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Introducing the documentaryCast

Qing Renzong (Emperor Jiaqing)

Sayishiyaltu Yirugertu Khaan (1760-1820; temple name Renzong; era name Jiaqing) was the fifteenth son of Emperor Qianlong. Attaching great importance to the Qing's coastal defence, Emperor Jiaqing strongly supported the grouping of Tongan ships as the oceanic naval fleets to counter pirates and foreign powers. He strongly cautioned his naval generals not to neglect their duty and tolerate acts of piracy and enemy attacks, while generously awarding those who had provided meritorious service. He practiced consistent execution of reward and punishment, as evidenced by Li Changgeng's case: Li Changgeng had been reprimanded because of his failure to bring the pirates to justice. However, his later efforts redeemed his previous charges and he was subsequently bestowed the title of earl.

Li Changgeng

Li Changgeng (1750–1807; style name Chao Ren; sobriquet Xiyan; posthumous title Zhongyi) was a Tongan native from the Quanzhou Prefecture in Fujian. In 1771 (Qianlong's 36th year of reign), he successfully passed the imperial examination as the 2nd military candidate in the third division, and for the next forty years, guarded the seas of the Qing Dynasty.

Li Changgeng petitioned to the Qing court for the making or renting of large-sized Tongan ships, and used its size and superior operating performance to gain an edge in hunting down pirates. Because of his perpetual pursuit, he earned a remark from pirates, declaring that "tens of thousands of soldiers strike no fear as much as Li Changgeng". However, in a battle to chase down Cai Qian in 1807 (Jiaqing's 12th year of reign), Li was shot in the throat and forehead and died at his post.

Cai Qian

Cai Qian (1761–1809) was a Tongan native in Fujian. A leader of pirates, his army extended to the seas surrounding the provinces of Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, and Taiwan. At the zenith of his power, he led a total of over 200 ships and a crew of approximately 20,000 members.

Between both Cai Qian and the Qing navy, Cai Qian was the first to use the Tongan ships. Taking advantage of their magnificent size, the Qing navy was neither able to successfully attack nor board the ships. The Tongan ships were also used to attack Port Lu-Er-Men, Fengshan and other locations. Cai Qian’s battles with Li Changgeng lasted over several years. In 1809 (Jiaqing's 14th year of reign), he was found in Yushan located in Taizhou, Zhejiang, before being besieged by Wang Delu and Qiu Lianggong. They were able to successfully knock down Cai Qian’s ship, killing him in the process.

William Pitt Amherst

William Pitt Amherst (1773–1857) was an envoy who came on behalf of England to discuss in regards to the cross-national trades with the Qing Court in 1816 (Jiaqing's 21st year of reign). However, the negotiation failed due to etiquette disagreements.

Contrary to common practice, which was to take the land route and travel northward from Guangzhou, Amherst took the sea route and bypassed the naval line of defence in Guangdong, Fujian, and Zhejiang. As the naval base had been abolished in Tianjin, Amherst was able to go straight to Tianjin, revealing the hole in the capital's naval defence. To resolve this issue, Emperor Jiaqing ordered the provinces of Jiangnan, Zhejiang, Fujian, and Guangdong to jointly organize the recruit of officials as well as the building of ships and weapons to form the Tianjin naval base, all of which were completed within one year. They adopted larger-sized and easy-to-operate Tongan ships to consolidate the capital's naval defence.

Wang Zhiyi

Wang Zhiyi (?–1818; style name Xinnong) was a Tongcheng native in Anhui, and became a scholar in 1771 (Qianlong's 36th year of reign).

Of the four provinces ordered by Emperor Jiaqing to build the naval ships for Tianjin in 1816 (Jiaqing's 21st year of reign), Fujian was the only province capable of building Tongan ships. To allow the Tongan ships from the various provinces to incorporate the same shapes and forms, Wang Zhiyi (Viceroy of the Fujian and Zhejiang Province) drew two sets of vessel images and compiled two booklets describing the various types of lumber to be used (the booklets are currently lost). He forwarded these information to Sun Yuting (Viceroy of Liangjian), Jiang Youxian (Viceroy of Liangguang), and Yang Hu (Governor of Zhejiang) to begin the ships’ immediate construction. A total of eight Ji-type and Cheng-type Tongan ships were eventually built, which became the most powerful naval force in Northern China at the time and safeguarded the capital's oceanic security.