How is the Archaeological Discovery of “Nanhai No. 1” - the ancient merchant ship found in Yangjiang (Guangdong) - Related to the Ancient Silk Road?
In 1987, the accidental discovery of a shipwreck was made 20 nautical miles outside Port Dongping, Yangjiang in Guangdong Province. The discovery was made by a joint operation between the Chinese Salvage Company (Guangzhou Branch) and the Maritime Exploration & Recoveries PLC (MER PLC) of Southampton, England. The shipwreck discovered was quite intact. Among the remains, they found large quantities of porcelain, iron wares, coins, and gold wares. This discovery evidences that ‘Nanhai No. 1’ was merchant vessel that sank while journeying abroad.
On December 22nd, 2007, the main body of the ship was surfaced and a full excavation operation began on November 28th, 2013. Experts believe that ‘Nanhai No. 1’ was built by a shipyard in Fujian Province. A total of 60 to 80 thousand relics were surfaced during the excavation.
Historians believe that Yangjiang was not only a port lying along the ancient Maritime Sea Road, but was also an important transhipment port. The discovery of ‘Nanhai No. 1’ attests to this belief.
A large quantity of porcelain was found on board ‘Nanhai No. 1’. This porcelain included popular products from Dehua Yao, Cizao Yao, Jingdezhen Yao, and Longquan Yao. The porcelain evidences that during this period, porcelain had already replaced silk as China’s main export. It is believed that the porcelain found was mainly for export, as similar products were also found overseas. Large quantities of iron woks were also found on the upper deck, lying on top of the porcelain. Since iron is heavier than porcelain, the customary practice was to store them in the lower deck. One explanation for this unusual placement is that these iron woks were put onto the ship in Guangdong after a cargo of porcelain was just loaded onto the ship. (Porcelain was produced in northern provinces such as in Zhejiang, Fujian and Jiangxi). Besides porcelain and iron woks, more than ten thousand coins were found on the ship. The latest period marked on these coins was Shaoxing Yuanbao (1131AD-1162AD). Based on the dates on these coins, it is estimated that the ship was sunk during the same period. Since this ship carried such a great number of coins, it is believed that the coins were used for the payment of the importation of goods such as precious stones, ivory, rhino horns, and spices - highly valued goods. When the ship returned to China, it is theorized that the ship’s cargo was still not valuable enough to pay for these imports.
Based on where the ship was found, it is thought that the ship was on its way to countries along the South China Sea or Arabia. From the goods found on the ship, it is clear that served as a merchant vessel traveling the Maritime Sea Road. ‘Nanhai No. 1’ remains one of the major discoveries of the ‘Maritime Sea Road’.
The following highlights are recommended for tourists who are interested in visiting the ancient Silk Road: (1) Mingshashan and Crescent Lake, (2) Mogao Caves (Dunhuang Caves/ Mogao Grottoes), and the (3) Jiaohe Ruins.
Mingshashan and Crescent Lake (Yueyaquan):
Located approximately five kilometers south of Dunhuang, these two resorts lie closely to one another. Mingshashan is 1,715 meters high, and is famous for its sand that moves to produce noise. These noises give the mountain its name - Mingshashan (‘Mingshashan’ literally means ‘Singing Sand Mountain’). The Crescent Lake is located at the foothill of Mingshashan. It is an oasis located between the Badain Jaran Desert and the Taklamakan Dessert. The lake and its surrounding buildings comprise a unique landscape. Since the Han dynasty, Crescent Lake has become an increasingly famous tourist attraction.
Mogao Caves (Mogao Grottoes/ Duhuang Caves):
Also known as ‘The Caves of the Thousand Buddhas’, the Mogao Caves are located approximately 25 kilometers southeast of Duhuang. These caves were built during different periods, beginning from 366 AD to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 AD). Today, a total of 735 caves remain and extend from north to south along the eastern slope of Mingshashan. These caves form a belt 1,680 meters in length and 50 meters in height. In 1987, the caves were listed as World Heritage Sites. The Mogao Caves are the largest and most important sites for studying ancient Buddhist arts and culture.
