It has been 150 years since the Chinese maritime administration was established in 1866. A few names deserve to be remembered in its glorious history, including the veteran maritime administrator Zuo Zongtang (1812–1885), the founding father of the Chinese navy Shen Baozhen (1820–1879), martyr Deng Shichang (1849–1894), and shipbuilding wizard Wei Han (1851–1929)—they devoted their entire lives working assiduously for the maritime administration.
The history of the maritime administration can be divided into four stages of development. The first stage is the start-up phase when the pioneers laid its foundation in southeastern China—Zuo Zongtang selected Mawei in Fuzhou (Foochow) for the site of the maritime administration when Shen Baozhen was appointed grand minister of the administration. It also included construction of the maritime administration during the five-year plan of Sino-French cooperation, which comprised three segments: ship building, maritime forces (navy), and the navy training school. During these five years, the maritime administration was confronted with various domestic problems and foreign invasions. In the summer of 1873, China began enjoying the fruits of these labors.
The second stage refers to the phase of assiduous work and vigorous development—it was the period before and after the Sino-French War during which administrators, office chiefs, and supervisory officials of the maritime administration served in the capacity of grand ministers. Progress was made in shipbuilding, maritime forces (navy) training, and maritime education. In 1874, after the Japanese invasion of Taiwan, the Sino-French Naval War (a.k.a. Battle of Fuchou, or Battle of Foochow) and the War of Jiawu (the Sino-Japanese War) broke out, the Qing (1644–1911) court realized that the modernized warships and equipment that had been produced during the Five-Year plan were no longer strong enough to withstand foreign incursions. Chinese coastal defense targets thus underwent some major adjustments—from the previous low-level requirement of building modern warships they upgraded to more powerful warships and equipment that could hold back (the enemy’s naval forces). In the following forty years, the maritime administration worked hard for this purpose resulting in vigorous development.
The third stage is the post-maritime administration in the Republic of China era (1912–1949). During this stage, China was in turmoil with frequent government changes. The maritime administration also went downhill. In 1911, the Xinhai Revolution broke out, and the Qing government was overthrown. The provisional Government of the Republic of China was established in the following year in Nanjing, and Sun Daoren (1865–1935) was appointed commissioner-in-chief in Fujian. Fujian then became one of the provinces of China. Following the establishment of the new government, the maritime administration was within the jurisdiction of Fujian province. The name was thus changed to Fuzhou Shipyard which was directly under the jurisdiction of the Chief Military Commission. Thereafter, the administration entered the post-maritime administration era, and the developments made between this era and the Qing dynasty had great differences.
The fourth stage is the new era of establishing naval forces in China. Today, the navy’s establishment, development, and expansion in China have become well-known in the world. China’s new naval forces have undergone several different stages of development since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, including the ordeal of undertaking a host of neglected tasks in the 1950s and 1960s, modernization reforms in the 1970s and 1980s, and facing international challenges in the twenty-first century. After nearly seventy years of growth, in addition to counter-terrorism, anti-piracy, fishing protection, salvage and rescue, and other diversified tasks, the Chinese PLA (People’s Liberation Army) Navy today has also gradually established and perfected its capability of marine power projection; it also seeks to create a Blue Water Navy that can sufficiently preserve national territorial integrity and regional peace and stability.
Reviewing the history of Chinese maritime administration, one can see that this big tree has borne abundant fruit in the fields of advanced technology, higher education, industrial manufacturing, and the translation of Western classical culture into Chinese. The dedicated people and advanced thought nurtured by the administration are part of China’s intangible wealth, and these fruits reflect a unique Chinese traditional cultural spirit, such as self-improvement, scientific innovation, and learning for practice. Owing to their origin, these special features are called “Maritime Administration Culture.” Not only is it the historical pride of the people of Fuzhou that is worth reciting for hundred years, even more, it is the inexhaustible spiritual treasure of the Chinese people.