aftercastle was about 6.0 meters in height, lifting rudder can be lowered to about 1.3 meters below the baseline at deepmost water level, the height of the above three sections had reached 12.2 meters [4], [5] . Therefore, the rudderstocks of the 2,000-liao sea ships were about 12 meters in length and similar to the unearthed “rudderstocks of the treasure ships”. On the one hand, it illustrates that the unearthed “rudderstock of the treasure ships” belong to corollary equipments of the 2,000-liao sea ships, and the fact that more rudderstocks are unearthed shows that t he Treasure Ship Yard had indeed series constructed 2,000-liao sea ship type treasure ships; on the other hand, it also illustrates that the 44-zhang large-size treasure ships were “seven-deck large ships”, “up to 10 meters in the molded depth”[12], together with the height of the poops, greatly exceeded the 2,000-liao sea ships, the rudderstocks were much longer than 12 meters, so the unearthed “rudderstocks of the treasure ships” were not corollary equipments of the large-size treasure ships. Judging by the site of the Treasure Ship Yard, at that time they might construct ships at each dock along the longitudinal line according to the long direction viz. about 500 meters' direction, and the ships were up to 44 zhangs or more than 130 meters in length. Well then, the discovered timber pile bases should be the bases of some keel blocks distributed along the ship length; Judging by the photos of excavations, the distances among the keel blocks seem too long, make the numbers of keel blocks look not enough within the ship length, certainly they could make this kind of timber pile bases for bearing the weight of several largest keel blocks. It is more possible that they might construct ships at each dock according to the side-to-side setup along the wide direction viz. about 40-80 meters' direction. Every timber pile base discovered at the site of t he Treasure Ship Yard should be a shipway base for one ship, they were about 40-80 meters long and 8-10 meters wide, (The exact dimensions can be presented only after the entire excavations and textual researches have accomplished.) similar to such dimensions of the bottom structures as the length of the bottom keel plates and width of the bottom floor plates of the 2,000-liao and other ships required to be series constructed. The long separate timber pile bases being used as lumber yard of shipbuilding timbers and semi-finished structural components, and as the positions of derricks and shipbuilding scaffolds quite met the demands of shipbuilding architecture and scenes. Furthermore, side-to-side setup could make better use of the areas of the docks than longitudinal line, and be propitious to series constructed ships. At that time, series ship constructions must make unified use of the periods of the Yangtze River floodwater levels and break the dock embankments for water injection to let the whole batch of ships float out of the docks. The Treasure Ship Yard had several docks but could only make use of such launch chances once a year to deliver ships once a year to satisfy the demands of Zheng He's expedition fleets. Therefore, judging by the excavation scene of the Treasure Ship Yard in Nanjing and unearthed rudderstocks, there are solid basis of facts to say that the Treasure Ship Yard in Nanjing had series constructed the 2,000-liao sea ship type treasure ships and also might have constructed large-size treasure ships.

5. By analyzing the four-mast sea ship type cartographies recorded in the “History of Longjiang Shipyard” of Ming Dynasty and the main shapes and structures of “Cefeng ships (Conferred ships)” of Ming Dynasty, most of treasure ships constructed by the Treasure Ship Yard in Nanjing, Longjiang Shipyard and Fujian Shipyard were about 20-zhang sea ships ,viz. 2,000-liao sea ships.

Prof. Xin Yuanou and others noted in 2002: “The Treasure Ship Yard of Longjiang Shipyard was the shipbuilding site of the large-size sea ships and starting port of Zheng He's voyage. The ‘History of Longjiang Shipyard' described the types and structures of sea ships at that time, although it mentioned ‘the sea ships have been abolished and so the dimensions are beyond textual researches” There are four masts on the ship and a two-floor yellow building on the stern, very similar to the 1,000-ton class five-mast 15-zhang “conferred ships” described by Chen Kan. According to the principles recorded in “Tian Gong Kai Wu” that every ship that was 10 zhangs long must have two masts, the four-mast ship is no longer than 20 zhangs” ] . [9 Prof. Tang Zhiba and others also judged that the total length is about 19-20 zhangs during textual researches in the 2,000-liao sea ships. [4],[5] Prof. Fu Lang (Fujian Teachers University) said “the shapes and structures of the conferred ships provide reliable data to know Zheng He's treasure ships”. According to the detailed descriptions of the technologies of constructing conferred ships during the years of Emperor Jiajing and Chongzhen who conferred Ryukyu five times in total, he believes after analysis: “In the late Ming Dynasty more than 100 years after Zheng He's voyage, the ‘treasure ships' at that time—the ordinary shapes and structures of the conferred ships—were about 15 zhangs in length, 2.6-3.2 zhangs in width, and 1.3-1.4 zhangs in depth; mostly had three masts, and specific ones had five masts.” These hull dimensions and the shapes and structures of the masts and sails were very similar to those of the 2,000-liao sea ship type treasure ships used during Zheng He's voyage, and they tallied with the scientific and technical development laws of the handicraft stage. We can judge from this that the 2,000-liao sea ships were similar to the conferred ships. Combined with the “History of Longjiang Shipyard”, they could illustrate that the Ming government asked for unified types and structures of the 2,000-liao sea ships, but there were still some local traditional features because they were constructed in Jiangsu and Fujian, respectively.

