1636 The China Venture – Snippet 31

After their somewhat ignominious departure from Guangzhou, the Rode Draak and the Groen Feniks had hoisted ensigns that Yan the Swallow had brought with him. They indicated that they were sailing under the license of his elder brother, Admiral Zheng Zhilong, and would ensure that they could safely enter any harbor in Fujian Province.

That, however, would not be sufficient to assure that they could trade with the inhabitants of that harbor. First, they were told, they would have to go to Xiamen to be questioned by the admiral. So here they were. Upon their arrival, Yan the Swallow had gone ashore. Fresh water and food had been sent to them shortly thereafter, but they had been told to wait to be contacted. And now, it appeared, the waiting was over.

“We must be receiving a distinguished visitor,” said Captain Lyell. “The admiral, perhaps? You best go down to the waist to meet him.”

The four up-timers, Maarten Gerritzoon Vries, Peter Minuit, and Colonel von Siegroth assembled at the appointed place and were joined there by the ship’s drummer and trumpeter. In due course, a black man, dressed in a military uniform of some kind, climbed up the rope ladder that had been lowered over the side, and came aboard.

Mike’s eyes widened. What was a black man doing in China? he wondered.

Maarten apparently noticed his reaction. “The Portuguese brought slaves from East Africa to Macao. Some of the slaves were freed when they helped the Macaonese fight us off in 1622. I guess one of them ended up in Chinese employ. The uniform suggests that this one is an officer.”

The officer introduced himself as Jelani, of the Black Guard of Admiral Zheng Zhilong. Jelani was followed by the great man himself, who, as Lyell surmised, was the official they had spotted earlier. He looked over the greeters and immediately walked up to Peter Minuit. “And you must be the ambassador,” he said in Dutch.

It was an awkward moment.

“Actually, I am the Chief Merchant of the Swedish East Asia Company,” said Minuit, somewhat stiffly. “This gentleman”–he pointed at Eric–“is the ambassador.”

Eric bowed, “At your pleasure, Admiral. And congratulations on your victory against the pirates.” Eric, too, spoke Dutch. While most of the mission staff had labored to learn Chinese, he and Mike Song studied Dutch and Portuguese. “I am sorry that we were not at liberty to fight alongside you.”

“No matter. My brother Yan expressed his enjoyment of the tour you gave him, and the many wondrous contrivances from Grantville that he was shown. I understand that some of you are actually from that city?”

“I am, and so are these three.” Eric’s gesture encompassed Jim, Martina and Mike.

Zhilong studied Mike, his expression one of confusion. “But you are Chinese….”

“Oh, yes,” said Mike. “I was born and raised on Taiwan, which became Chinese thanks to the efforts of your son, Zheng Chenggong.”

“That’s not my son’s name,” said the admiral.

“I believe that a new personal name was given to him by the emperor.” Chenggong meant “success.”

“He was also given the title, Koxinga.” That meant “Lord of the Imperial Surname.”

“We studied you both in school; particularly him, of course.”

“We must talk about this further, but in private,” said the admiral. “But if you were in Taiwan–”

“Then how did I end up in Grantville?” Mike smiled. “My aunt and uncle moved to North Carolina, and then my family did the same. Then my aunt and uncle moved to Grantville. I was going to school in Pittsburgh, which is only an hour’s travel away, and I was visiting them when the Ring of Fire threw Grantville back in time and across the ocean.”

“Incredible,” said the admiral.

Mike wondered whether he meant this literally, that is, he didn’t believe in the Ring of Fire. Mike wouldn’t have believed it himself if he hadn’t lived through it.

“I understand that your weapons are also incredible,” the admiral added. “I wish I could have seen them in battle.”

“We can arrange a demonstration,” said Eric. “Fire them against a target, a sheet of canvas stretched on a floating frame, perhaps. But we have other things to show you first.”

After the usual VIP tour, Eric ushered Zheng Zhilong into the Great Cabin of the Rode Draak, and he, Mike Song and Colonel von Siegroth followed the admiral inside. “Now, if you come along to the wardroom, I thought you might be interested in some photographs of our navy in action,” said Eric Garlow.

“Quite interested,” said Zheng Zhilong.

The four sat down at the conference table. “So, this is a Navy Yard photo of the SSIM Constitution. Note the five gunports; in each broadside it has two cannon firing ten-inch shells and three firing eight-inchers. And also note the metal armor.”

This wasn’t the first photograph that the up-timers had shown to Zheng Zhilong that day, so now he took photographs per se as a matter of course. The content of this photograph was another matter.

“Where are the sails and masts?”

“It doesn’t have any,” said Eric. “It is driven by a water jet. A bit like your Chinese rockets.”

After allowing time for Zhilong to absorb this, Eric produced a second photo. “I apologize for the inferior quality of the photo. It was taken under less-than-ideal conditions. It shows the Wallenlagen, the principal riverside fortress of the city of Hamburg. It was armed with forty-two pounders.”


“The city of Hamburg refused passage down the river Elbe to our flotilla. The lead ship of that flotilla, the Constitution, engaged the fortress. Using only two ten inchers, this is the result.”

The third photo revealed a blackened, chaotic ruin of masonry. It could be identified as the Wallenlagen only because you could still see the city proper behind it.

“This is what we call back home a before-and-after. The Constitution came out of the battle with just a few dents. I have a photo of that, too. Here’s the biggest dent. Interesting, yes?”

Zhilong acknowledged this.

“Colonel von Siegroth, perhaps you could give our guest a tour of the gun deck.”

He bowed. “It would be my pleasure.”


Down below, von Siegroth told Zheng Zhilong about the Rode Draak‘s different kinds of cannon.

“I have thought about your proposal of a demonstration of your cannon,” murmured Zheng Zhilong. “Rather than simply tow a simple rectangular target behind one of my ships, I thought it would be more instructive to use an actual ship for your target practice.”

Von Siegroth nodded avidly. “That would make for a better demonstration of the real-world capabilities, if you have a ship to spare.”

“Oh, I do. It is the Eagle’s Claw, the former flagship of a pirate, Liu Xiang.”

“Splendid, when can you have it here?”

“Tomorrow morning. I will go make the arrangements now.”

On Zheng Zhilong’s flagship

“Liu Xiang is still alive?” asked Zhilong.

“Yes, Admiral, your torturer is most proficient.”

“Excellent. Liu Xiang is the end of the old world; these up-timers are the beginning of the new. I intend to dramatize this, for my family’s benefit.

“Hood him again, put in a cangue, and place him aboard the Eagle’s Claw, in the hold. Make sure he is well weighted down. I told the magistrate in Guangzhou that he drowned at sea, it is time to make good those words.”