Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Maritime Archaeology in the People's Republic of China

Author/s J.N. Green

Year of publication 1997

Report Number: 237

This report is an attempt to gather together a series of studies on shipwreck archaeology that has been conducted by various Australian teams in China over the last fifteen years. The projects concern three main maritime archaeological aspects: the Song Dynasty Shipwreck in Quanzhou, the training of Chinese archaeology students in maritime archaeology and the investigation of the Bia Jao site in Ding Hai. Various organziations have supported this work including the Western Australian Department of Resources Development, the Australian International Cultural Foundation, the Australian Research Council, the Australia–China Council and the Australian Academy for the Humanities. In China we have been supported by the Museum of Chinese History, the Fujian Museum, the Museum of Overseas Communication History and the University of Ximen. I would like to acknowledge Dr Peter Burns of the Department of History at Adelaide University who was responsible for getting many of these projects underway.

The Song dynasty ship dating from about 1277 and known as the Quanzhou Ship is an extremely important archaeological find. It represents the earliest example of an almost complete Chinese ship and has important implications in the understanding the development of Asian shipbuilding. The ship was discovered in 1973 whilst dredging a canal at Houzhou, about 10 km from Quanzhou. The find was carefully studied and an excavation took place between 7 June and 31 August 1974. The ship was dismantled and transported to Quanzhou, where it was rebuilt under a temporary shelter in the grounds of the Museum adjacent to the Kaiyuanxi Temple. Between 1977 and 1979 a building was constructed within the grounds of the temple which included the ship, a display area and administrative quarters. In 1988 a new Museum was constructed in the outskirts of the city which housed the administration of the Museum, however at the time of our last visit (1995) the ship rests in the old museum site and there are long term plans to eventually relocate the vessel in the new museum.

The excavation of the Quanzhou ship has been reported previously, initially in a series of four reports in the Chinese archaeological journal Wen Wu (Song Shipwreck, 1975 a, b, c & d). These reports have also been reviewed by Salmon & Lombard (1979), translated into English by Merwin (1977) and reported briefly by Keith & Buys (1981). A more detailed report of the ship and its history was published by the Museum for Overseas Chinese History (1985). In January 1983, one of the authors (Green), at the invitation of the Overseas Communications Museum, and sponsored by the Australia- China Council, inspected the Song Dynasty shipwreck at Quanzhou. During this visit a number of photographs of the hull were taken and discussions were held with the technical committee responsible for the study of the ship (Green, 1983a).

A second visit was made in August 1887 when, with the assistance of Museum staff, measurements were made of the hull. A third visit was made in July 1993 with Paul Clark ofthe Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territories and Karen Millar of the Department of Maritime Archaeology of the Western Australian Museum when further information was obtained about the vessel (Green, et al, 1993). In September 1994 a visit was planned by Green with Paul Clark and Nick Burningham of the Department of Maritime Archaeology of the Western Australian Museum, but due to personal problems only Clark and Burningham visited Quanzhou. During this visit measurements were made of the internal structure of the vessel using a remote measuring system and the team were allowed to enter the vessel and inspect the interior. Subsequently, Burningham and Green compiled a technical report on this work. In addition translation of the Museum of Overseas Chinese Communication History (1985) report has been undertaken. Since the last visit, Burningham and Green have been working on the plans and preparing this report.

The first part of this report describes the initial discovery of the site and the excavation as determined from the archaeological reports and from discussions with staff at the Museum of Overseas Communication History. In addition the work of the four study trips is described in detail, together with a review of the current information available on Chinese and Asian shipbuilding. The report concludes with a description of the Quanzhou ship as it now exists reconstructed in the Museum and a discussion of some aspects of the hull construction. The report is based on the Chinese reports, the authors examination of the ship, the results of the analysis by Burningham and on discussions by the various authors with the director of the Museum, Mr Zhuang Bing Zang, Mr Wang Zeng Yu who was responsible for the reconstruction and members of staff of the Overseas Chinese History Museum. It should be noted that some difficulty was experienced with the discussions in China, since the Chinese interpreters were often not familiar with shipbuilding terms. In addition many of the terms have no simple English equivalent, so this is not a criticism of the competence of the translator rather an indication of the complexity of the problem of dealing with technology in a culture that is unfamiliar to a writer. The authors took great care to confirm that the information was correct, but acknowledge that errors have almost certainly crept into this report and since it was not possible to verify all the facts, the report should be treated with some caution.

Following this is a report on the first season of excavation on the Bai Jao site at Ding Hai and a report on the ceramics from the area by Paul Clark (unavailable at present), followed by a report by Sarah Kenderdine on the second excavation season on Bai Jao.