"In the dark of night, I could see that dark hull. ... I could hear our people screaming, 'No! No!' I just couldn't believe it,"
April 28, 2009 5:04 PM   Subscribe

The Princess Taiping, a replica of an ancient Chinese sea-going Junk, was built to make a round trip across the Pacific from China to North America to show that Asian sailors might have reached North America before Columbus.

Nelson Liu, the captain of the junk and organizer of the trip is convinced that large junks could have sailed from China to North America. He had the Princess Taiping (Princess of Peace) built to the specifications of a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) war junk and set sail from Hong Kong last summer.

The junk was built with natural materials in strict accordance with ancient Chinese shipbuilding techniques using only traditional woods and no modern materials like bolts, nuts, and screws, or polyester, or plastic resins. Although required to have a a low power inboard/outboard engine it usually used sail power.

Less than 30 miles from the end of their approximately 14,000 mile voyage, The Princess Taiping was struck by the Liberian flag tanker Champion Express, who did not stop or render assistance. All crew were safely rescued after the junk was cut in half by a freighter in Suao, a fishing port on northeastern Taiwan.

The Princess Taiping made visits to:

Eureka, San Francisco (Youtube), Southern California ports, Hawaii, Saipan and Okinawa.
posted by The Light Fantastic (23 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
And I thought this guy was so cool for junk sailing.
posted by hanoixan at 5:08 PM on April 28, 2009

This has been a huge story in the Taiwan papers over the last few days. It's heartbreaking for Captain Liu and has made quite a few people very, very angry.

According to the Taipei Times: "The Coast Guard asked the Champion Express to sail to Taiwan for further investigation, but its captain refused and continued northward after finding out that no one had been killed in the incident. The Coast Guard could not force the Champion Express to sail to Taiwan because the collision occurred in international waters, but officials said that information on the collision would be provided to the Princess Taiping’s insurance company."

I'm not sure how much of the issue is that the Captain of the Champion Express seems to have had no regard for the people aboard, or how much of it has to do with Taiwan's weird international status. Nevertheless, it's such a messed up situation.
posted by gemmy at 5:16 PM on April 28, 2009

Does anyone seriously doubt this could be done? The junks are big advanced ships compared to other smaller craft that have crossed oceans - the North Atlantic in an open Viking boat, or the Pacific in a raft made of reeds. The question is not one of technical viability.
posted by stbalbach at 5:23 PM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is its speedometer in WPM?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 5:27 PM on April 28, 2009

I do not doubt a Chinese junk can cross the Atlantic, so as stbalbach said, the question is not one of technical viability. The question is: along with the authentic construction, did the crew wear authentic clothing, use authentic methods to store and preserve food and water and medicine and essentially attempt to cross the Pacific in such manner? My guess is no. They probably had warm clothes, a good diet and vitamins.

Still and all, it's a achievement and very sad the ship is gone.
posted by linux at 5:58 PM on April 28, 2009

Damn, what a stupid way for a great project to end. Hats off to Liu for getting as far as he did.
posted by homunculus at 6:23 PM on April 28, 2009

I don't know if it's the same theory we're talking about, but this has been comprehensively debunked.


Or just Google for "junk history."

The author didn't care. He knew he was caught, but still had the cash. He was cheekily grinning throughout the whole interview. Senior Chinese politicians wanted [and do] believe the author. Plus he has an army of internet goons helping spread the "truth" of his story. It was a laugh-a-minute documentary.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:26 PM on April 28, 2009

The ship that hit the junk was likely not part of Liberia's burgeoning shipping industry, but owned by another company (maybe a Chinese one) that uses the Liberian flag to escape prosecution.

Ah, the fruits of globalization.
posted by shii at 7:11 PM on April 28, 2009

What happened to the luggage after the accident?

You know, all those trunks in the junk.
posted by klangklangston at 7:23 PM on April 28, 2009 [5 favorites]

I remember reading about some large round stones with holes in the middle found off the coast of California that were thought to be similar to the type of anchors used by Chinese Junks.
Thor Heyerdahl certainly proved that these types of ancient voyages were certainly possible.
posted by Sailormom at 8:58 PM on April 28, 2009

He certainly did.
posted by Sailormom at 8:59 PM on April 28, 2009

There is no archaeological evidence whatsoever of deliberate trans-Pacific contact from China to the Americas. There just isn't.

Showing something could have happened is a long way from showing it did. Kon-Tiki is a classic example -- no serious archaeologist thinks that there were South American voyages on rafts to Polynesia (whereas pretty well all of them acknowledge the Polynesians made it to the Americas, and back). The fact that you can get a raft from A to B (with some modern help) knowing that B is there, proves nothing at all.
posted by Rumple at 9:41 PM on April 28, 2009

There is no archaeological evidence whatsoever of deliberate trans-Pacific contact from China to the Americas. There just isn't.

The book that started all this bunkum was 1421: The Year China Discovered The World.

This is not just a story about ones man’s wild theory. It is a parable of modern popular culture, a tale about intellectual chutzpah and about a publishing industry that knows how to extract profit from a public which wants to thumb its nose at the dry though documented history taught at school.

