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Introducing the artifacts

Illustration of the Tribute Missions (New window)

Illustration of the Tribute Missions

Xie Sui (active Qianlong Era), Qing Dynasty (1644–1912), ink and color on paper
With commentary by Emperor Qianlong, Liu Tongxun, and Liang Shizheng
33.9 x 1481.4 cm
The National Palace Museum Collection: Former Central Musuem painting collection No. 000046


A painter from the royal palace during the Qianlong Era, Xie Sui completed the Illustration of the Tribute Missions after studying local area drawings and palace memorials submitted by officials to the emperor. The Illustration of the Tribute Missions, divided into four volumes, comprises a total of 301 paintings. The drawing of Illustration of the Tribute Missions began around 1750 and ended around 1790 (Qianlong's 15th and 55th year of reign, respectively). The Illustration of the Tribute Missions contains painted images of diplomatic envoys travelling from East Asian countries such as Japan, Joseon (now Korea), Ryukyu (now Okinawa), Vietnam, and Brunei as well as those from far away European nations such as England, France, Netherlands, and Italy to offer their tributes to the emperor. The paintings depict the populated and prosperous Qing Dynasty and its place as the focal point in the world. The drawings included the appearance and attire of the male and female diplomatic envoys from the various countries of the world; written descriptions in both Chinese and Manchu were added to explain the history between the Qing Dynasty and each respective country, as well as the festivities of the tributes and trades and the living customs of the people. It illustrated Qing Dynasty’s dominant position in the East Asian World. Situated in the Southeastern sea, Ryukyu was divided into three countries (Central Mountain, Southern Mountain, and Northern Mountain) in the early Ming Dynasty. They were later merged to become the Central Mountain Nation during the Xuande Era (Ming Dynasty). This resulted in some Qing Dynasty literature referring to Ryukyu as "Central Mountain". The Qing Dynasty not only engaged in frequent tributes and trades with Ryukyu, the emperor repeatedly bestowed his self-written horizontal inscribed boards, and allowed Ryukyu children to study in the Imperial College. By 1653 (Shunzhi's 10th year of reign), the Dutches have travelled to Guangdong to engage in trades with Chinese merchants. Most male Dutches wore black felt hats and adopted the custom in taking their hats off as a form of greeting. They wore stylish wool clothes and were equipped with personal swords; female Dutches wore buns with blue handkerchiefs, vermilion stone necklaces, and shawls. They wore unadorned clothes which revealed their chest and long skirts with red Zōri shoes. (By Wu Yan-Ru)


Memorial submitted to the emperor reporting the building of Tianjin's naval ships as well as the ships' conditions (New window)

Memorial submitted to the emperor reporting the building of Tianjin's naval ships as well as the ships' conditions

Memorial (from the Grand Council memorials) by Wang Zhiyi (1743–1818; Viceroy of the Fujian and Zhejiang Province), Qing Dynasty (1644–1912)
Jan. 27, 1817 (Jiaqing's 22nd year of reign)
26 Folds 23.2 x 10.1 cm
The National Palace Museum Collection: Military Secrets File, No. 051138


The sudden uninvited arrival of an English diplomatic envoy, William Pitt Amherst (1773-1857), to Tianjin in June, 1816 (Jiaqing's 21st year of reign) and his subsequent arrival in Tongzhou raised Emperor Jiaqing's serious concerns regarding the level of security of the region. Emperor Jiaqing, who was known for engaging in vigorous attempts to wipe out the pirates in the southeast, summoned chancellors to organize the building of a naval base in Tianjin. Direct Viceroy Xu Kun proposed the building of four large-sized Tongan ships and four small-sized Tongan ships as the naval base, and the assignment was to be carried out by the provinces of Jiangnan, Zhejiang, Fujian, and Guangdong. As the Ji and Cheng-type Tongan ships were cross-ocean vessels which were more suited for the broader oceans in Tianjin, Wang Zhiyi, Viceroy of the Fujian and Zhejiang Province, suggested the building of the Ji and No. 1-type Tongan ships instead. To allow the Tongan ships from the various provinces to incorporate the same shapes and forms, Wang Zhiyi drew two sets of vessel images, and affixed notes one by one for explanations. He compiled two booklets describing the various types of lumber to be used including their size and thickness, and forwarded them to Sun Yuting (Viceroy of Liangjiang), Jiang Youxian (Viceroy of Liangguang), Yang Hu (Governor of Zhejiang) and others to begin the ships’ immediate construction. In the National Palace Museum’s Grand Council memorials, two attached diagrams of Tongan ships drawn by Wang Zhiyi can be found as well as the yellow affixed notes which record the information regarding the size of the ships, the crew, and weapons. However, the booklet containing the lumber information is yet to be found. (By Zhou Wei-Qiang)