6. By analyzing the missions and organizations of Zheng He's expedition fleet, we can judge that the 2,000-liao sea ships are Treasure Ships. Prof. Xu Gongsheng construed that the Emperor Yongle ordered Zheng He to the western ocean, “actively carry out the policies of the good relations of neighborhoods of ‘propagating the morality and placating the people far beyond the seas' and ‘giving more and getting less' to attain the goal of “sharing a peaceful good fortune'… The true meaning of the treasure ships were that these ships carry the imperial edicts, authority seals, hats and clothes, and various kinds of precious presents that Ming Emperors vouchsafed the kings and emirs of dependencies. For them, these are their treasures to guard their countries… In Ming and Qing Dynasties, the friendly relations between China and Ryukyu were good enough to serve as a type, and that was why the Ryukyu islanders called the conferred ships as ‘Treasure Ships'. In a word, all the ships once ridden by the emperors or carried the precious presents that the Emperors vouchsafed the foreign kings and emirs were collectively called the “Treasure Ships” (not only the ships to get treasures from the overseas). [1] Prof. Fu Lang cited the inscriptions from “Qian Fo Ling Ge Bei Ji” erected by Chinese officer Chai Shan who had been ordered to serve as an envoy to Ryukyu four times during the years of Emperor Hongxi and Xuande: The emperors “specially ordered Fujian Minister Fangbo to reconstruct the treasure ships” for his own use during serving as an envoy. He also cited that the conferred ships for use of Haibao and Xu Baoguang among Chen surname genealogy during the years of Emperor Kangxi (Qing Dynasty) had been called the “treasure ships”. Therefore, he believes that “all ships ridden by those who served as envoys abroad under imperial edicts called the ‘treasure ships'” [15] . I agree with this kind of concept presented by both scholars. By analyxing the missions and organizations of Zheng He's expedition fleet, I suggest defining them by rule and line as large-size, medium-size and small-size treasure ships. The large-size and medium-size treasure ships navigated or anchored on river areas nearby Nanjing city, for use of emperors and imperial households, noblemen and high-ranking officials of central organs according to their ranks to review, tour and show the emperor's authorities. The emperors issued orders instead of personally leading his soldiers in the expedition activities. The small-size treasure ships were relative to the large-size and medium-size treasure ships for use of the emperors, and were really the largest 2,000-liao sea ships among Zheng He's expedition fleet, could completely embodied “towering and incomparable” ships in all destination countries. They were treasure ships for use of Admiral Zheng He and other principal/deputy envoys, and symbolized that the emperors and governments were willing to promote friendly diplomatic relations with foreign countries. The treasure ships also bore the missions of command and control among the fleet and squadrons. The treasure ships carried the exquisite merchandises such as the precious presents that the emperors vouchsafed the foreign countries and the tributes the foreign countries paid to the emperors, and all the exquisite merchandises were treasures for the foreign monarchs and the countries. The treasure ships carried back the rare animals/plants and tributes that the foreign monarchs presented, and Zheng He's expedition fleet also purchased handicraft materials, herbal medicines and crops seeds from the foreign countries, and all these are treasures for China. Thereby, the treasure ships were ships that carried treasures, and were also ships that forwarded and pioneered the Silk and Porcelain Roads. Zheng He's expedition activities let China and foreign countries get what they wanted respectively and embodied friendship and mutualism instead of equivalent exchanges. And they did not contradict the parlance of “attaining treasures from the western ocean”. Anyway, the treasure ships were official ships that the Ming emperors and governments ordered Zheng He to deliver “treasures” to the countries of the western ocean and bring “treasures” back home, and also the command ships of Zheng He's expedition fleet and squadrons. In modern language, the connotation of treasure ships should be defined as “the ship of friendship” and “the flagship of peaceful and friendly intercourse”.

