Maritime Vessels in the RTK Era

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Unread postby Han Xin » Tue Oct 29, 2002 7:40 am

Great Deer wrote:
Han Xin wrote:
Lady Wu wrote:The Doujian looks a little too modern to me... I can't see Liu Biao owning 1000 of these guys :lol:

Any idea regarding the scale? How many of them can you actually fit at Chibi? I didn't think really large boats would be practical for river warfare...


I am not sure if it is too modern, Jiang Qin's ship was thought to be 5 decks high, unlest Great Deer believe its another exaggeration of JiangBiao Zhuan. :lol:


I believe there's another Wu guy, He Qi, whose ships were very impressive looking (or at least from its description in He Qi's SGZ bio). Btw, where did you get the info on Jiang Qi's 5 deck high ships? If the model of a dou jian is reasonably accurate, I think it's possible for the ship to be 5 deck high (including the hull?).


Sorry, it wasn't Jiang Qin, it was Dong Xi. SGZ prefer to his ship as WuLuo Chuan (I believe the term WuLuo meaning 5-storeys)

Seem like luxury ships were the Ferraris for most of Wu's generals. I readed that Sun Quan meet Liu Bei on his Airforce One called the FeiYun. :lol:
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Unread postby Lady Wu » Tue Oct 29, 2002 5:11 pm

Han Xin wrote:Sorry, it wasn't Jiang Qin, it was Dong Xi. SGZ prefer to his ship as WuLuo Chuan (I believe the term WuLuo meaning 5-storeys)

Wait, is that Dong Xi's own ship? I thought it was commanded by Sun Quan to be guarded by Dong Xi. Whatever it was, it had some structural flaws, because it collapsed that night during a storm and killed Dong Xi. (Titanic anyone? :wink: )

Seem like luxury ships were the Ferraris for most of Wu's generals. I readed that Sun Quan meet Liu Bei on his Airforce One called the FeiYun. :lol:
LOL Airforce One... I remember reading that too, but forgot which footnote in whose bio it was... :roll:

Hey, so the Doujian are the main force of the navy then? I wonder what they did when they were training in the lakes...
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Unread postby Mega Zarak » Wed Oct 30, 2002 4:26 pm

I've found some interesting points from a book that I have written by Zhang Da Ke, a Chinese Historian. They are as follows:

In the book, the author has identified several key ports in Wu where the ships were built. Some of them are Jian An prefecture Hou Guan (present day Min Hou County at Fu Jian), Yong Ning county at Ling Hai prefecture (present day city of Wen Zhou at Zhe Jiang) and Fan Yu county at Nan Hai prefecture (present day city of Guang Zhou). As I've not been to the actual places, perhaps those who live or have been there can verify for us.

For each shipyard, the officer-in-charge was known as Chuan Du Wei. Most of the ships that were manufactured were battleships, followed by merchat ships. These ships were built in great numbers and they came in huge sizes with good qualities. The largest warship could carry 3000 soldiers, was 5 storey high (Wu Lou Quan?), and had beautiful sculptures on it. Overall, such warships had a very commanding and elegant look. The smaller vessels for sailing in the open sea were reported to have a capacity for carrying 80 horses. For the ocean-faring merchant ships, a description was quoted from Sun Xiu's SGZ bio which goes,"The larger one is 20+ zhang long, with 2-3 zhang above the water and it looked like a small tower from afar. It can carry 6-700 people and 10,000 hu of goods". In various military expeditions to Korea, Taiwan and Liao Dong via the sea routes, the Wu navy comprised of 100+ ships carrying 10,000+ soldiers. This implies that the shipbuilding industry of Wu was very advanced and so was the navigation skills of Wu's sailors. When Wu surrendered to Jin, some 5000+ maritime vessels were acquired by Jin.
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Unread postby Jiang Zhi » Tue Jan 07, 2003 12:53 am

The 1st one looks like the one Zhou Yu was on at Chibi at the TV series :) and the one Lu Xun comes out of before the capture of Guan Yu.....

