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Manchu Navy

The Manchu Navy may be said to have originated when the T'aiping Rebellion [1850-1864] was still engaging the resources of the Empire. This circumstance, which, together with the operations of the French and English, made plain the potential usefulness of an armed flotilla, led to the suggestion from Prince Kung, seconded by the British Minister, Sir Frederick Bruce, that China should proceed to equip herself in this respect. The occupation of the city of Shanghai by the rebels had also suggested the collection of the maritime duties by three foreign officials appointed for the purpose by England, France and the United States.

After the Treaty of Tientsin [1860] the advantages of the plan were so obvious, through the assurance given to the Chinese Government of a reliable source of revenue, that the plan was continued, the collectorship, however, being left in the hands of England alone. In 1862 the Inspector General of Maritime Customs was Mr. Horatio Lay, and as he happened at the time to be in London, it was to him that Prince Kung entrusted the business of buying a fleet. Possibly, as Brinkley suggests, "the magnitude of the trust disturbed Mr. Lay's mental equilibrium," or possibly he really misunderstood the character of the task assigned him.

The fact remains that when eight vessels arrived in China under Captain Sherard Osborn, who was given to understand that he was to receive orders only from Peking and through Mr. Lay, there was at once a considerable display of consternation. In consequence, the fleet remained inactive and Sir Frederick Bruce was obliged to come to the rescue on behalf of the British Government. The fleet was returned to England for sale, Mr. Lay was dismissed, and the visions of China as a great naval power faded away into thin air.

By the 1880s the organization of the navy a system more or less of centralisation obtained, each maritime state building its own fleet under orders from Peking. In lieu of tribute a certain province may be ordered to supply a vessel-of-war for the imperial navy. Under such general supervision, the Chinese imperial fleet is under the direction of the two commissioners appointed for the defence of North and South China. The chief naval yards were at Fuchow and Shanghai. Ships-of-war can, however, be built at Canton and other large river towns. In the naval yards at Shanghai and Fuchow were also naval schools where ship-building and nautical science are taught. Admiralty Boards were established in these important strategical centres in 1869, from which year also dates the formation of an imperial Chinese navy.

Local governors at times held reviews of their river and sea squadrons, on which occasions large amounts of powder are expended and a minimum of manoeuvring attempted. Imperial reviews of the fleet were not held. Until the navy is brought more under the control of a Central Board of Admiralty to be established at Peking, and her naval officers were thoroughly trained and imbued with a spirit of enterprise and dash, China cannot hope to become a naval power in the Pacific, and her fleets cannot but fall an easy prey to the first naval power against whom she may pit herself.

The establishment of a naval station at Port Arthur, or Lu-shun-k'ou, at the extremity of the Kwantung Peninsula, commanding tho entrance to the Gulf of Pichili, marked an important epoch in the history of Chinese naval organization, and, if full effect were given to it and the harbour rendered thoroughly secure, would be an element of strength to the kingdom and a secure refuge for her fleet; but was little doubt the harbor would not be properly defended, and that it would serve as a trap to her fleet and an advantage to her enemy, especially if that enemy be a naval power. The advantage of a secure base of operations against North China1 formed by this harbor and those existing along the shores of the Mia-tou group of islands cannot be over-estimated, and if in the permanent occupation of a power such as Russia, would eventually prove to be of such importance as to practically place China at her mercy and enable her to meet on equal terms any naval power that is likely to dispute with her the supremacy of the China seas and Eastern Pacific Ocean.

By 1882 the Chinese navy consisted of from 17 to 20 foreign-built vessels, including the alphabetical gun-boats, and two turret cruisers added to it in 1882. Each alphabetical gun-boat (eleven in number) mounted at least one heavy M. L. Armstrong gun, two with one 26-ton gun each, two with one 38-ton gun each, seven with one 35-ton gun each, and each besides being furnished with several 13-pounder Armstrong guns, 1 Jatliug, and 2 Nordenfeldt machine guns. The gun-boats were unarmored, and built in water-tight compartments. They were known as "mosquito boats;" they have great speed, are built to ram, and were furnished with a torpedo armament.

