Wrecked fleet provides clues to naval past

By Wang Kaihao | China Daily | Updated: 2023-10-20 09:24
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The armored cruiser Laiyuan, which was sunk in February 1895 during the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). [Photo/China Daily]

Archeological investigations uncover details about Battle of Weihaiwei

Key archaeological findings have been made surrounding the wrecks of three famous late 19th-century warships off the coast of Weihai, Shandong province, said the National Cultural Heritage Administration on Thursday.

The three ships — the armored cruiser Laiyuan, the ironclad battleship Dingyuan and the cruiser Jingyuan — were from the Beiyang Fleet of the modernized imperial navy of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and were sunk in February 1895 during the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95).

According to Zhou Chunshui, a researcher with the National Centre for Archaeology who has led the investigation in Weihai since 2017, the shipwrecks were buried in mud up to 3 meters deep, and were not in a good condition. The relics of the ships had been scattered across three areas.

During a recent underwater investigation of the Laiyuan beginning in August, various shells, armor and bullets were salvaged. Archaeologists found a saber, wooden identity tags inked with the names of two soldiers, one of whom was seen on the injury list of the ship, and a silver spoon carved with the characters "Lai Yuan".

Ordered by the Qing royal court to be made in Stettin, Germany (present-day Szczecin, Poland), construction of the 82-meter cruiser was completed in 1887.

Other discovered articles on the Laiyuan included Chinese chess sets, leather shoes, porcelain bowls and combs. They may gradually unveil a vivid picture of the lives of Chinese navy sailors at that time.

"The ships were so heavy and of complicated structure," Zhou said. "That makes our work different from usual underwater archaeology, which focuses on ancient shipwrecks made of wood. We need interdisciplinary studies and new technologies to carry out the research and conserve the wrecks."

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