Jingyuan one of China’s Top 10

Jingyuan shipwreck relics discovered off Dalian, China

Ten newly discovered cultural heritage were recognized when nominations for China’s Oscars of archaeology were released last Friday.

Ranging in date from the Palaeolithic to the late 19th Century, the sites listed in China’s Top 10 New Archaeological Discoveries of 2018, have witnessed the rise, fall, power and glory of past Chinese civilisation, as well as its frequent foreign contacts.

First bestowed in 1990, China’s Top 10 is considered the country’s most prestigious recognition of archaeological achievement.  Chosen by a panel of 21 experts from cultural heritage institutions, universities and museums nationwide, this year’s list includes:

  • 20,000-year-old artefacts unearthed at the Qintang in Guangdong province, at a site which evidences communication between East and Southeast Asia from 25,000 to 10,000 years ago;
  • evidence for a flourishing Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) port in Zhangjiagang, Jiangsu province, from which Chinese Monk Jianzhen set off on his sixth voyage to propagate Buddhism in Japan;
  • the earliest evidence for the human use of coal 3,500 years ago, discovered in a river valley in Ili, Xingjiang, Uygur autonomous region, and which predates the existing evidence for the earliest human use of coal use by almost 1,000 years; and
  • for the maritime maniacs amongst you, the very significant discovery of Jingyuan, an armored battlecruiser from the Beiyang Fleet, the modernized imperial navy of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE), which was sunk in 1894, off the coast of Dalian – my new home town – during the Sino-Japanese War.

Built in Stettin, Germany (now Szczecin, Poland), Jingyuan was one of the earliest examples of German armored cruisers. The ship was 82.4 meters long and had a displacement of 2,900 metric tons. It was lost along with three other vessels on September 17, 1894, during the Battle of the Yalu River.

Jingyan shipwreck excavation. Image courtesy China Daily.

The Beiyang Fleet, which was almost entirely composed of ships built by Germany and Britain, was considered one of the strongest in Asia at that time, yet it was annihilated during the first Sino-Japanese War. About 200 sailors lost their lives when the ship went down, including Jingyuan’s Captain Lin Yongsheng. Only 16 crew survived.

The loss was a deep, devastating blow to China’s national pride, and destroyed its dream of again being the world’s greatest sea power. As a result, the social, historical, technical and associative significance of the find cannot be overstated. For most Chinese people, the discovery will stir thoughts of a grim period in the nation’s history, according to Song Xinchao, Deputy Director of the National Cultural Heritage Administration. “It returns us to a time of grief, reminding us to be alert and to learn lessons from history,” he said.

The ship remains underwater, although approximately 500 artefacts, including weapons and the sailors’ personal effects, were recovered during an archaeological excavation conducted in 2018. The objects will be displayed once conservation is complete and I cannot wait to see them!

Click here to read more about China’s Top 10 Archaeological Discoveries of 2018.

About Sarah Ward

I’m Sarah Ward, a maritime archaeologist, commercial diver and factual presenter with 16 years experience, both in and out of the water. I’ve investigated sites ranging from the Bronze Age to the modern, across more than 20 countries. A Visiting Professor at Dalian Maritime University and MIT Ocean Discovery Fellow, I am on a mission to bring archaeology to a broader audience, helping people to connect with the past in a meaningful way.

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