Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Medieval and Ancient Asian Fighting Ships

Fighting Ships of the Far East (1) : China and Southeast Asia 202 B.C. - A.D. 1419. / by Stephen Turnbull, Wayne Reynolds, illustrator. Published by Osprey Publishing, 2002. ISBN 978-1-84176-386-6. Transferred to digital print on demand 2010.

Author Turnbull’s collection of facts connects naval warfare and shipbuilding technology to the history of China. The beginning of the story features rafts that were used for transport as early as 2850 B.C. (p. 10). These vessels developed into fighting ships with multiple levels, or canoes with joints that could be disengaged or fireships---unmanned and set afloat burning with rush.

This eminently readable little book in a series called New Vanguard by Osprey Publishing delivers evidence of sophisticated inland and ocean-going vessels and the seafaring exploits of China and Southeast Asia. Advancements of the Chinese naval arts are easy to discover within the book’s 48 pages. The color plates section offers eight full color renderings of Chinese fighting ships by illustrator Wayne Reynolds. Battle fleets and enemy fireboats, war junks, war barges, paddle-wheel ships and even minelayers are portrayed. In each scene clearly detailed ships, armaments and battles from the text are interpreted in color and situation.

The sections of this story are as follows. “Fighting ships and Naval Warfare in the Ancient and Medieval Far East” begins with early battles on rivers depicted in tomb paintings of 150 A.D. and progresses through 1350 with ocean-going junk ships. “Techniques and Types of Chinese Ships and Shipbuilding” gives more detail about sampans, junks, oars and sails; “The Chinese Fighting Ship” explains the typology of Chinese warships from a treatise written published in 1044, and describes a particular type of paddle wheel ship described in 400 A.D. and also in 780 A.D. which propelled the vessel without sails. “The Chinese Fighting Ship in Action” shows inventions of iron-cladding and striking arms. “A Case Study of Chinese Fighting Ships” details a battle that took place in on a freshwater lake in 1363 between the Mongols and their successors, the Ming Dynasty. “Southeast Asian fighting Ships” hints at the vast difference between the powers, China and Cambodia with Vietnam. The Southeast Asian countries fought on rivers and preferred dugout canoes or war barges featuring an army of oarsmen in long narrow ships with fiercely carved figureheads, in strong contrast with the Chinese shipbuilding and naval arts. These are followed by Suggestions for Further Reading and Colour Plate Commentary with its diagrams and illustrations.

For more detail: See the Naval History of China at this Wikipedia site which also displays a number of illustrations from Chinese art.

Books in the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library are available for borrowing by Museum members. See the book Fighting Ships of the Far East (1) : China and Southeast Asia 202 B.C. –A.D. 1419. / by Stephen Turnbull in our online catalog.

More new book titles in the Library can be viewed in the Library at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum or online at
New books and pamphlet this month!

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