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Minister Ma Hui Attends the Completion Ceremony of the Chinese Beiyang Fleet Sailors' Memorial Restoration Project

On June 14, 2019, the Completion Ceremony of the Chinese Beiyang Fleet Sailors’ Memorial Restoration Project was held at the St. John’s Cemetery in Newcastle, England. Minister Ma Hui, Minister Counsellor for Culture Yu Peng and Air Attaché Dai Jinhua of the Chinese Embassy in the UK, Deputy Lieutenant for Tyne and Wear Colonel Ann Clouston, Councillor Michael Hood, Mayor of Gateshead and Mrs Hood, Councillor Teresa Cairnes of Newcastle, First Class Warrant Officer Scott Hill of Royal Navy, Chairman Qi Yongqiang of the Northern Britain Chinese Entrepreneurs Association, Chairman Ng Shan-Xiong of the UK Association for the Promotion of Chinese Education, and more than 50 representatives of the overseas Chinese, Chinese students and enterprises attended the event.

Minister Ma noted that in 1881 and 1887, the Qing Government of China sent hundreds of sailors of the Beiyang Fleet twice to Newcastle in order to bring back the cruisers China bought from Britain. Unfortunately, five young sailors died during the mission. The Qing Government purchased graves and buried them at the St. John’s Cemetery. In 1911, the Qing Government conducted restoration work for the graves. But weathering through more than 100 years of wind and rain, the graves were dilapidated and the gravestones collapsed. In 2016, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage of China entrusted the restoration work to the China Foundation for Cultural Heritage Conservation. With the support of and cooperation between the Government of Newcastle, the Northern Britain Chinese Entrepreneurs Association, the constructors, supervisors and inspectors, the project was successfully completed after two years of hard work, and the graves are now restored.

“This project is of great significance because it is a successful cooperation between the Chinese governments, enterprises, non-government organisations and individuals worked together, and China and the UK to preserve Chinese cultural relics overseas”, said Ma. On behalf of the Chinese Embassy and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, he extended his thanks to all parties involved in the restoration project.

Ma said that after the 1840s, China went into decline, was repeatedly invaded and was gradually reduced to a semi-feudal and semi-colonial status. In pursuit of strength and prosperity, the Qing Court launched a self-strengthening movement in 1860s which included learning from the West. This was later known as The Westernisation Movement. It was against this background that the Beiyang Fleet was established. This Fleet was China’s first modern naval force. Most cruisers and gunboats of the Beiyang Fleet were bought from Britain and Germany, which at the time led the world in both military thinking and manufacturing. But unfortunately, the Beiyang Fleet that embodied the hopes of the Qing Court to strengthen national defense against foreign invasion was annihilated in the Sino-Japanese War in 1894-1895. After the war, China was forced to sign an unequal treaty with Japan about paying indemnity and ceding territory. The Westernisation Movement ended in failure.

Since then, the Chinese people have made persistent explorations in order to lift China from poverty, weakness and backwardness, protect the country from bullying, and achieve national rejuvenation. None of those efforts was successful until the Communist Party of China came along and led the Chinese people to achieve national independence and liberation, and founded the People’s Republic of China.

Ma added that this year marks the 125th anniversary of the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War 1894-1895. With economic prosperity and happy life for the people, China is ever closer to the goal of national rejuvenation than any time in history. In June last year, while visiting Liugong Island in Shandong Province, the old base of the Beiyang Fleet, President Xi Jinping stressed that the more than 1.3 billion Chinese people should remember the lessons of history and work hard to build a strong nation. In commemorating the five Beiyang Fleet sailors and revisiting China’s modern history, one should never forget the national humiliation and should make every effort to achieve the Chinese dream of realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

“The Stories about the friendly exchanges between the Beiyang Fleet sailors and the people of Newcastle have been widely told because they embody the close relations between China and the UK”, Ma said in closing. “With this historical bond, there is every reason that Tyne and Wear, Newcastle and Gateshead deepen exchanges and cooperation with China. Together we will make positive contribution to the steady and sustained development of the China-UK ‘Golden Era’”.

Deputy Lieutenant Clouston conveyed the congratulations of the Lord-Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear to the successful completion of the Chinese Beiyang Fleet Sailors’ Memorial Restoration Project. She noted that the friendly relations between China and the northeast of England have a long history. “The records of the first Chinese community go back at least 138 years to 1881. This was the time when visiting Chinese sailors were treated like rock stars”, She said. According to the Newcastle Library collection, Newcastle’s local newspapers reported on the funeral of the sailors in detail.

“Today, the Chinese community in the North East is now around 20,000 strong,” Clouston added. “We are very proud that we have a vibrant Chinese community in our region, providing a much-valued contribution to the local economy and to the social and cultural life of our community.” Tyne and Wear is willing to further enhance its understanding of China and promote friendly cooperation.

Chairman Ng Shan-Xiong said that the Chinese nation has never given up its efforts and struggle in order to obtain self-improvement in the world. The five brave men who had their last resting place in the cemetery are the representatives of countless Chinese ancestors and heroes who sacrificed their lives to the country in a foreign land and would never return to their homelands. They deserve everyone’s admiration. The Memorial Restoration Project is an action to prove that China will never forget the five sailors, and future generations of Chinese will never forget them. He said, “Today, our ancestors would be contented to learn that the strength of the Chinese navy is dramatically different from that of the Beiyang Fleet. The century of humiliation is gone forever, and the historical tragedy of the Sino-Japanese War will never repeat itself.”

At the ceremony, Qi Yongqiang, together with the constructor and supervisor briefed the participants on the restoration process of the project and submitted the completion report.

The Chinese Embassy in the UK, the Consulate-General of China in Manchester, China National Tourist Office in London, China Foundation for Cultural Heritage Conservation, Weihai Municipal People's Government, Museum of Sino-Japanese War 1894-1895, Fuzhou Municipal People's Government, and more than 10 Overseas Chinese associations presented memorial wreaths to the graves. Xinhua News Agency, the BBC and other Chinese and foreign mainstream media and UK Chinese media reported on the ceremony.

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