Sea change

Updated: 2014-09-24 07:49

By Peng Yining(China Daily)

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Sea change

Sailors on a PLA navy cruiser take an oath on Aug 27 off the coast of Weihai, Shandong province. That day marked the 120th year of the start of the First SinoJapanese War (also called the Jiawu War) in 1894. The PLA navy, for the first time in its history, held a maritime memorial ceremony. CHA CHUNMING / XINHUA 


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120 years after its naval defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War, the country looks to stronger maritime power, Peng Yining reports in Weihai, Shandong province.

Lessons from the past

By Peng Yining

This year marks the 120th anniversary of the First Sino-Japanese War, called the Jiawu War in Chinese.

Jiawu refers to the year in the 60-year cycle of the traditional Chinese calendar. This year marks another Jiawu year, adding weight to the anniversary.

The Qing Dynasty government at that time was corrupt. A huge fortune was spent on a spectacular birthday celebration for the Empress Dowager Cixi, but only one cruiser was added to the Beiyang Fleet in six years.

When the coal for battleships was running out, Chief Commander Ding Ruchang had to write several letters begging for more resources.

When the sea battles erupted in 1894, the Qing's naval forces were badly damaged by the Japanese ones.

Deng Shichang was the captain of the Zhiyuan cruiser at the Yellow Sea Battle in September 1894. When the ammunition ran out, he ordered a seemingly suicidal attempt to ram a Japanese battleship.

Unfortunately, a torpedo hit Zhiyuan and Deng fell into the sea. He decided to go down with his ship and refused to be rescued. When his dog seized him by his robe, he still plunged into the water. The dog died with him.

The war ended in April 1895, when the Qing court agreed to a treaty.

The Shimonoseki Treaty, signed to conclude the war, ceded the Liaodong Peninsula in northeast China, Taiwan and the nearby Penghu Islands to Japan. China also paid Japan 200 million taels of silver.

The humiliation exposed the brittleness of China's military power, which a bout of policy changes failed to overcome, and the dynasty collapsed in 1911.

Ding Xiaoming and Ding Xiaolong, Ding Ruchang's descendants, head to Weihai every summer and make a living by selling their history books about the Jiawu War in front of the Jiawu War museum on the island of Liugongdao.

Ding Xiaoming, 52, said he has not had much education and does not want to use his ancestor's name to make money. But the books allow more people to know about the Jiawu War, which Ding said is "a lesson that should never be forgotten".


Editor's Note: This is the seventh ina series of special reports in which our reporters will travel the length of China's 18,000-km-long coastline to detail the lives of the people whose existence is dominated, and often facilitated, by the waters that stretch from Bohai Bay in the north to the Zengmu Shoal in the south.

At the sound of a steam whistle, the troops on the People's Liberation Army navy cruiser spread white chrysanthemums and red Chinese roses on the waters, where China was defeated during the Jiawu War, or the First Sino-Japanese War, in 1894.

Sea change

To mark the 120th year of the start of the war, the PLA navy held an unprecedented maritime memorial ceremony off the coast of Weihai in East China's Shandong province.

In the fresh August morning breeze, guns thundered a salute to Chinese troops who died in the war. Naval officers and sailors, including chief commander Wu Shengli, stood in silent tribute.

"The importance of maritime power has long been underestimated, which directly caused us to fail in the Jiawu War," Wu said. "Having the ceremony in the old battle waters is a way to remember this tragic part of history."

Today's China has entered a new era and is unprecedentedly close to the center of the international stage, but still faces a complicated global situation and increasing tension in its maritime territory, Wu said during the ceremony.

"The rise of great nations is also the rise of great maritime powers," Wu said. "History reminds us that a country will not prosper without maritime power.

"China has been exploring oceans, caring about maritime issues and developing the understanding of maritime rights."

Liugongdao history

Not far from the memorial site is the island of Liugongdao. Once the most powerful fleet in Asia, with battleships and cruisers bought from Europe and sailors trained there, the Beiyang Fleet, a major royal naval force of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), was headquartered in Liugongdao, where it came to an end when Japanese landed in 1895.

Located in Weihai Bay, the 3-square kilometer island has been a military fortress for centuries. The dock used during the war is still there, with 300 meters of railway tracks that were used to carry coal and cannonballs to the battleships.

Opened to the public in 1985, the island has been a national forest park and Weihai's most popular tourist spot, attracting more than 10,000 visitors a day during holidays.

The remains of many once-mighty ships still lie in the depth of the waters around Liugongdao. Parts of the Jiyuan battleship, including its front guns, have been salvaged and displayed at the site of the Beiyang Fleet headquarters.

Polished and rubbed over countless times by visitors, a used cannon is still set on the island's highest spot facing the East, where the Japanese navy invaded.

"Actually China had one of the best naval forces in Asia before the war, but at that time, China traditionally focused on land defense, neglecting the importance of maritime power, which caused its failure," said Du Jingchen, vice-commander of the PLA navy.

The Beiyang Fleet had more than 4,000 officers and sailors and 25 battleships, Du said. With a displacement of 7,000 tons, ironclad battleships Dingyuan and Zhenyuan were brought from Germany and considered the largest battleships in the world at that time.

Du said the 5,000 years of Chinese history are based on an agrarian civilization. Although China developed the maritime Silk Road in the Han Dynasty and Zheng He, the famed navigator of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), helmed seven voyages to Southeast Asia, South Asia and East Africa, its maritime civilization has never been in the mainstream of Chinese culture.

During the 18th Communist Party of China Congress in late 2012, building a country with strong maritime power, including the capabilities of controlling, developing and protecting the ocean, was for the first time written in the Party's report. It became the top item in the agenda of China's development.

State oceanic administration figures showed that the gross value of maritime production hit 5.43 trillion yuan (885 billion) in 2013, accounting for 9.5 percent of China's GDP. More than 35 million people were involved in maritime-related industries.

The oceanic administration has completed 31 voyages covering the search for maritime mining areas. Since the 1980s, China has conducted 30 scientific investigation projects in the South Pole and five in the North Pole. In February 2014, Taishan station, China's fourth research station in the South Pole, was built.

By 2020, China's gross value of maritime production is expected to double and 2.6 million more people will be involved in maritime industries, Liu Cigui, head of the State Oceanic Administration, said in a speech in June.

China will be one of the major countries with strong maritime power around 2049, Liu said.

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