Museum releases documentary on Tongan warships

Staff writer, with CNA  / 

Fri, Feb 22, 2013 - Page 4

The National Palace Museum yesterday released a documentary that recreates the heyday of an old Chinese warship fleet that was deployed in the Eastern Asian region in the 19th century.

Using 3D technology, the film tells the story behind the rise of the Tongan ships and documents the museum’s construction of a model, based on two diagrams of the vessels and official records.

“We are using historical documents to tell stories,” National Palace Museum director Feng Ming-chu (馮明珠) said.

The Tongan ships, 26m long and 30m tall, were the Qing Empire’s biggest and most effective warships in the early 19th century, the museum said.

However, before they were adapted for military purposes they were used as merchant vessels and even pirate ships, it said.

Zhou Weiqiang, an assistant curator in the museum’s rare books and documents department and the documentary’s scriptwriter, said the ships also served another purpose — to transport immigrants from Tongan on China’s southeast coast to Taiwan.

“So we are not just recreating the boats from a political and military perspective,” Zhou said. “They were very significantly and closely related to Taiwan’s history.”

The ships tell an important story about empire-building and immigration in Taiwan, he said.

The museum hopes to help people understand the importance of the Tongan ships and to encourage more studies in the field, Zhou said.

The museum will show the 50-minute documentary in schools from next month to May, and will organize a series of accompanying lectures to inform students of the historic significance of the ships.

It will also hold a digital exhibition on the subject later in the year at Huashan 1914 Creative Park in Taipei.