The Tongan ship Ji Diagram (New window)

The Tongan ship Ji Diagram

Memorial (from the Copies of the Grand Council Memorials) by Wang Zhiyi (1743–1818; Viceroy of the Fujian and Zhejiang Province), Qing Dynasty (1644–1912)
Jan. 27, 1817 (Jiaqing's 22nd year of reign)
35.5 x 40.5 cm
The National Palace Museum Collection: Military Secrets File, No. 051156


Tongan ships were originally used as merchant ships. However, because of their easy operation, they gradually became warships used by the navy during the late Qianlong Dynasty. Because of the rise of pirates during the Jiaqing Era, to maintain naval superiority, the Qing Court began using large Tongan ships as its main warships in the open sea. After William Pitt Amherst’s arrival in China, Emperor Jiaqing also used the Tongan ships to rebuild the naval base in Tianjin. The above diagram, fully painted, was one of the attachments in the memorial submitted to the emperor reporting the building of Tianjin's naval ships as well as the shipsj' conditions prepared by Wang Zhiyi (Viceroy of the Fujian and Zhejiang Province). It included the Ji-type Tongan ship and its sampan. Affixed to the diagrams are two different types of tags, one of which is placed at the upper right-hand corner and contains calligraphy writing indicating the title of the diagram; the second is a rectangular tag placed to the right of the masts which also indicate the title of the diagram, as well as the length of the boat, the width of the beams, the height of the three masts, and the number of cannons for the sailors.

The Ji-type Tongan ship was 26 meters long with a mainmast measuring 29 meters high. As shown in the diagram, the biggest difference between Tongan ships and old naval ships was the three masts, which boosted the sailing speed because of the increase in sails number. Going by the imperially endorsed regulations and precedents on war vessels of the Fujian Province, the height of the mainmast in Tongan ships was approximately three meters higher than those found in the ganzeng ships, leading to the inference that a headpiece (a supplementary sail) could possibly be attached to the mainmast.

The Ji-type Tongan ship possessed eight primary cannon outlets, which were used for two 1,440-kg red cannons, two 1200-kg red cannons, and four 900-kg red cannons. In addition, one 480-kg and sixteen 84-kg short-ranged artilleries were added for a total of 25 firing outlets.

Despite the simplicity of this diagram, it was nevertheless a rare colored drawing of warships. It fully reveals the central structure of the Tongan ships, such as the hanging of the Dutch flag in the front mast and the sails installed on the main and rear mast for wind direction detection; found on the deck is a winch in the front of the boat as well as the crew, frames, cabinets, embrasures, and a narcissus door. Below the deck are clear pictures of rabbits' ears, horseback trotting, a water snake, keel, and rudder. The painting of the poop deck is delicate and refined. (By Zhou Wei-Qiang)


The Tongan ship No. 1 Diagram (New window)

The Tongan ship No. 1 Diagram

Memorial (from the Copies of the Grand Council Memorials) by Wang Zhiyi (1743–1818; Viceroy of the Fujian and Zhejiang Province), Qing Dynasty (1644–1912)
Jan. 27, 1817 (Jiaqing's 22nd year of reign)
35 x 39.5 cm
The National Palace Museum Collection: Military Secrets File, No. 051157


Another one of the attachments in the memorial submitted to the emperor reporting the building of Tianjin's naval ships as well as the ships' conditions prepared by Wang Zhiyi (Viceroy of the Fujian and Zhejiang Province), the above diagram was also fully painted, and included the No.1-type Tongan ship and its sampan. The drawing style resembled that of the Tongan ship Ji Diagram.

