The Official Capital Ship of Yuan Dynasty and Yang Shu: Chinese Navigation in the Indian Ocean before Zheng He
By Tai Yew Seng
China’s One Belt One Road Initiative (London: Imperial Press, 2016)
Introduction: The Mongolians from northern China defeated the Song Dynasty (960‐1278) of southern China in 1279. According to the History of Yuan Dynasty, Kublai Khan (1215‐1294) implemented the “Official Capital Ship” policy in 1284：
In the 21st year of Zhiyuan reign (1284), the Shipping Superintendent Offices in Hangzhou and Quanzhou were set up. Officials build the ships, provide capital, and select people to sail to foreign countries to barter trade. The officials have 70% of the profit and the traders have 30%… In the first year of Yanyou reign (1314), re‐established the Shipping Superintendent Offices, but still banned the seafaring, only send official ships for trading… In the 7th year of Yanyou reign (1320)… banned the official ships and removed the Shipping Superintendent Offices.
One thing to take note, the records of Yuan Dynasty History did not mention the policy was terminated shortly 6 months after in 1285. Instead, the source mentioned sending the Official Capital Ship again in 1314. It looks like the Official Capital Ship policy was abolished only in 1320, that is over 36 years of implementation. In fact, it was implemented for only a very short period of time in early Yuan Dynasty, and lasted 14 years in total.
Top Image: Image of a Chinese fleet at the Cheng Ho Cultural Museum – photo by O.Mustafin / Wikimedia Commons