How does these ships compare to the Triemes of the Greeks, the ships the Romans have and those of the Carthagineans? :P
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Unread postby Jimayo » Wed Feb 05, 2003 11:33 pm

Rafe de Crespigny wrote:One difficulty in dealing with the military history of Wu, bound up so closely with naval warfare on the Yangzi and its tributaries, is that we know very little of the tactics employed in any of the battles and skirmishes, nor of the ships and weapons used in those engagements. It is one thing to discuss the strategy involved in the approach to such a battle as that at the Red Cliffs but, once the romantic rhetoric is removed, there is not much fact to fill out the story.89
We are told, for example, that there was a preliminary skirmish between Cao Cao's forces and those of the allies, and that Cao Cao's men had the worst of it - but there are no details of the nature of the fighting, nor any indication of the time that elapsed between the first engagement and the successful strike by Huang Gai. And although Sanguo zhi gives clear details of the arrangements for that attack, there is confusion in the texts even as to the nature of the ships that Huang Gai used, and the number of them.
Firstly, Sanguo zhi says that the number of vessels in Huang Gai's squadron was "several tens", but the parallel passage in Zizhi tongjian, which may have followed a different edition of Sanguo zhi, emits one character, and so allocates Huang Gai only 10 ships.90 Again Sanguo zhi describes Huang Gai only as a "divisional commander" under Zhou Yu - a vague term which may indicate some informality in the command structure of the allies or, more probably, simple ignorance on the part of the historian.91
With regard to the ships themselves, they are described by the expression mengchong doujian, which served at that time as a general description for vessels of war: a little earlier in Sanguo zhi this term is used for the numbers of Cao Cao's fleet.92
The phrase mengchong is discussed by the Tang scholar Li Quan in his Taibo yin jing, and that passage has become the locus classicus for description of ships at that time.93 We are there given a list of 6 different classes of warships, the louchuan, "Towered Warship", the mengchong, rendered by Needham as "Covered Swooper", the zhanjian "Combat-Junks", also known as doujian "Fighting Junks", the zouge "Flying Barques", the youting, "Patrol Boats" and the haihu "Sea-Hawks". The mengchong is said to have been protected by a covering of raw ox-hides, for safety against fire and against missile weapons, with loop-holes in the sides for cross-bows and pikes. It is emphasised, however, that the mengchong was a light and narrow craft, built for speed as much as for security, and his rendering of mengchong by the phrase "Covered Swooper", Needham explains the character chong as implying "rushing violent motion".94
Such a description of the mengchong, however, does not fit well with another account of ships of this type in action at the time: early in 208, a few months before the Red Cliffs, when Huang Zu had sought to defend the entrance to the Han River from the Yangzi by great ropes across the stream, he had mengchong ships moored to defend it. The mengchong ships were evidently acting as floating fortresses, not as light skirmishing vessels.95
It seems likely that two things have happened to this terminology. Firstly between the third century, when the fighting we are discussing took place, and the eigth and ninth centuries, when the Tang scholars compiled their lists and descriptions, the role of the ships called mengchong changed, so they were indeed used as protected skirmishing craft, and had in fact become lighter. Secondly, as a consequence of this change in role, while the character meng was understood as meaning was still understood as meaning "covered", the character chong was, as Needham has argued, interpreted to describe a rushing attack. I suggest, however, that in Han and Three Kingdoms times, the character chong held its other, perhaps more basic, meaning of "breaking the enemy line". While the mengchong of Tang did this purely by speed, the mengchong of Han was a powerful warship, possibly equipped with a ram, whose effectiveness depended upon the weight of its approach, not its speed. I prefer, therefore, to render the term as "Armoured Breaker" rather than "Covered Swooper", and I suspect that it's function was primarily to destroy the cohesion of enemy formations, allowing individual units to be isolated and surrounded, not to physically strike and sink another ship.96
As to the doujian, the Tang tests describe it as a large, open, ship, with two ranks of raised bulwarks, pierced with loop-holes. Confusingly, we are told that these fighting junks were designed for "combat", while the mengchong were not, which seems a strange thing to say about a warship. Needham suggests, however, that "this may have been an explanation intended for military readers used to close combat on terra firma,"97 and on this basis, we may understand the mengchong as designed for ship-against-ship fighting, while the doujian were for hand-to-hand combat by boarding, or by antipersonnel missiles such as spears or cross-bows.
One may be reading too much into these scattered and often generalised references, but it seems reasonable to regard the essential division of responsibility among the major ships of these river fleets as being between those which served as fighting platforms for spearmen and archers to engage in close combat, and those which were covered with some form of protective material, and which could be used to break the enemy line of battle and perhaps to damage their ships and men with a ram or by projectiles. In that sense, the phrase mengchong doujian would then describe both the specialised functions of the capital ships at that time.
We know, of course, that the term louchuan was used regularly for great warships of the Han dynasty. Ships of that description were used in various Chinese attacks against the far south, and a General of the Towered Ships took part in the conquests of Nan-Yue and Dong-Yue for Emperor Wu of Former Han.98 During the Former Han, moreover, there was an Office for Towered Warships in Lujiang commandery, for the construction of louchuan and for the training of sailors, and this organisation was very probably continued in some form during Later Han.99 The term, indeed, had been used for centuries before Han,100 and although the Tang texts treat louchuan as a particular class of vessel, distinct from the mengchong and the doujian, it may well be better understood, at least for this period, as a general description of a warship with more than one deck.
Given the existence of river currents and the uncertainties of the winds, there is no question that these ships must have carries both sails and oars, and although many were built specifically for service in war, it seems most probable that their design was based upon local river junks. Unlike the contempary Mediterranean world, where the trading ship contrasted sharply with the specialised trireme and other warships, a Chinese fighting fleet of the early third century would have looked very much like an over-built and over-manned group of civilian vessels.101 And they would have been escorted, of course, by a mass of small craft, from light sailing ships to canoes, anything which could be pressed into service and which might be useful in skirmishing.