After summarizing and analyzing the opinions of all scholars, I advances the following conclusive viewpoints soliciting opinions:

⑴ It is believable that the large-size treasure ships were 44.4 zhangs in length recorded in the historical data;

⑵ The large-size treasure ships were the ships for use of Ming emperors, which navigated or anchored on river areas near Nanjing for the emperors to review instead of leading Zheng He's expedition fleets to go to the western ocean;

During the years of Emperor Yongle, a series of shipbuilding missions were assigned across the country, and the ship types may included Fujian ships, Sha ships, bird ships, Canton ships, etc. The main ship types of which were 2,000-liao and 1,500-liao sea ships;

⑶ The 2,000-liao sea ships were the main ship types among “Zheng He's expedition fleet. Emperor Yongle issued orders time after time to construct treasure ships in batches for dispatching envoys to the countries of the western ocean;

⑷ Such main ship types as the 2,000-liao sea ships, 1,500-liao sea ships and 8-scull ships are included in the organizations of Zheng He's expedition fleet;

⑸ The ships among Zheng He's expedition fleet were various in types differentiating by shipbuilding sites, missions and functions and divided into large-size, medium-size and small-size ships. They could include such ship types as Fujian ship, Sha ship, bird ship and Canton ship, bearing the missions of the treasure ship, water ship, escort, transport ship of the expedition fleet, respectively;

⑹ The Treasure Ship Yard in Nanjing series constructed the 2,000-liao sea ship type treasure ships, several “treasure ship rudderstocks” are unearthed there and there were evidences that they well matched the dimensions of the 2,000-liao sea ships;

⑺ The Fujian shipyards concerned constructed the treasure ships for use of Zheng He's voyage during the years of Emperor Yongle; and constructed the conferred ships (also called “treasure ships”) for dispatching envoys to Ryukyu during the years of Emperor Jiajing,Wanli and Chongzhen. They were 100 years apart, but similar in shapes and structures, and both about 15-20 zhangs in length; and

⑻ The treasure ships were official ships that the Ming emperors and governments ordered Zheng He to deliver “treasures” to the countries of the western ocean and bring “treasures” back home, and were also the command ships of Zheng He's expedition fleet and squadrons.

The author humbly requests advices from scholars of various circles regarding the above textual researches and viewpoints, and wishes to promote a common view of seeking truth from facts.

Table 1: Sea Ship Constructions and Refits during the Years of Emperor Yongle Recorded in “A Faithful Record of the Affairs of the Ming Government” (to be continued)

Serial Number

Year

Shipbuilding Sites (or Units)

Ship Number

Constructed or Refitted

Remarks

1

1403

Military authorities in Fujian

137

Constructed

Sea ships

2

1403

Civil and military authorities in Nanjing, Zhejiang, Huguang, Jiangxi, Suzhou, etc.

200

Constructed

Sealift ships

3

1403

Military authorities in Zhejiang Guanhai

36

Constructed

Sea ships for arresting the Japanese pirates

4

1403

Civil and military authorities in Huguang, Zhejiang and Jiangxi

188

Refitted

Sealift ships

5

1404

Military authorities in Nanijing

50

Constructed

Sealift ships

6

1404

Civil and military authorities in Fujian

5

Constructed

Sea ships for dispatching envoys to the countries of the western ocean.

7

1405

Military authorities in Zhejiang, etc.

1180

Constructed

Sea boats

8

1405

Civil authorities in Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Huguang and its branches, Anqing, etc.

80

Refitted

Sealift ships

9

1405

Civil authorities in Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Huguang

13

Refitted

Sealift ships

10

1406

Civil and military authorities in Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Huguang and its branches, Huizhou, Anqing, Taiping(Anhui), Zhenjiang, Suzhou, etc.

88

Constructed

Sealift ships

11

1407

Commander Wang Hao (Zhejiang or Fujianfu ?)

249

Refitted

Sea ships for dispatching envoys to the countries of the western ocean.

12

1407

Military authorities in Guangyang, Huaian, etc.

97

Constructed

Sea ships or Sealift ships

13

1407

Civil authorities in Zhejiang, Huguang, Jiangxi

16

Refitted

Sealift ships

14

1408

Engineering Department (Nanjing)

48

Constructed

Treasure ships

15

1408

Military authorities in Zhejiang Jinxiang, etc.

