Crisis Mapping the Opening Battle of the Sino-French War

I only had a few hours to explore Taipei last week and thus chose to visit the highly recommended National Place Museum just outside the city. I was well impressed with the Museum’s use of technology, from table-sized “iPads” to 3D virtual reality displays of ancient artifacts. But it was a small and nondescript 127-year-old crisis map that truly stole the show for me.

The crisis map depicts the Battle of Fuzhou (Foochow) also known as the Battle of the Pagoda Anchorage, named for a remarkable Chinese pagoda, the Luoxingta (羅星塔), which still stands on a hill above the harbor today. The battle, which took place in August 1884, was the opening engagement of the Sino-French War which lasted for a year and a half.

Admiral Amédée Courbet, in command of the French squadran, had noticed that the Chinese ships anchored near the harbor swung with the tide and thus decided to plan his attack just before high tide at 2 p.m. on the afternoon of Saturday, August 23, 1884, when he hoped the Chinese ships would have “swung away from the French ships and would be presenting their vulnerable sterns to the attackers.” Courbet’s strategy worked, “virtually destroying the Fujian Fleet, one of China’s four regional fleets.”

I took a picture of the Chinese crisis map on display in Taipei (see below), which is apparently the first copy to make it on the Internet. The caption in English on the bottom right reads: “Diagram of engagement between the French and Chinese naval fleets at Mawei, French warships attack during the afternoon low tide. Chinese vessels anchored at the bows, now face the French astern, unable to use the powerful bow cannons, resulting in the total sinking of the Ch’ing  Fuzhou (Foochow) Naval Fleet, August 23, 1884.”

I was so intrigued and surprised to find this crisis map that I followed up with some online research. The Wikipedia article on the battle was an absolute treasure trove of information and pictures. Take for example, the French version of the crisis map below.

Both maps appear to be more or less at the same scale but only the French includes distance bar (0-500 meters). The French map is also more detailed (history is written by the victors?) but the Chinese one makes more use of color-coding. To get a better sense of what the “battle field” and ships looked liked, check out the following pictures.

The above was painted in the 19th century. The painting below depicts the bombing of the Fuzhou Arsenal on the following day, August 24th.

Contrast the above French version with the Chinese lithograph of the battle below and the Japanese depiction that follows.

The picture below shows the Chinese fleet the night before the French attack. The two following pictures depict the result, the sunken Chinese ships.


Curious to know what the area looks like today? The Wikipedia article also provided a number of pictures.

Know of other crisis maps from hundreds of years ago? If so, please feel free to share in the comments section below. Thanks!

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