There is, of course, one notable difference in the nature of river warfare as opposed to that which takes place at sea: the action is quite literally channelled into a limited area. The commander of a river fleet may normally expect to be well informed of the position and the movements of his adversary, and the conduct of naval manoeuvres is inevitably close linked to those of armies on land.102
In this situation, the requirements of a fleet are comparatively simple and straightforward, for it acts in many ways like a land army, and frequently as the extension of a landed force. Many of the ships are designed chiefly for the transport of troops, and although the men may fight on water, they are quite as likely to disembark and engage on shore. As conservative officers observed when Lu Meng proposed to establish a bridgehead fortress at Ruxu, "We climb the bank to attack the enemy and we wade in the water to rejoin our ships. What is the use of such a fort?"103 And though the fortress indeed proved valuable, the principle was not negated.
This natural use of a river fleet primarily for the transport of an army was only enhanced in Han times by the fact that the weaponry of the time did not include any effective method of "ship-killing". Leaving aside the special case of fire-ships, one regular battle-ship could not normally expect to destroy another. Given the traditional Chinese techniques of ship-building, which provided watertight compartments agains sinking, but no keel which could form the basis fo a ram, an attacker was at far more of a disadvantage against the defender than was the case in naval warfare on the Mediterranean.104 And before the advent of cannon, mechanical missile-launchers such as the catapult or trebuchet were so slow and clumsy that they were largely ineffective against rival ships.105
There was, indeed, the possiblity of fire, but the success of an attack by fireships required a particular combination of circumstances, notably a favorable wind, with an element of surprise or circumstances of restricted manoeuver by the object of the attack. Such a tactic, therefore, would normally be improvised on the spot, either with some light craft or unwanted ship constructed for the occasion or, as with Huang Gai, special adaptation for the purpose. Otherwise, apart from the use of arrows with inflammable materials attached, which was not particularly difficult for the defenders to control, the Chinese of the third century did not have a regular and effective means to deliver an attack by fire. Most notably, there was at that time no Greek Fire.106
For the most part, therefore, the greatest danger to a naval vessel of this time was not the enemy but the weather. The expanse of the Yangzi and the various lakes and tributaries was quite sufficient to present notable problems of seamanship, and there was a natural tendency to overload fighting ships with defensive construction and upper-works, to a degree where many of them were so low in the water and so high above it that they were extremely difficult to handle. The biography of Dong Xi in Sanguo zhi tells how he was in command of a great five-decked ship when a storm arose suddenly in the night. The ship was evidently top-heavy and of limited seaworthiness. As it was about to founder, Dong Xi was urged to make his escape. He refused to leave his post of command, however, and went down with the ship.107 Again, in 222, when Cao Pi first brought his army south against Sun Quan, a number of ships in a squadron commanded by Lu Fan were caught by a violent storm on the Yangzi and were wrecked or foundered with the loss of several thousand men.108
In general terms, however, it seems clear that the men of the south were highly competent sailors, and their seamanship gave them consistent advantage over invaders from the north. We are told that on a number of occasions after 208 Cao Cao and his successors sought to train their men on lakes before they committed them to battle along the line of the Yangzi,109 but practice manoeuvres in limited and artificial conditions could not match the experience which the men of Wu gained in dealing with the Yangzi and in regular patrols and small-scale expeditions against local trouble in the Poyang region and along the Han and the Xiang. For people of the south, rivers provided essential routes for the most long-distance travel and transport of civilian goods, so mastery of navigation and the techniques of naval warfare were a natural and essential part of the military and political power of the state.
From this point of view, the defeat at the Red Cliffs gains even more importance, for Cao Cao and his heirs never again controlled a fleet comparable to that which he had acquired in 208. In skill and experience, the forces which Cao Cao had taken over from Liu Biao had been equal to those of Sun Quan and his allies. Whether by reason of internal dissidence, poor management or the mischance of fate, as a result of the Red Cliffs campaign, followed by the success of the allies against Jiangling in the next year, that great fleet was lost.
It may well of seemed to Cao Cao, and to others at the time, that the matter was of minor importance, for ships could always be rebuilt and the northern part of Jin province was yet a substantial acquisition. In fact, however, the victory gave Sun Quan and Liu Bei control of the Yangzi, and in the defence of that line of the river the southerners acquired a strategic initiative, and a dominace in skill, which they retained for generations to come.
One final point: the records o the great warfleets which contested the Yangzi are evidence also of massive mercantile trade and industrial development in ship construction. During Han, there was a naval base in Lujiang commandery, with facilities for maintenance and construction, and there were certainly private shipyards at harbours along the waterways. The transformation of the Yangzi, however, from an internal transport route to a front line of naval warfare, required and received a far greater construction capacity than before, and every defence post of Sun Quan's territory must have had workshops to construct and service their ships.
At the same tim, the importance of the Yangzi for civilian trade had also expanded. The communications routes of Han were based on roads and canals which led to Luoyang, and the Yangzi was not a major artery of such a network. The development of Sun Quan's stare, however, would depend increasingly upon his ability to maintain links between the middle and lower Yangzi, and the river itself was the only obvious route of access between the two regions. So the manufacture and deployment of warships was complemented by private ships for trade and transport, and the waters of the Yangzi and its tributaries saw an explosion of commercial development. As we argue above, many of the ships of war, like those of medieval Europe, were surely civilian craft which had been commandeered and converted for short-term service, and though official histories are predictably silent upon the question of mercantile trade, we know that the great invasion force sent against Jing province in 219 was disguised as a fleet of merchants. When vessels sufficient to hold thirty thousand men could be presented as a normal commercial enterprise, there were surely great fleets upon the river.