23

Refitted

Sealift ships

Table 1: Sea Ship Constructions and Refits during the Years of Emperor Yongle Recorded in “A Faithful Record of the Affairs of the Ming Government” (continued)

Serial Number

Year

Shipbuilding Sites (or Units)

Ship Number

Constructed or Refitted

Remarks

16

1408

Civil authorities in Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Huguang and its branches, Suzhou, Songjiang, etc.

58

Constructed

Sealift ships

17

1409

Civil and military authorities in Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Huguang and Suzhou, etc.

35

Constructed

Sea ships

18

1409

Military authorities in Longhu (Nanjing), etc.

9

Constructed

Sealift ships

19

1409

Military authorities in Yangzhou, etc.

5

Constructed

Sealift ships

20

1411

Military authorities in Zhejiang Linshan, Guanghai, Dinghai, Ningbo, Changguo, etc.

48

Constructed

Sea ships

21

1412

Civil and military authorities in Zhejiang, Huguang, Jiangxi, Zhenjiang, etc.

130

Constructed

Sealift ships

22

1412

Military authorities in Yangzhou, etc.

61

Constructed

Sea wind ships

23

1413

Civil and military authorities in Jiangxi, Huguang, Zhejiang, Zhenjiang, etc.

63

Refitted

Sea wind ships

24

1415

Commander and assistant commanders (Nanjing ?)

Constructed

Sea ships

25

1419

41

Constructed

Treasure ships

Notes: 1. The Materials are cited from: ① “A Faithful Record of the Ming Founding Emperor Yongle” in “Zheng He's Voyage”, The Chinese Research Society of History of Navigation, 1985; ② Xi Longfei: “The Statistics of Shipbuilding Conditions during the Years of Emperor Yongle” in the “History of Shipbuilding in China” ; ③ Fu Lang: “Analyzing the Problems Concerned about the Records of Ship Constructions between the 1st Year of Emperor Yongle and the 6 th Year of Emperor Xuande in ‘A Faithful Rcord of the Afairs of the Ming Gvernment' ”, “The Research on History of Maritime Intercourses”, No.2, 2003.

2. The column “Shipbuilding Sites (or Units)” is supplemented under the assistances and advices of Mr. Fan Zhongyi andZheng Yijun. And the “?” indicates “uncertain”.

The Simplified List of Round-Trip Time and Fleet Size of Zheng He's Voyages

Order

Round-Trip Time

Voyage (months)

Interval (months)

Ship Number

Crew Number

Sources and Illustration

1st

The 3 rd to the 5th year of Emperor Yongle (1405-1407)

21-22

① 62

② 208

③ 27,800

① It may refer to the number of the main treasure ships instead of the t otal number of all ships; ② See “The History of Taicang District”, vol. 24 (The another parlance refers to the third time); ③ See “The History of the Ming Dynasty: A Biography of Zheng He”.

2nd

The 5th to the 7th year of Emperor Yongle (1407-1409)

20

3

3rd

The 7th to the 9th year of Emperor Yongle (1409-1411)

18-19

4

48

More than 27,000

Fei Xin: “ Xing Cha Sheng Lan”, vol. 1 “Zhan Cheng Guo”. The total number of ships may refer to the number of the treasure ships instead of all ships;

4th

The 11th to the 13th year of Emperor Yongle (1413-1415)

19-20

29-30

63

27,670

Ma Huan: “Ming Chao Shuo Ji Ben” on the front page of “Triumphant Visions of the Ocean Shores”.

5th

The 15th to the 17th year of Emperor Yongle (1417-1419)

21

28

63

27,411

There are records on “The Epigraph of the Revered Mr. Ma”, but not noted which time it was. Because the numbers are approximate to those recorded in “Triumphant Visions of the Ocean Shores”, so listed here for reference.

6th

The 19th to the 20th year of Emperor Yongle (1421-1422)

19-20

18-19

100-odd

1000s

The stele “Lou Dong Liu Jia Gang Shi Ke Tong Fan Shi Ji Ji” records: “He and others were ordered to serve as envoys to foreign tribes, and this is the seventh time. We lead dozens of thousands of official troops and more than one hundred of sea ships”. The stele “Chang Le Tian Fei Ling Ying Zhi Ji” also records: “He and others lead dozens of thousands of official troops and ride more than one hundred of large ships.”

7th

The 6th to the 8th year of Emperor Xuande (1431-1433)

19

111

61

27,550

1. The Emperor Xuanzong issued order in the 5th year of Emperor Xuande: “Now, order eunuch Zheng He and others to Hormuz and other countries of the western ocean with 61 large or small ships.

