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The Greece-China Connection


by Theresa Mitsopoulou

Fifth Century BC lacquered vessel shaped like a mandarin duck from the tomb of Yi, Marquis of Zeng. Hubei Museum. Ducks floating in the rivers and lakes gave the Chinese the idea of making ships.
Ducks floating on the fifty thousand rivers and lakes of China gave inspiration the inspiration for the first ships. These ships were rounded and the head of the duck was the inspiration for the prow decoration which were usually bird or animal heads or animal and human figures. An eye painted or applied on both sides of the prow not only made the ship look like a fish but also was thought to protect it from evil. As a duck moves it's tail fathers for changing direction, the tiller and the captain's cabin will be at the stern.

The ships of Santorini didn't sail in the open sea but in shallow water and they used poles to move foreword. Their long and narrow shape resembles the dragon boats of China, the racing rowing boats and skulls of the Thames, the canoes of the Nile, the galleys of the Bosporus and the gondolas of Venice. They are peacefully paraded on a festival day with the flagship splendidly decorated. The passengers sit facing one another as in the traditional Chinese lake boats today. They are protected by straw awnings. Straw is found naturally in abundance in China and still used for tents on the river and lake boats. Painted on the hull is are the symbolic decorations for keeping evil away.

It seems certain that early river ships and particularly the open sea ships used a compass in the shape of a fish as did the ancient Chinese ships. Also fish compasses were found on Cycladic Neolithic frying pans and on Viking boats.

One of the numerous Chinese words to designate the ship is the word 'ting'. The term 'you ting' means to travel at sea in a light boat and this became the international word for traveling in a pleasure boat: yachting. The word 'lounch' is the name of a Chinese war ship with wheels ('lunchaun' lun is wheel and chaun is ship.) The popular Greek word 'Caiqi' means colored flags in Chinese as boats were and still are decorated in many colored flags.

Similar to the gondolas of Venice, small pleasure boats sail in the canals of Sutzou, one of the ancient capitals of China and with the similar architecture both cities present the unique opportunity to become sister cities.

1750 BC wall-painting at Santorini (Acrotiri). Ships and skulls parading peacefully on a festival day. The passengers of the ships are sitting facing one another, protected by straw awnings like the traditional boats in the lakes of China. The ships have a central mast, the captain's cabin in the stern and are decorated with flags.

Passenger boat in the Xi Hu (West Lake).
The people sit facing each other
protected by a flat straw tent.

Rare landscape scene on a 17th century
Nian Hua (Traditional New Year's card)

The Dragon Race Festival in Macao in 1997. Every year the fifth day of the fifth lunar month (usually in June), Dragon boat races take place all over Asia and China. It is the day when the noble poet Chu Yuan (Born 340 BC) drowned himself in the river Mi Lo in the province of Hubei, protesting against tyranny. People rushed to his rescue beating drums to drive away the fish and throwing rice for the fish to eat instead of him, but his body was never found. The version in Macao is that an imperial councilor Uat Hun, drowned himself in the river Mek Lo in protest. Like in the Santorini painting, the skulls race in front of the ships which are decorated with flags.

Details of a dragon boat race in Taiwan. The skulls are usually 12 meters long and have dragon heads and tails.

A 13th century compass in the shape of a fish

A Cycladic Neolithic 'frying pan' with fish compass on the mast of a ship.

Tibet. Potala Palace. Flags of good omen on a festival
day like the ones on the dragon boats.

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