89 One of the best studies of Chinese inland naval warfare is the article by Dreyer on the Poyang campaign of 1363 between the warlord Chen Youliang and Zhu Yuanzhang, future founding emperor of the Ming dynasty.

90 Cf. SGZ 54/Wu 9, 1262-63, and ZZTJ 65, 2093

91 The chinese phrase is bu jiang. The biography of Huang Gai in SGZ 55/Wu 10 notes that he had lately been Chief Commandant of Danyang commandery, and after Red Cliffs he was made a General of the Gentleman of the Household, but we cannot judge what rank he held at the time nor how many ships he might have been expected to command.

92 SGZ 54/Wu 9, 1261

93 The Tong dian of the early ninth century, compiled by Du You, 160, 848c-849a, quotes from the Taibo yin jing "Secret Classic of the Great White [Planet of War (= Western Venus)]", compiled in the middle of the eighth century. This passage is quoted in turn by the commentary of Hu Sanxing to ZZTJ 65, 2089-90, parallel to SGZ 54/Wu 9, 1261. The text, with additions from other sources, is discussed by Needham, Science and Civilisation IV:3, 424-425, and translated at 685-686.

94 Needham, Science and Civilisation IV:3, 686 note a.

95 See page 240 above, quoting SGZ 55/Wu 10, 1291, where I render the phrase mengchong as "ships covered with raw ox-hide".
Needham, Science and Civilisation IV:3, 449 and 680, refers twice to this engagement, but he does not take particular notice of the role of the mengchong.