Interesting that a lot of Chinese politicians have swallowed the BS story. IIRC it was even bought up in a speech given in Australia where our Prime Minister was present.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:29 PM on April 28, 2009

[...] owned by another company (maybe a Chinese one) that uses the Liberian flag to escape prosecution.

Not just prosecution. Liberia is one of the most popular Flags of Convenience, so the ships owners don't have to pay income tax, registration fees, or abide by national labor laws.
*searches for more info*
Ah, it looks like the vessel's owned by a Norwegian company. They're the ones ultimately responsible as the captain would have definitely reported this incident. (South China Sea? Maybe they thought they were pirates?)

I don't see much information about the communications gear aboard the junk. What if they weren't reporting their position properly in a major shipping lane?
posted by pantsrobot at 11:18 PM on April 28, 2009

I had a neighbor who argued for Muslim Vikings discovering America, through an elaborate chain that seemed to involve the plot of the 13th Warrior. It got far enough along that he and some other fellow enthusiasts were able to build most of a boat in some Detroit warehouse according to the specs they said came from a 1300s Arabic manuscript (though they believed actual contact had taken place much earlier). The boat construction was financed by folks selling incense on street corners. I don't believe they ever finished the boat or launched it, and I could never tell how much of the history he was serious about (he seemed far more interested in being able to make a cool boat and a lot of chain mail, and the Afro-centric philosophy seemed more just rough conceits to hold the idea together), but I always thought it was kind of a cool, insane scheme.

Unfortunately, the economy in Detroit is such that Muslim Viking recreated voyages are no longer fiscally viable.
posted by klangklangston at 11:29 PM on April 28, 2009

Heh, I just noticed that the xvas.it link has the ship's INMARSAT number. Their side of the story's only a phone call away...
posted by pantsrobot at 11:33 PM on April 28, 2009

I bet there was a fair bit of THIS going on when they saw it bearing down on them.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:41 PM on April 28, 2009

Shucks, I was hoping they'd built one of the big junks from the Ming Dynasty. They were supposed to have dwarfed the one that was featured here.
posted by Atreides at 6:22 AM on April 29, 2009

Interesting that a lot of Chinese politicians have swallowed the BS story.

Like most (all?) politicians, they'll swallow anything that helps fire up pointless fervor in their client base.
posted by aramaic at 7:20 AM on April 29, 2009

Bunkum or not (and believe me, the 1491 idea is bunkum of the highest possible order - worse than Von Daniken, and worse than Muslim vikings, because it is easily disprovable), sailing a wooden junk across the Pacific is a very cool project, and it's a shame that they were the vicitim of a hit-and-run. There was an incident in Micronesia a couple of years ago where some local fishermen had an engine go out and ended up adrift. They hailed a commercial fishing boat, but their SOS was ignored, and they were left to die. They didn't, and the capitan of the commercial boat is I believe in jail as a result. My point is that there are some fucked-up people out there and this is an especially sad way for someone's dream to die.
posted by alexwoods at 11:56 AM on April 29, 2009

Also, this Nelson Liu guy sounds like a cretin.

"It was a miracle. God or Buddha kept us alive. It must have some meaning."
posted by alexwoods at 12:00 PM on April 29, 2009

Shucks, I was hoping they'd built one of the big junks from the Ming Dynasty. They were supposed to have dwarfed the one that was featured here.

For a good takedown of that myth, see here.
posted by alexwoods at 3:37 PM on April 29, 2009

Well, appreciate the link...though, Dr. Davies needs to take a writing class to learn to write well and not sound like an academic flinging around jargon. He doesn't well address the issue, other than say the size misconception is the result of several factors.

Don't get me wrong, I had a professor who had us read 1421 entirely so we could debunk it in a seminar session. In fact, he's even cited in the Wikipedia article on 1421.

Unfortunately, this reckless manner of dealing with evidence is typical of 1421, vitiating all its extraordinary claims: the voyages it describes never took place, Chinese information never reached Prince Henry and Columbus, and there is no evidence of the Ming fleets in newly discovered lands. The fundamental assumption of the book—that Zhu Di dispatched the Ming fleets because he had a "grand plan", a vision of charting the world and creating a maritime empire spanning the oceans (pp. 19–43)—is simply asserted by Menzies without a shred of proof. It represents the author's own grandiosity projected back onto the emperor, providing the latter with an ambition commensurate with the global events that Menzies presumes 1421 uniquely has revealed, an account that provides evidence "to overturn the long-accepted history of the Western world" (p. 400).

It is clear, however, that textbooks on that history need not be rewritten. The reasoning of 1421 is inexorably circular, its evidence spurious, its research derisory, its borrowings unacknowledged, its citations slipshod, and its assertions preposterous. Still, it may have some pedagogical value in world history courses. Assigning selections from the book to high-schoolers and undergraduates, it might serve as an outstanding example of how not to (re)write world history.

posted by Atreides at 5:36 PM on April 29, 2009

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