The No. 1-type Tongan ship was 22 meters long with a mainmast measuring 22 meters high. It was smaller than the Ji-type Tongan ship and has a normal-size mainmast as opposed to those observed in the Ji-type ships.

The No. 1-type Tongan ship possessed six primary cannon outlets, which were used for two 600-kg red cannons, two 480-kg red cannons, and two 300-kg cannons. In addition, four 60-kg and four 48-kg artilleries were used for a total of 14 firing outlets. The size of the painting of the poop deck and its content were less detailed than the Ji-type ship in this diagram. (By Zhou Wei-Qiang)


Memorial to the emperor: Viceroy Li Changgeng shot down in Guangdong Sea while pursuing Cai Qian; immediate reinforcement requested as well as capital punishment on the offenders (New window)

Memorial to the emperor: Viceroy Li Changgeng shot down in Guangdong Sea while pursuing Cai Qian; immediate reinforcement requested as well as capital punishment on the offenders

Memorial (from the Palace memorials from the Jiaqing Era) by Alinbao (active late 18th Century to early 19th Century; Viceroy of the Fujian and Zhejiang Province) et al., Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) Jan. 7, 1808 (Jiaqing's 13th year of reign) 12 Folds, 21.5 x 10.1 cm The National Palace Museum Collection: Palace Memorials, No. 095492


The emergence of pirates such as Cai Qian, Zhu Fen, and Cheung Po Tsai had given a rise to piracy during the Jiaqing Era. The three pirates were highly active in the coastal areas of Zhejiang, Fujian, and Guangdong, with Cai Qian being the most prominent among the trio. They not only harassed the coastal regions, but even attempted to take over Taiwan as their base. To counter this force, the Qing government strengthened the combat power of the navy in the open seas of Fujian and Zhejiang by building large ships and persistently attacking the pirates. Of all the naval generals to hunt down pirates, Viceroy Li Changgeng of Zhejiang was a representative figure: he had commanded the naval forces from the provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang, and had pursued and attacked Cai Qian for a number of years. Unfortunately, in a battle to take down Cai Qian at the Heishui Ocean, Viceroy Li Changgeng was shot down by one of Cai Qian's subordinates.

The above picture shows the memorial by Alinbao (Viceroy of the Fujian and Zhejiang Province) and Zhang Shicheng (Governor of Fujian) to the emperor to inform him of the death of Li Changgeng. According to their memorials, on Dec. 24, 1807 (Jiaqing's 12th year of reign), Li Changgeng, Zhang Jiansheng, and Xu Songnian led the navy from the Ganju Ocean into the Guangdong Sea. Li and Zhang later joined forces at the Zhoumen Ocean to pursue Cai. Cai, with 11 pirate ships moving from Nan'ao into the Guangdong sea, fired at the naval ships and attempted to escape. The chase continued through the night, and, by the morning of the 25th, only three of Cai's ships remained. The Qing navy did not ease off the chase and fiercely followed Cai's ships into the Heishui Ocean. By this time, the headpiece and flags on Cai Qian’s ship had been knocked off; the hull had been partly damaged and the crew suffered significant casualties. However, Cai's army was resilient and continued to fire back at the pursuer. Li ordered an unsuccessful fire attack on the pirate ships as the fires were quickly put out by the pirate crew. Then, fierce winds came unannounced and set off mountainous waves, rocking the ships. As Li attempted to reorganize a besieged attack on Cai's ships, he was shot in the throat and forehead and died between the hours of 13:00 and 15:00 on the 25th of Dec. The Qing’s naval ships were scattered by the wind but eventually regrouped on the 26th at the Haimen Ocean in Chaoyang County, Guangdong to enumerate their losses.