96 Needham, Science and Civilisation IV:3, 680, notes that the Shi ming of about 100 AD describes the mengchong as long and narrow, dashing against the ships of the enemy, shile the eighteenth century commentator Wang Niansun, discussing the list of names of types of ships in the third centuray work Guang ya(which unfortunately gives no description of the vessels named), explains that the character meng should be understood as synonymous with mao, which can refer to a covering but which here held the sense of "rushing and colliding". Needham goes on to argue that although meng may have originally referred to the ram function, by Tang times it had been interpreted as describing the defensive covering.
I believe that in this Needham is correct, but it is my argument that the term mengchong had gained this significance by the early third century. On the question of ramming, see below.
Schafer, Vermilion Bird, 242, citing Tong dian, notes that the phrase mengchong, or mengtong, was a Tang name for the hornbill bird(Dicheros), while the phrase mengtong referred specifically to a warship. Schafer understands chong/tong as implying that the ships possessed a ram at the front: this may have been so, but the character may have meant only that they were swift and manoeuverable enough to dart among the enemy ranks and harass them. Schafer also remarks that these vessels first appear in history in the account of the Red Cliffs campaign. This is, of course, not strictly correct, for the Red Cliffs action took place at the end of 208, some nine months after the battle with Huang Zu at Xiakou.

97 The Chinese states that the mengchong were (something in chinese) while the doujian were (something else in chinese). Needham's remarks appear in Science and Civilisation IV:3, at 687.

98 See, for example, HS 6, 186 and 189; HFHD II, 80 and 82.

99 See page 55 above.

100 See Needham's citations in Science and Civilisation IV:3, at 299 and 440.

101 When Lu Meng moved west along the Yangzi to attack Guan Yu in 219, he had his troops hidden in barges and dressed the men who appeared on deck of the ships in civilian clothes, so they would look like merchants. The disguise appears to have been completely successful; which would indicate that warships were not obviously specialised vessels. See page 400 below.

102 One may compare the quite different situation of naval warfare as known in the West. To take two well-known examples. In 1588 the Spanish plan for invasion of England required a complicated, and eventually impossible, coordination between the sailing Armada and the forces of the Duke of Parma in the Netherlands. In 1805 Napoleon's hopes for a similar invasion from his great camp at Boulogne were eventually frustrated by the outcome of Nelson's and Villeneuve's manoeuvres in the Atlantic, which included a hunt as far as the West Indies, and which culminated in the battle off Trafalgar, far distant from the ultimate object of the excersise.

103 SGZ 54/Wu 9, 1275

104 The question and the history of ramming is a long and complicated one, and it is diffecult to distinguish between ships designed to hole the enemy below the water-line, those which were constructed or reinforced to withstand a fore-and aft shock, and those which simply ran into another from the side and acquired a largely accidental or opportunistic advantage.
Needham, Science and Civilisation IV:3, 678-680, discussing the matter, cites the Yue jueshu "Lost records from the State of Yue", of which some part may be dated to the first century AD, where there is reference to tuwei "Stomach-striker" ships, possibly armed with sharp protuberances to hole the enemy below the water-line, and the fragmentary third-century work Wanji lun "Discussion of the Myread Stratagems", by the admiral Jiang Ji of Wei, which tells how the oared ships of Wu and Yue in the Warring States period had "butted into each other as if with horns" - though it is uncertain in this case whether their opponents were overturned or sank, and it is not certain that the term chu has the neccessary meaning of ramming below the water line. In both cases, Needham is cautious about interpreting the terms as relating specifically to rams. He does suggest, however, at 680, that maotu ships used at the beginning of Later han were capable of ramming; at 681 he observes the existence of a particular type of sampan in the region of Hangzhou which, unusually for a Chinese vessel, has a bifid stem and stern with a ram-like projection; and at 681 note b he states that in the Song period there is evidence of deliberate use of the ram.
On the other hand, in his descussion of "The Po-yang Campaign" at 209 Dreyer observes that "It is also clear from the battle accounts that tactics did not depend upon the ram, so that the warships could do one another damage only by shooting arrows or other projectiles." Although this relates to events a thousand years after the time we are discussing, it is noteworthy that Chines ships of that time did not use the ram. By contrast, in the West, after the extraordinary Italian success at the battle of Lissa in 1866, early version of steam-powered ironclads up to the beginning of this century were deliberately designed with ramming capacity.

