China Maritime Museum has been on my ‘to do’ list for quite some time. The building’s billowing white sails, designed to resemble a ship in port, have a natural appeal for the woman in me who has dedicated her life to the sea.
The first, largest and most prestigious maritime museum in the country, China Maritime Museum is located on the delightful Dishui lake (滴水湖) in Lingang New Town, Pudong. Once the sea itself, the land was reclaimed and the lake created to make way for the Museum which opened on 11 July 2009.
Filled with filled with model boats, historical shipping relics and maritime archaeological artefacts, China Maritime Museum is based around the theme of navigation, which is Chinese code for seafaring. With a life-size replica Ming ship at its very core, this towering museum is comprised of six exhibition halls, two special exhibition zones, two movie theatres, and even a pirate-themed 4D cinema! Ahoy, maties…
The main route through the museum takes you the major nautical developments in China throughout history, from models of early rafts up to examples of the clothing worn by modern-day deep-sea explorers. Unsurprisingly, a significant portion of the museum is given over to Zheng He, the Ming Dynasty Muslim eunuch admiral who commanded seven voyages to the ‘Western Ocean’. Travelling through southeast Asia, the Middle East and East Africa between 1405 and 1433, immense voyages at that time, Zheng He was not only the subject of Gavin Menzies’ controversial 2002 book 1421: The Year China Discovered America, but of my own University of Southampton maritime archaeology Master’s dissertation. It is a replica of one of his ships in the foyer after all..
Sadly, I didn’t get to see everything in the Museum when I visited last week. I made a rookie error and drastically underestimated the time it would take to get there. It took nearly 3 hours from Shanghai’s Bund by foot, Metro (5 changes of train), and taxi which left no-where near enough time at the Museum itself.
Once there, I was, however, struck by many things. Not least the archaeological boat collection, which included a Neolithic canoe carbon dated to ~8,000 BP. A little research has revealed that at the time the canoe was discovered in 2002, it was the earliest known example of a traditional boat surviving anywhere in the world. Unearthed during a rescue excavation in preparation for development of the Xiaoshan Cross Lake Bridge, Xiaoshan District, Hangzhou, the canoe and its associated artefacts, have ultimately filled the gap in China’s knowledge of human water transportation in the Neolithic Age.
The special exhibition on ancient Chinese navigation technology was worth a look (we were lucky as it should have finished he day before), as was the Ming Dynasty anchor, helm stock, and other artefacts recovered from the Baochuan Treasure shipyard in Nanjing in in 1957, and where it is believed that Zheng He’s fleets were built. I will save that for another time!
For more info on the Museum, its website is in English, here.