The death of Li shocked the imperial administration; Emperor Jiaqing also wrote "the loss of the country," "the life of the emperor lies with his military generals" in the official document. He marked "x's" beside the Cai's name to show his fury. In the edict Emperor Jiaqing also revealed that he was "shaken in disbelief" upon hearing Li's death, and he later bestowed Li the title of earl. Scholar Ruan Yuan wrote a poem as a tribute to Li, which read "he, who exhausts the rebels down to their last ship, stands alone in the chase to the end of the sea; he, who travels as far as 5,000 li and as long as four decades, is in perpetual pursuit of deadly criminals; he, who detaches himself from the luxury of his home and pillow, stops not before fulfilling his goal; he, who vows to put the assailants away for good, will see the beauty of the narcissus before his peers." (By Zhou Wei-Qiang)


Memorial to the emperor: details concerning the pursuit of Cai and Zhu in the Guangdong Sea by the Viceroy of the Fujian and Zhejiang Province (New window)

Memorial to the emperor: details concerning the pursuit of Cai and Zhu in the Guangdong Sea by the Viceroy of the Fujian and Zhejiang Province

Memorial (from the Palace memorials from the Jiaqing Era) by Alinbao (active late 18th Century to early 19th Century; Viceroy of the Fujian and Zhejiang Province) et al., Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) Jan. 24, 1808 (Jiaqing's 13th year of reign) 13 Folds, 21.6 x 10.1 cm The National Palace Museum Collection: Palace Memorials, No. 095620


The death of Viceroy Li Changgeng deeply saddened and enraged Emperor Jiaqing, who ordered the naval generals for full pursuit of the two groups of pirates led by Cai Qian and Zhu Fen. Cai Qian and Zhu Fen, the two largest pirate groups at the time, constantly hid in the areas of Zhejiang, Fujian, Taiwan, and Guangdong, making their capture extremely exhausting for the Qing navy. However, despite joining forces in robbing river travellers from time to time, Cai Qian and Zhu Fen also faced periods of hostility. It presented the Qing Court an opportunity to pacify Zhu Fen in order to alienate his relationship with Cai Qian so that the Qing government could attempt to take down the two bands. The above diagram shows the memorial submitted by Alinbao (style name Yuchuang; ?–1809; Viceroy of the Fujian and Zhejiang Province) to Emperor Jiaqing on Jan. 24, 1808 (Jiaqing's 13th year of reign) reporting the results regarding the pursuit of the pirates in Zhejiang, Fujian, and Guangdong over the past month. Alinbao personally visited Zhangzhou, Quanzhou and other regions to advise the generals in the engagement of naval pursuit. In a coordinated attempt to destroy the two bands, Zhang Jiansheng (Viceroy of the Fujian Navy) and Xu Songnian (General-in-Chief of Kinmen) entered Huizhou, Guangdong from the borders of Fujian on Dec. 26, and travelled southward to engage in a 10-day hunt of Cai Qian. Meanwhile, Wu Xiongguang (Viceroy of Liangguang) commanded Qian Menghu (Viceroy of Guangdong) and Wang Delu (General-in-Chief of Fujian, Guangdong, and Nan’ao) to move northward from Macau to capture Zhu Fen. However, as the naval troops from Fujian and Zhejiang were unfamiliar with the Guangdong areas, the Haifeng County issued a memorial to the government and immediately recruited local helmsmen to help operate and guide the ships to prevent any delays in the mission. This allowed the hunt for pirates to go with minimal interruption. The pursuit of pirates often resulted in the Qing navy walking into unfamiliar territories, which posed significant risks of them getting lost or stranded. However, this also proves to show the superior performance of Tongan ships to travel in oceans of varying depths.

Emperor Jiaqing’s grief over Li's death at his post, the sorrow of the naval generals, and the hatred toward Cai Qian were clearly expressed in this memorial. An "x" was marked beside every mention of Cai Qian's name by the emperor, who also remarked the incident as "despicable". At the end of the memorial was the emperor's comment, which stated that "all naval generals are ordered to have Cai Qian arrested immediately; those who successfully capture Cai Qian will be granted nobility, and those who fail to fulfil their duty will endure capital punishment." It was a decree by the emperor to remind the naval generals of Zhejiang and Fujian to avoid any negligence of duty due to the lack of interest or because of personal reasons, and those who vigorously and proactively seek the bandits would be granted nobility. (By Wu Yan-Ru)