China's maritime hero theme park reopened

China's maritime hero theme park reopened

Revamped expo commemorates Zheng He, China's Marco Polo of the high seas

Zheng He's flagship was high-tech in the 15th century, and remains pretty impressive today.

While China is sending thousands of tourists aboard luxury cruises to explore the mysterious shores of foreign lands, the country hasn't forgotten its past triumphs of marine navigation.

Treasure Boat Shipyard Site Park (南京宝船遗址公园), which stands on the site where China’s great mariner Zheng He (郑和) oversaw his fleet's construction more than 600 years ago, reopened early this month in the former capital Nanjing, according to Xinhua.

Zheng He, or Cheng Ho, was a Muslim Hui Chinese sometimes called China's maritime Marco Polo. A eunuch, he led seven voyages of exploration as far away as Africa and the Middle East in the 15th century.

First opened in 2005, the Treasure Boat Shipyard Site Park commemorated the 600th anniversary of Admiral Zheng’s first expedition in 1405.

After seven years' successful operation, the park underwent an extensive renovation last March.

“We spent RMB 4 million on the renovation -- it is for China National Maritime Day on July 11 this year,” said park manager Chen Jun (陈军).

19 handmade ancient ship models

A handmade model of one of Zheng He's 12 treasure boats and the craftsman Wei Wenxi. The shipyard park, located along the Yangtze River, covers 132,000 square meters and contains three 600-year-old pools that were used as dry docks for shipbuilding in the early 15th century.

According to medieval Chinese sources, the largest of Zheng He's ships measured 127 meters long and 52 meters wide; they were built in these pools in 1404, prior to Zheng’s first trip.

The renovation includes an impressive ship model exhibit of 19 handmade ship models.

The models include ships from Zheng He’s voyages, such as a three-meter-long treasure ship with 12 sails.

The other models include different types of ship models from China’s history, including an ancient canoe, a multi-deck warship from the Han dynasty, Ming clippers and a paddle-wheel boat from the Qing dynasty. 

“All these ships are 1:40 scale replicas designed and handmade five years ago,” Wei Wenxi (韦文喜) told us.

Wei, 78, made all the model ships. “It took me two years to finish the process and each part of the model ships is removable," he said.

“Seeing these 19 model ships is like reading China’s shipbuilding history,” Chen Jun added.

Voyages of Zheng He

Zheng He, sea pioneer of the 15th century.Between 1405 and 1433, the Ming government sponsored seven voyages of exploration, appointing Zheng He as the commander.

Zheng set sail from Nanjing, the capital city of the early Ming dynasty. His largest fleet mustered more than 200 ships and 28,000 crew, voyaging through Asia and Arabia to reach what is now the Somali coast.

Zheng He's fleets flew the flag for China, which at the time was all but closed to foreigners and which regarded itself as the center of the world, hence the term "Middle Kingdom." In return for presents of gold, silver, porcelain and silk, Zheng brought back novel cargos of ostriches, zebras, camels, ivory and giraffes.

Temples and statues dedicated to Zheng He can be found in Malacca, Malaysia and Surabaya, Indonesia.

More on CNNGo: First China-owned luxury cruise ship sets sail

Treasure Boat Shipyard Site Park
57 Lijiang Lu, Nanjing, 南京市漓江路57号
+86 25 8622 7011
5:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. (open daily)
Admission: RMB 30


Raemin Zhang is CNNGo's China-based staff writer. 

Read more about Raemin Zhang