105 Thy could, however, be used from ships or other floating platforms in attacking a static fortification such as a city wall. In the warfare between Zhu Yuanzhang and Chen Youliang during the mid-fourteenth century, both sides captured ships by assault from ships. See Dreyer, "The Po-yang Campaing", 204.

106 In his admirable essay on the "The Gunpowder Epic" in Science and Civilisation V:7, Needham has sections on early incendiary warfare, with naptha, Greek Fire and flame-throwers.
At 76-77, Needham observes that the Chinese of Han had access to petroleum through natural oil seepages, and there is evidence that supplies of petroleum were part of a military arsenal late in the third century. It would appear, however, that it was no more than another inflammable substance, and it is not until the tenth centuray that the phrase menghuo you "fierce fire oil", appear to indicate the adoption of Greek Fire.
The ingredients of Greek Fire, which could be pumped and ignited against an enemy, are not known for certain. One theory is that it was a mixture of pitch and saltpetre, another that it was distilled petroleum, similar to modern volatile petrol. The technique, however, appears in the eastern Mediterranean no earlier than the latter part of the seventh century(Needham, Science and Civilisation V:7, 76-80). Similarly, the effective use of incediary oils based upon naptha was developed by the early Arab Muslim armies at about the same time, or perhaps a little later(Needham, Science and Civilisation V:7, 73-74).
Neither of these useful incendiaries, therefore, was available to the warriors of the Three Kingdoms, and the oil that Huang Gai used in his fireships at the Red Cliffs is described as gaoyou "fatty oil", presumably prepared from animals or fish.

107 SGZ 55/Wu 10, 1291, and also page 6/22 below. The vessel is described as wulou chuan: a phrase which might imply five separate fighting turrets, but probably refers to five decks. The Tang authorities regarded three decks as normal for a louchuan: Needham, Science and Civilisation IV:3, 442.

108 See page 431 below, and SGZ 56/Wu 11, 1311, and SGZ 47/Wu 2, 1126; Fang, Chronicle I, 133. There was also the occasion in 232 that the fleet of Wu which had been visiting Gongsun Yuan in the northeast was wrecked in winter off the Shandong peninsula(eg. Fan, Chronicle I, 376 and 393-394). That, however, was a matter of navigation at sea, with all its greater dangers. We know nothing of the ships involved exept that they had been sent primarily to obtain horses, so there is no reason to believe they were specialised warships.

109 In the spring and summer of 209, for example, the year after the Red Cliffs, Cao Cao arranged for naval exercises on the lakes near Qiao, in preparation for attack against Sun Quan's positions south of Hefei: SGZ 1, 32 and page 316 below.


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Unread postby Milliardo » Mon Aug 11, 2003 7:14 pm

Wow, thats a lot of information there ^ Excellent job.
I wonder if it would perhaps be possible to find any model kits of these ships. I love building model ships, and I'm sure they must have some in China somewhere.
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Unread postby Elven Fury » Wed Jan 21, 2004 3:30 am

all i see are red x's is there anthing to do about it?
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Unread postby Mega Zarak » Fri Jan 30, 2004 4:53 am

Elven Fury wrote:all i see are red x's is there anthing to do about it?


I'm sorry about that. Apparently the hosting site has disabled remote linking (I guess). I still have the pictures though but I don't think I'd like to rely on those free hosting sites for those pictures again.

EDIT: Ok, I've changed my mind. The images are up now. I'd give it a try one last time using the free hosting site that is hosting my avatar. :)
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Unread postby Tianshan Zi » Tue Dec 07, 2004 2:07 am

Although I generally recommend Osprey books with great caution, Stephen Turnbull's Fighting Ships of the Far East (1) is not bad. The earlier Han vessels (like the floating "wedding cake" forts and smaller warships) are covered well enough, but it essentially skips over the Three Kingdoms era--again, a testimony to the lack of definite information on the vessels of the time. However, using this book and additional research (like DeCrespigny's above), one can put to together a decent "generic" idea of what the Three Kingdoms multi-decked and smaller vessels were like.
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Unread postby Jiang Zhi » Fri Dec 08, 2006 11:27 pm

Anyone got the pictures of the ships again?
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