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        An armed paddle steamer in China

A priori, we are not talking here about oriental fans. Not that we are not interested, quite the contrary. But because they are part of a culture and a civilization that we respect and sometimes admire, but without enough understanding. So we cannot venture out and talk about them, even in the form of a question.

However, we have already shown here the "Tianjin Massacre" fan, because it referred to a sadly tragic event involving the relations between France and China. The fan we now show here is, somehow, a cousin. But hopefully it refers to less dramatic moments of relations between the West and China.

I talked to several China specialists. On the "chinese fans side", Thomas DeLeo, well known to fans collectors, author of various articles in specialized journals of FANA (Fan Association of North America) or FCI (Fan Circle International). On the "China history side", I asked Professor Robert Bickers, author of numerous books, including The Scramble For China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1914 (Allen Lane, Penguin Books, London, 2011). We were honored he reproduced our  "Tianjin fan" (Fig. 14) when descriving this episode.

Our two "consultants" have themselves spoken of this fan to other specialists. Unfortunately I could not from these contacts get a detailed certainty. So let me put in front of the wisdom of or visitors of the "Place de l'Eventail" this almost raw material.

Please remember that copying the pictures without our agreement is strictly forbidden

Here is a picture of the fan's recto.
Chine Canon 1
Le reverse (or verso) does not give a lot of informations, even if it  is not totally void, having received small grey or white paint touches.

Some practical informations about this item:
- the (rice?) paper double leaf is printed and watercoloured;
- the sticks are made of bamboo,  with black lacquered guards and green painted inner sticks;
- the rivet is metal, of the tubular usual kind;
- the total length of the fan is 30,6 cm;
- the leaf is 18 cm wide.

The informations given by Tom DeLeo and his friend and colleague Dr. Fen Chen were not decisive. However they have given confirmation that the boat is a British steamship  armed with guns, ie a gunboat.

Thanks to them, I can assume that the depicted scene dates back to before 1870 and may be quite older, since even before 1840 an armed paddle steamer (Nemesis) sailed on the Pearl River. During the first Opium War, -this lamentable action committed by the United Kingdom and other Western nations-, the Nemesis destroyed Chinese war junks in the delta of the Pearl River (Jan. 7, 1841).

“The Nemesis Steamer Destroying Chinese War Junks, in Canton River, from a sketch in the possession of the Hon. East India Company” Illustrated London News, November 12, 1842 (source : site MIT Visualizing Cultures, Opium War) The same website shows a picture from the Btitish Library that we reproduce too:

Chines scroll
The British Library possesses an unusual Chinese scroll with a rough sketch of the Nemesis and another British warship, accompanied by a 55-line poem. There is a penned-in English translation on the scroll as well, apparently dating from around the time of the Opium War.
It is easy to see that "our" paddle steamer is NOT the Nemesis. This one  has only one funnel, instead of two on the fan.

As for Robert Bickers, he was interested in our fan, thinking it was an English "c.1850s-60s armed paddle steamer." He asked the advice of a colleague working on foreign steamers in China. That was almost a year ago, and I fear  nothing has been found on this side.

I therefore appeal to the community of fans enthusiasts, as well as to all visitors knowing the history of China in the nineteenth century.

Which boat is shown by this fan?
On which river did she sailed?
In what year, and what event is related?
Which city is near this gunboat? We see flags with the blue-white-red one of France. But this settlement it is not like the Hongs of Canton, often seen on fans.
(e.g. here, an hand fan of the Salem Peabody Essex Museum)
Could it be Chusan? ... ?

Hoping to help you, I add a close-up of the center of the leaf.

Gros plan
Please remember that copying the pictures without our agreement is strictly forbidden

So what? I am only asking a question... and waiting for your answers, pictures and comments, dear visitors!

P.H.B. August 2013

Thank you for writing to, and do not forget to go and see our other questions!