The Jiaohe Ruins are located in the Yarnaz Valley, some 10 kilometers west of Turpan (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region). In a combined effort by China, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgystan, the ruins have been listed as a World Heritage Site since 2014. Jiaohe City was first built in 2 BC and was eventually destroyed in 14th Century. The city is around 1,650 meters in length and 300 meters in width. From the remains, it is believed that Jiaohe had once been a strongly fortified city.
(1) Poem of Xiongnu: ‘Our Lady are ashamed that we lost Yanzhishan（焉支山）. Our animals can’t multiply that we lost Qilianshan（祁連山）’. In 121 BC, the Han General Huo qu-bing defeated Xiongnu, the nomadic tribes in the north. The Xiongnu people were very sad and depressed to lose these two important places.
(2) Weicheng Qu（渭城曲）, a farewell poem by Wang wei（王維）: ‘The dust is washed off by the morning rain in the city of Weicheng. The inns and the willows look all fresh and green. Please have one more glass of wine before you go! For you’ll find no more old friends once you are out of Yangguan and journeying westward.’ In this poem, the writer vividly expressed his true and deep feeling.
(3) ‘ Along the Silk Road’: The famous dance drama was first staged in China in May, 1979. The background of this drama was the Silk Road and the cave murals of Dunhuang. The protagonists include an old painter of Dunhuang, his daughter, a merchant from Persia, and an official supervising trade affairs. The drama was so well received that it was further staged in Hong Kong, Japan, Italy and France, where it had won much acclaim. Based on the same story, the Xian Film Production Studio made it into a film bearing the same title in 1982.
(4) The Song ‘ Partner along the Silk Road’: This is the theme song of a documentary of Television Broadcasts Limited- ‘The Silk Road’. The song was sung by Roman Tam, the lyrics was written by James Wong, the music was taken from ‘Caravansary' originally composed by Kitaro and re-arranged by Chiu Man Hoi.
(5) The Cave Murals of Dunhuang: In these cave murals, many different themes are found- stories of Buddhism, natural landscapes, buildings, flowers, and the unique ‘Flying Devata’ and dancers. The paintings reveal that a combination of painting methods and techniques - Iranian, Indian, Greece and Chinese - have been used.
(6) Dunhuang Gandhara Arts: In the Dunhuang caves of the earlier period, the influence of Gandhara Arts prevails. For instance, in Cave 243, the Sakyamuni Buddha portrayed with the Indian style of dressing and hair is typical of Gandhara style.
(1) Batu Hitam Shipwreck: The shipwreck was discovered by the fishermen of Gelasa Strait, Indonesia, in 1998. The cargo on board were mainly goods from China which were made of gold, silver, brass, iron, lead, bone, wood, stone, glass, spices, pottery and porcelain. For pottery and porcelain alone, a total of 67,000 items were found.
(2) The Nanhaishenmiao (Temple for the worship of the Deity of the South): Located in Huangpu, Guangzhou, the temple was built on the order of the Emperor ‘Wendi’ of Sui Dynasty (594 AD). It was the largest temple for the worship of this deity in China. In the Tang and Song Dynasty, it was customary that the crew of all Chinese and non-Chinese trading vessels should worship at the temple and pray for a safe trip before setting sail.
(3) George Chinnery (1774－1852) is a famous impressionist painter. In the circle of western artists specializing in China, he had won much acclaim for his works. Since 1825, Chinnery based in Macau and he made regular visits to Guangzhou. He painted portraits of Chinese and Western people, as well as the landscapes of places that he had visited. Chinnery made numerous drawings of the people of Macau engaging in their daily activities. In 1846, he visited Hong Kong for six months. He studied and painted in detail what he saw in this newly acquired British colony. His works do not only have great artistic value but also historical value.