|Imperial Chinese Navy|
|Allegiance||Emperor of China|
|Ensign of the Imperial Chinese Navy|
The Imperial Chinese Navy was the modern navy of the Qing Empire established in 1875. An Imperial naval force in China first came into existence from 1132 during the Song Dynasty and existed in some form until the end of the Qing period in 1912. However, the "Imperial Chinese Navy" usually only refers to the Qing navy which existed between 1875 and 1912.
The Second Opium War showed the complete futility of the pre-modern Chinese fleet when facing modern European navies, when 300 Chinese naval junks, armed with British-made guns, did almost no damage to 56 British and French ironclads. In the 1860s, an attempt to establish a modern navy via the British-built Osborn or "Vampire" Fleet to combat the Taiping rebels' US-built gunboats. The so-called "Vampire Fleet" fitted out by the Chinese government for the suppression of piracy on the coast of China, owing to the non-fulfilment of the condition that British commander Sherard Osborn should receive orders from the imperial government only, was scrapped.
In 1865, the Jiangnan Shipyard was established.
In 1874, a Japanese incursion into Taiwan exposed the vulnerability of China at sea. A proposal was made to establish three modern coastal fleets: the Northern Sea or Beiyang Fleet, to defend the Yellow Sea, the Southern Sea or Nanyang Fleet, to defend the East China Sea, and the Canton Sea or Yueyang Fleet, to defend the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. The Beiyang Fleet, with a remit to defend the section of coastline closest to the capital Beijing, was prioritised.
A series of warships were ordered from Britain and Germany in the late 1870s, and naval bases were built at Port Arthur and Weihaiwei. The first British-built ships were delivered in 1881, and the Beiyang Fleet was formally established in 1888. In 1894 the Beiyang Fleet was on paper the strongest navy in Asia at the time. However, it was largely lost during the First Sino-Japanese War in the Battle of the Yalu River. Although the Zhenyuan and Dingyuan modern batttleships were impervious to Japanese fire, they were unable to sink a single ship and all eight cruisers were lost.The battle displayed once again that the modernisation efforts of China were far inferior to the Meiji Restoration. The Nanyang Fleet was also established in 1875, and grew with mostly domestically built warships and a small number of acquisitions from Britain and Germany.
The admiralty or naval board (haijun yamen) was established in 1885.
The Nanyang Fleet fought in the Sino-French War, performing somewhat poorly against the French in all engagements.
The separate Fujian and Guangdong fleets became part of the Imperial navy after 1875. The Fujian Fleet was almost annihilated during the Sino-French War, and was only able to acquire two new ships thereafter. By 1891, due to budget cuts, the Fujian Fleet was barely a viable fleet. The Guangdong Fleet was established in the late 1860s and based at Whampoa, in Canton (now Guangzhou).
In 1909, the remnants of the Beiyang, Nanyang, Guangdong and Fujian Fleets, together with the Hubei fleet, were merged, and re-organised as the Sea Fleet and the River Fleet.
In 1911, Sa Zhenbing became the Minister of Navy of the Great Qing.
One of the new ships delivered after the war with Japan, the cruiser Hai Chi, in 1911 became the first vessel flying the Yellow Dragon Flag to arrive in American waters, visiting New York City as part of a tour.
After the Xinhai Revolution in 1911 and the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912, the Imperial Chinese Navy was replaced by the Republic of China Navy. The People's Liberation Army Navy was established in early 1949 by the Communist Party of China, and after the establishment of the People's Republic of China later that year became the main navy of China.
In 1885, after the Sino-French War, the Qing court set up a Navy Office to oversee the navy. In 1910, as part of the reform of the Qing government structure, the Navy Office was replaced by a Navy Ministry, headed by a Navy Secretary.
The highest ranks of the navy after the merger of the fleets in 1909 were:
When it was first developed by Empress Dowager Cixi, the Beiyang Fleet was said to be the strongest navy in East Asia. Before her adopted son, Emperor Guangxu, took over the throne in 1889, Cixi wrote out explicit orders that the navy should continue to develop and expand gradually. On the eve of the First Sino-Japanese War, the German General Staff predicted a victory for China and William Lang, who was a British advisor to the Chinese military, praised Chinese training, ships, guns, and fortifications, stating that "in the end, there is no doubt that Japan must be utterly crushed". However, after Cixi went into retirement, all naval and military development came to a drastic halt. The military defeats suffered by China has been attributed to the factionalism of regional military governors. For instance, the Beiyang Fleet refused to participate in the Sino-French War in 1884, the Nanyang Fleet retaliating by refusing to deploy during the Sino-Japanese War of 1895. Li Hongzhang wanted to personally maintain control of this fleet, many top vessels among its number, by keeping it in northern China and not let it slip into the control of southern factions. China did not have a single admiralty in charge of all the Chinese navies before 1885; the northern and southern Chinese navies did not cooperate, therefore enemy navies needed only to fight a segment of China's navy.
Pre-19th-century ships were wood and of various sizes.
Coastal Defense Ships:
Flags shown are for the Imperial Chinese Navy during the period 1909 to 1911:
Notes:The Commodore was not a substantive rank, but rather a captain commanding a squadron.
The cruiser Hai Chi ("Flag of the Sea") earned in 1911 the distinction of being the first Chinese war boat ever to visit the West when she steamed as near as possible to the Coronation of King George V, discharged a cargo of Chinese emissaries in gorgeous silken robes. Built in 1897 the Hai Chi and the equally venerable Hai Shen ("Pearl of the Sea") were still listed last week as the only cruisers in China's Northeastern Squadron.
Who cruiser Hai-Chi of the Imperial Navy of China, the first vessel of any kind flying the yellow dragon flag of China that has ever been in American waters, steamed into the Hudson yesterday morning and anchored in midstream opposite the Soldiers and Sailors' Monument, at Eighty-ninth Street.
Officers and men of the Chinese cruiser Hai-Chi, which arrived at this port Monday, are to be given ample opportunity to see New York during their stay of 10 days here. ...
Not surprisingly, considering Li Hongzhang's political power, many of the best and most modern ships found their way into Li's northern fleet, which never saw any action in the Sino-French conflict. In fact, fear that he might lost control over his fleet led Li to refuse to even consider sending his ships southward to aid the Fuzhou fleet against the French. Although Li later claimed that moving his fleet southward would have left northern China undefended, his decision has been criticized as a sign of China's factionalized government as well as its provincial north-south mindest.
there was little, if any, coordination between the fleets in north and south China. The lack of a centralized admiralty commanding the entire navy meant that at any one time France opposed only a fraction of China's total fleet. This virtually assured French naval dominance in the upcoming conflict.