2. Zhu Yunming: “Qian Wen Ji: To the West”.

Note: 1.The round-trip time of all the previous six times see the stele “Lou Dong Liu Jia Gang Shi Ke Tong Fan Shi Ji

Ji”, and see also “A Faithful Record of the Ming Founding Emperor”, vol.35, 52, 59, 78, 86, 97, 104, 114, 119

and 123.

2. This table is drawn up under the assistances and advices of Mr. Zheng Yijun, Fan Zhongyi and Shi Cunlong, etc.

Reference Documents

[1] Xu Gongsheng: “The Dimensions of Zheng He's Treasure Ships, Interpretation of Digit ‘32'”, “The Research on History of Maritime Intercourses”, No.1, 2004

[2] Wang Yabo: “The Chinese Ancient Rules of Woody Structures and the Dimensions of Zheng He's Treasure Ships”, The second International Conference on Zheng He Researches, December, 2002, Kunming.

[3] He Guowei: “Zheng He's Treasure Ships, Unprecedented and Unrepeatable”. The Nanjing Forum on the Designs and Features of Zheng He's Treasure ships, September, 2004

[4] Tang Zhiba, Xin Yuanou and Zheng Ming: “The Initial Textual Research and Replication Research on Zheng He's 2,000-liao Woody Treasure Ships (the 3 rd draft)”, Shanghai Cross-Straits Academic Symposium for Commemorating Zheng He's Voyage, December, 2003. Jiaxing Seminar on Replication Research Program of Zheng He's 2,000-liao Sea ships, February, 2004

[5] Tang Zhiba, Xin Yuanou and Zheng Ming: “The Initial Textual Research and Replication Research on Zheng He's 2,000-liao 6-scull Woody Treasure Ships (the 5th draft)”, Nanjing Seminar on Design and Construction of Zheng He's 2,000-liao Treasure Ships, August, 2004

[6] Zheng Ming: “The Ship Constructions during the Years of Emperor Yongle , Zheng He's Voyage and Treasure Ships”( The Research on the Ancient Ships of Zheng He's Expedition Fleet<1>), Beijing International Academic Symposium on World Civilization and Zheng He's Oceangoing Voyage, July, 2004

[7] Zheng Ming, Fan Zhongyi and Ni Heming: “The Textual Research and Replication Research on the Ship Types and Dimensions of the Eight-scull Ships”, The Nanjing Forum on the Designs and Features of Zheng He's Treasure Ships, September, 2004

[8] Fan Zhongyi: “My Opinions on the Manning and Weapon Disposition of Zheng He's 2,000-liao Sea ships”, Jiaxing Seminar on Replication Research Program of Zheng He's 2,000-liao Sea ships, February, 2004

[9] Xin Yuanou, Fan Jushan and Bu Liming: “Our Thinking about Replicating Zheng He's Treasure Ships”, The 10th International Conference on t he History of Science in East Asia , Shanghai , August, 2002.

[10] A Rubbing from a stone inscription of “Yu Zhi Hong Ren Pu Ji Tian Fei Gong Zhi Bei”(also called “The Stele in the Palace of the Celestial Spouse”), Published by Nanjing ,2002

[11] Luo Zongzhen: “The Investigation into the Sites of Zheng He Treasure Shipyard and Longjiang Shipyard”.

[12] Chen Yanhang: “The Interpretation of Zheng He's Treasure Ship Projects”, Beijing International Academic Symposium on World Civilization and Zheng He's Oceangoing Voyage, July, 2004

[13] Zhang Jian: “Some Comparisons between Zheng He's Voyage and Spanish/Portugal Principal Navigation”, Beijing International Academic Symposium on World Civilization and Zheng He's Oceangoing Voyage, July, 2004

[14] Dun He: “Expounding and Verifying the Dimensions of Zheng He's Treasure Ships on the Grounds of the Historical Records”, “Ship & Ocean Engineering”, No 1, 2004

[15] Fu Lang: “On Zheng He's Treasure Ships and Conferred Ships”, “A Corpus of the Conferred Ships (Treasure Ships) Construction Data in Fuzhou during the Ming Dynasty”, December, 2003

Author: Rear admiral Zheng Ming (retired), an honorary director of The Chinese Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (CSNAME), advisor of The Ship History Research Committee of the CSNAME, deputy director-general of the Beijing Association for the Studies of Zheng He ' s Voyage (BASZHV) and the adjunct professor of The Naval Engineering University.

Interpreter: Wang Taoran, Secretary of Foreign Liaison Subcommittee of the BASZHV

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