17 August 2022

Sha Chuan (沙船) and Ying Chuan (鷹船)

Sha Chuan (沙船, lit. 'Sand ship')

Old photo of a five-masted Sha Chuan-type trading junk, or "Pechili trader" as it was known to the West. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.
Originated from Chongming Island at the mouth of Yangtze River, Sha Chuan is one of the iconic "Four Great Ancient Ships" of China. It is characterised by flat bottomed hull with almost no sheer, flat prow and stern with squarish unbalanced rudder that can be retracted, wide deck with little to no superstructure, slender rectangular junk sails, as well as large numbers of masts and sails for its size. Many Sha Chuan have long and flat pinky sterns iconic to the ship type, and some are also equipped with bilge keels, leeboards, and a large, rock-filled bamboo basket known as Tai Ping Lan (太平籃, lit. 'Peace basket') that can be lowered into the water to serve as external ballast during rough weather conditions.

Drawing of a Sha Chuan, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Tailor-made to navigate the treacherous shallow water of the flood-prone Yangtze River, Sha Chuan has respectable stability despite being a flat-bottomed ship with shallow draft and low freeboard. Its flat bottom also allows the ship to be beached safely and prevents hull damage in case of stranding. While this hull design does not naturally lend towards high speed sailing, Sha Chuan's unusually large numbers of sails more than compensate for it, and even allow the ship to sail against both wind and current at the same time.

The alluvial soil on the shoals of Chongming is extremely fertile and ripe for agricultural cultivation, and they were settled as early as Tang period. Unfortunately, Chongming Island is also flat, geographically featureless, and virtually indefensible, so during Ming period it became frequent victim of Wokou terrorisation and pirate raids, especially by those that wished to make further incursion upriver. Island settlers of Chongming quickly learned to band together for mutual protection, and Ming government also placed increasing importance to the defence of Chongming Island due to its strategic position as the entry choke point of Yangtze River. Before long, Sha Chuan was put to military use and entered Ming arsenal.

Ying Chuan (鷹船, lit. 'Eagle ship')

Drawing of a Ying Chuan, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Although Sha Chuan was prized by Ming navy for its ability to navigate shallow water unreachable by other warships, its exposed deck leaves sailors and marines alike vulnerable to enemy retaliation. As such, a new type of warship, known as Ying Chuan, was designed to complement the Sha Chuan fleet.

Ying Chuan is a double-ended warship with no bow, two pointy sterns, and two rudders. Unlike Sha Chuan which it was designed to complement, Ying Chuan is an oared warship with no mast and sail, and its entire deck is heavily protected by reinforced bamboo fencing fitted with gun and arrow loops. Thanks to its oar propulsion and unique double-ended design (it can move forward and backward easily without needing to change direction), Ying Chuan is capable of quickly dashing in and out of enemy fleet formation while shooting at every direction, disrupting and disorienting enemy ships to buy time for the more vulnerable Sha Chuan to close in for boarding action.

Other blog posts in my Four Great Ancient Ships series:
Sha Chuan (沙船)

No comments:

Post a Comment

< > Home

Random Quotes & Trivia

GREAT MING MILITARY © , All Rights Reserved. BLOG DESIGN BY Sadaf F K.