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China To Revive Zheng He's Legend

While the visiting Swedish replica of the Gotheborg merchant ship is stirring the souls of many Chinese people as they think about the past, a full-size replica of its Chinese counterpart will be built in Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province.

The vessel will be a copy of one used by famous navigator Zheng He (1371-1435) in his naval expeditions. First setting sail in 1405, Zheng He led his fleet across 30 countries and regions in Asia and Africa seven times over nearly 30 years. He helped extend China's maritime and commercial influence throughout the regions bordering the Indian Ocean.

Costing US$10 million to build, the replica will be 71.1 meters long, 14.05 meters wide and 5.4 meters high, exceeding the Gotheborg, the world's largest wooden ship, by 10 meters in length, said builders.

Construction kicks off later this month and should be completed in 2008. The ship is expected to sail as the country's "image envoy" in water events in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

It will also travel to countries along the ancient maritime Silk Road, explored by Chinese sailing pioneers, to promote bilateral relationships, added the project's conceptors.

Treasure ships served as a commanding presence in Zheng's fleet and were very well designed and equipped. They carried distinguished foreign guests as well as treasure, according to experts in ancient naval history.

The size of the replica is not exactly the same as the original ship due to difficulties recovering accurate records of former treasure ships, according to a senior engineer surnamed Xia with the Junlong Shipping Management Company.

Junlong, co-invested by the Malaysian Jinlong Group and the government of Gulou District in Nanjing, is in charge of developing the vessel.

Xia said the Chinese ship is different to the Gotheborg whose components are mostly hand-made. The Chinese ship will use ancient wooden shells made from oak trees but be equipped with modern facilities inside.

It will have computers, three engines and central air conditioning and will be able to sail at 12 miles an hour.

The ship will be able to carry 30 sailors and 36 guests.

Xia said the two replicas represent the two countries' differing ancient styles. The Gotheborg is designed in a more austere and compact way while the Zheng He treasure ship emphasizes exquisite structure and decoration.

Jia Tiejia, deputy general manager of Junlong, said captain Peter Kaalings of the Gotheborg and a group of sailors will visit Nanjing this month to share with their Chinese counterparts their experiences in ship reconstruction. Jia said some sailors from the Gotheborg said they were willing to stay in China to help with the replica project.

According to Jia, the money being spent on the ship should be recovered in four years, with most of it from ticket sales garnered during the ship's world tour. However, some critics doubt that the huge costs can be recouped.

(China Daily September 4, 2006)

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