The turret-cruisers had great speed, 17 knots an hour. To their speed and manuvering and ramming power the Chinese trusted. They had their engiues, boilers, and magazines placed beneath the water-line, and were further protected by a steel plate deck. The machinery for working the guns, steering apparatus, &c, would, if these boats are commanded by Chinese, owing to their complex nature, probably render them an easy prey to ships-of-war better manned and manuvered.

The Chinese thought it advisable to follow the example of other nations, and ordered armored-plated ships of war of the first class. Ships-of-war were being constantly added to the Chinese navy. Three ironclads were under construction in 1882 at Stettin. One of these, a corvette, carried 4 Krupp guns, 80"5 centimetres calibre, in two turrets. Four fast torpedo boats had also been ordered.

Besides the above foreign-built ships, there were, under the provincial governors of the sea provinces, a considerable number (from 20 to 30) of revenue cruisers of foreign build, mounting two or more 80-pounder Armstrong guns, and about 20 others built by the Chinese authorities (at Canton, Fuchow, and Shanghai, &c). Among these are two frigates, each of 2,700 tons.

The navy was divided into the northern and southern fleets, with chief stations, for the former, at Shanghai and Tientsin; for the latter, at Fuchow and Canton. Many of the ships-of-war are now commanded by Chinese captains. The discipline of ships so commanded soon deteriorates. They can work out their courses, but in times of difficulty are wanting in resource. Their naval training was defective.

China, after the lesson of the Tonkin war with France (1884-85), had commenced the fortification of Port Arthur under Li Hung Chang's guidance. She likewise vastly improved her navy, which soon included two ironclads and a number of good cruisers, placing the whole under the joint command of a Chinese admiral and a British admiral. But in 1890 the Englishman lost his post as the result of a petty dispute -and China's fate in Korea was sealed. Corruption and inefficiency soon reigned supreme in the new navy, which might have repeated the performance of the Korean armoured ships of the sixteenth century, but which went into action in 1894 at the Battle of the Yalu with sand-filled shells, and so changed all history.

With the destruction of the northern fleet by the Japanese at the capture of Wei-hai-wei in 1895, the Chinese navy may be said to have ceased to exist. Previously it consisted of two divisions, the northern and southern, of which the former was by far the more formidable. The southern was under the control of the viceroy of Nanking, and took no part in the Chino-Japanese War. While the northern fleet was grappling in a death-struggle, the southern was lying snugly in the Yangtsze waters, the viceroy of Nanking apparently thinking that as the Japanese had not attacked him there was no reason why he should risk his ships. The Chinese navy in 1909 consisted of the 4300 ton cruiser "Hai Chi" (two 8-in., ten 4-7-10. guns) of 24 knot original speed, three 3000 ton cruisers, "Hai Yung," "Hai Schew and "Hai Shen" (three 6-in., eight 4-in. guns) of 19-5 knot original speed, some modern gunboats built in Japan, a few miscellaneous vessels and some old torpedo boats. An edict of the 15th of July 1909 created a naval and military advisory board. Nimrod Sound, centrally situated on the coast of Chch-kiang, was chosen as naval base, and four naval schools were ordered to be established; a navigation school at Chifu, an engineering school at Whampoa, a school for naval artificers at Fuchow, and a gunnery and musketry school at Nimrod Sound. A superior naval college was founded at Peking. The coast defences were placed under the control of the naval department, and the reorganization of the dockyards undertaken. During 1910 orders for cruisers were placed abroad. After the loss of Port Arthur, China possessed no dockyard which could dock vessels over 3000 tons. Many years ago the Chinese government established at Fuchow a shipbuilding yard, placing it in the hands of French engineers. Training schools both for languages and practical navigation were at the same time organized, and a training ship was procured and put under the command of a British naval officer. Some twentyfive or thirty smalt vessels were built in the course of as many years, but gradually the whole organization was allowed to fall into decay. Except for petty repairs this establishment was in 1909 valueless to the Chinese government. There were also small dockyards at Kiang-nan (near Shanghai), Whampoa and Taku. There are wellequipped arsenals at Shanghai and at Tientsin, but as they are both placed up shallow rivers they are useless for naval repairs. Both are capable of turning out heavy guns, and also rifles and ammunition in large quantities. There are also military arsenals at Nanking, Wuchang, Canton and Chfingtu.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:40:10 ZULU