BEIJING, Sept. 23 -- In June, local fishermen discovered
the wreckage of a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) ship in the "Bowl Reef" or Wan Jiao
in Pingtan County, Fujian Province.
Archaeologists identified the wreck as having been
manufactured during the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1662-1723) and named it "Bowl
Reef No. 1", Wan Jiao Yi Hao.
To their surprise, the archaeological team also found
rare pieces of blue and white porcelain among the wreckage, loot that could hold
the key to an ancient maritime trading route.
Excavation works began on September 17, conducted by research staff
from the National Museum's Underwater Archaeological Research Center. Blue and
white porcelain bowls and plates, and pieces of ceramics were found. Experts
identified them as everyday products most likely made in the middle of the Qing
Dynasty. Preliminary studies also revealed that these products were bound for
export, destination as yet unknown.
Excitement and puzzlement grew on Tuesday as more
porcelain products were added to the haul.
One small plate decorated with plum blossoms
especially caught the attention of the researchers. On its underside is
inscribed the words Shuang Long, or "double dragons", in simplified Chinese
characters. As simplified Chinese characters were adopted in printing and
writing only after 1949 and the two simplified Chinese were unlikely to be any
discernible pattern, experts regard this as a mystery. They can only be sure of
the fact that the plate was produced more than 300 years ago during the reign of
Experts also found the pattern on another porcelain product difficult
to explain. The pattern, which depicts a hunting scene, includes a man riding a
horse. Experts were able to say the man is a Chitan because of his distinctive
hairstyle. The Chitan people are an ethnic group that dominated much of
Manchuria during the Chitan or Liao Dynasty (916 - 1125). According to Chen
Huasha, a researcher of the Palace Museum, this is the first time that a Chitan
figure has been found on blue and white porcelain.
The scene also has as a woman dressed in ethnic Han
costume and holding a falcon on a calico horse. Experts say it is possible that
the woman riding on the horse could be Wang Zhaojun, one of the Four Beauties in
Chinese history. Wang, an insignificant member of Emperor Yuan's imperial harem,
was given to the Hun Chanyu Huhanye who visited the Han Dynasty ruler in 33 BC
to pay homage and to ask for a Han princess to take as his wife. Chanyu Huhanye
was the ruler of the Hun, a nomadic tribe that was constantly at war with Han
rulers during China's Warring States Period.
The site where the wreck was found is also of
particular interest to researchers. They have yet to decide what the relation is
between Bowl Reef and the ancient maritime "Silk Road", if at all.
There are other experts who hope to draw a clear
maritime trading route in reference to other wreckage sites that have been found
in Guangdong and Fujian Provinces.
The maritime trading route experts talk about first
came about during the Qin (221-206 BC) and Han (206 BC-AD220) dynasties. In its
heyday during the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, merchant ships
set off from Guangdong and Fujian provinces carrying Chinese silk, tea,
porcelain and lacquer products via the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, across
Southeast Asia and even traversing past Africa en route to Europe. Recorded
shipwrecks along this route exceed 100.
But details of the route remain a mystery. All
experts know is that Quanzhou and Fuzhou in Fujian Province were important ports
of call for merchant ships plying the route.
Experts hope that the porcelain found on Bowl Reef
No.1 and other relics will help them to solve this mystery.