Fri, Aug 16, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: The warships of Tainan

Two museums in the southern city introduce aspects of Taiwan’s naval military history

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

One of Te Yang’s resident teddy bears looks toward the destroyer’s anti-submarine rocket launcher.

Photo: Steven Crook

Taiwan has been fought over multiple times. The course of its history has been determined by the prowess or weakness of competing navies. The Dutch, who were world-class seafarers, were unchallenged when they landed at what’s now Anping District (安平) in Tainan in 1624. However, they couldn’t protect their colony when Cheng Cheng-kung (鄭成功, also known as Koxinga) led his band of Ming Dynasty loyalists to Taiwan in 1661.

At the start of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), Tokyo was fearful of the Qing Empire’s Beiyang Fleet, in particular its two German-built battleships. The Qing warships turned out to be poorly maintained and incompetently commanded, and what remained of the Beiyang Fleet could do nothing when, a month before the end of the war, the Japanese occupied the Penghu Islands in preparation for taking control of Taiwan.


The nautical aspect of Koxinga’s victory over the Dutch East India Company is celebrated in Tainan’s 1661 Taiwan Warship Museum (1661 臺灣船園區). You won’t learn anything about the man himself, or the reasons why he invaded Taiwan, but you’ll get a good idea of how his army crossed the Taiwan Strait.

The only exhibit is a 30m-long ship called the Taiwan Cheng-Kung Hao (臺灣成功號). It’s not a relic of Koxinga’s era, nor can it properly be called a replica. Building began in 2009, using blueprints preserved in Matsura Historical Museum in Nagasaki, Japan. Construction was paid for by Tainan City Government.

The ship’s maiden voyage took place in December 2010, and there were plans to sail it all the way around Taiwan, then onto Hirado (平戸市), the city in Nagasaki Prefecture where Koxinga was born in 1624. It was also expected to call at Penghu, Kinmen and Quanzhou (泉州) in China’s Fujian Province. However, this grand tour was curtailed after the ship’s 28m-tall mast broke. Replacing the mast was a major part of the 2015-16 restoration that preceded its installation on dry land.



Tainan city bus 19, which can be boarded at Tainan Railway Station, gets you very close to both museums. There’s a service approximately every 40 minutes. There’s plenty of parking for cars and motorcycles near both museums.

Unlike the sail-and-oar powered vessels of the 17th century, the Taiwan Cheng-Kung Hao has engines and two brass propellers. In other respects, however, it’s thoroughly traditional. For instance, gaps between planks were sealed with a mix of Tung tree oil and powdered oyster shells. But seeing the cracks in the hull, some of them wider than a paperback novel, I wondered about the durability of this material.

On the ship, bilingual text present some interesting information: why the shipbuilders selected certain types of wood for different parts of the vessel. With a total weight of around 150 tonnes, it’s a tiddler by 21st century standards. Unfortunately, nowhere in the museum does it say how many men, in the era of sail, were needed to crew this kind of ship.

The museum is several hundred meters south of the historic heart of Anping at 139 Anyi Road (安億路). It’s open from 10am to 6pm Tuesday to Friday, and 10am to 8:30pm Saturday and Sunday. Admission is NT$50, but students, Tainan residents and some other categories of people get in for half price.

The museum’s souvenir shop sells some items which you won’t see outside Tainan, such as Cheng Gong Potato Chips. These bear a likeness of Koxinga, and come in two flavors: salty and mango. The museum’s bilingual Web site is at


If you walk south past a couple of small boatyards, you’ll come to the other warship that’s displayed in Tainan. The Navy Destroyer Museum (安平定情碼頭德陽艦園區) preserves a vessel that served in both the US and Taiwan navies.

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