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Exhibition shows Fujian Arsenal impact on modern China's maritime culture (with photos)

    This year marks the 140th anniversary of the founding of the Fujian Arsenal. To tie in with the event, the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence has organised an exhibition, "Fujian Arsenal: Cradle of Modern Chinese Navy", which will be held from tomorrow (November 3) until May 9, 2007.

     Fifty valuable artefacts and 60 historical photographs will be on display, giving people an understanding of the impact of the Fujian Arsenal on the development of maritime culture in modern China.

     The exhibition is jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services (LCSD) and the Chinese Shipyard Culture Museum.

     The exhibition was opened today (November 2) by the Deputy Director (Culture) of the LCSD, Mr Chung Ling-hoi, the Vice-Chief Executive of Fuzhou Mawei District Government in Fujian, Dr Lin Chu; the Vice-Chairman of the Construction Management of Chinese Shipyard Culture in Fuzhou, Ms Lin Jun, the Director of the Chinese Shipyard Culture Museum, Ms Wu Deng-feng, the President Emeritus of Shenzhen University, Professor Wei Youhai, and the Chief Curator of the Hong Kong Museum of History, Dr Joseph Ting Sun-pao.

     Speaking at the opening ceremony, Mr Chung said the exhibition aimed to allow the public to better understand the influence of the Fujian Arsenal on modern China in areas of technology, industrial manufacturing, modern education, naval training and the introduction of Western classical thoughts and culture into China.

     "Fujian Arsenal, the original place for maritime culture in China, was regarded as the largest shipyard in the Far East at that time. As the earliest technological institute in China, the Fujian Arsenal Academy also presented a new type of school with emphasis on education in natural sciences and instruction provided by well-paid foreign teachers. It was considered the pioneer in the nation's industrial development and the cradle of China's modern navy," Mr Chung said.

     One of the key reasons for it's crushing defeat in the Opium Wars was China's then antiquated military technology, which was no match for the heavily fortified gunships of the West. In the face of the increasing threats of the foreign powers, the more progressive elements in the Chinese government advocated reforms to strengthen China's economic might and military prowess. Earlier on, Lin Zexu and Wei Yuan had promoted the idea of mastering Western technology to beat the Westerners at their own game, which resulted in the implementation of the Self-strengthening Movement.

     In June, 1866, Zuo Zongtang presented to the Qing (1644-1911) court his proposal to build a modern shipyard. With the Qing government's authorisation to construct a shipyard in Fujian in July, the Fujian Arsenal was founded. An arsenal was set up to oversee, among other things, shipbuilding, training of naval personnel and the establishing of a modern fleet.

     In August,1866, French engineer Prosper Giquel arrived in Fuzhou and selected, with Zuo Zongtang, the Mawei site for ship construction. Later, Zuo Zongtang was transferred to the governorship of Shaanxi and Gansu, and nominated the former Governor of Jiangxi, Shen Baozhen, as Commissioner of Naval Affairs. In December, the construction of the Arsenal at Mawei began and the School for Naval Administration began operation. Giquel then returned to France to purchase machinery and other equipment as well as to hire Western technical personnel.

     Until 1867, the office of the Fujian Arsenal was removed from the city of Fuzhou to Mawei. The General Supervisor of Works, Adrien Trasbot, arrived at Mawei to pave the way for ship construction. The construction of the first shipbuilding berth was completed at the end of the year and the drafting offices were reorganised as the Drafting College.

    In early 1868, the construction of the first ship, "Wannianqing" began, while a ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone for an ironworks factory was held. The College of Skills was founded in June to train technicians. The construction works of the sawmills, wood mould-making facilities, ironworks, water tanks, chronometer shop and copper works were completed two months later. In the next year, the French national Paul-Alexandre Neveue D'Aiguebelle became the shipbuilding director and the first Mawei ship, "Wannianqing", began sea trials.

     In November, 1872, a student strike, protesting against the humiliating attitudes of the foreign teachers, hit the arsenal's academies. Upon expiry of the five-year contracts, all but three French technicians left the Fujian Arsenal. Shen Baozhen sent a group of five students, including Wei Han and Liu Buchan, accompanied by Giquel, to France and England. Shen Baozhen requested the support of Li Hongzhang for the arsenal's ship-building activities, and presented Giquel's detailed plans and budgets for sending students abroad. Shen Baozhen then sent Giquel to France to purchase machines. A group of students went with him to broaden their horizons.

     A French fleet attacked Mawei in 1884. Captain Chen Ying of "Fuxing", and other officers fell in action, and the shipyard facilities were heavily damaged. In 1894, Deng Shichang and others fell in heroic action to repel the Japanese aggression in the Yellow Sea. Until 1907, the Ministry of the Army approved a memorial recommending the temporary suspension of activities at the Fujian Arsenal. The Qing's Foreign Office announced to the French ambassador that the activities of the arsenal were suspended and its French staff were dismissed upon expiry of their contracts. After operating for 40 years, the Fujian Arsenal was officially decommissioned.

     The Museum of Coastal Defence is located at 175 Tung Hei Road, Shau Kei Wan, Hong Kong. It opens from 10am to 5pm and is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission is $10 and half-price concessions are applicable to full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

     For details of the exhibition, please visit the Museum of Coastal Defence's website at or call 2569 1500.

Ends/Thursday, November 2, 2006
Issued at HKT 17:46


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