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Part II

A trip to 

Liu Kung Island


Peter Hunt


Liu Kung Island Today


The Liu Kung Dao waterfront - the coaling pier on the left was used by the real Ting Yuen


Practically nothing of the pre-dreadnought era or the colonial days remains in Wei Hai today.  However, for the price of a 40 RMB return ferry trip to Liu Kung you will find the opposite to be true.  There are a lot of modern structures on the island but the past still predominates.  Admiral Ting lived here and would still be at home in most of it today.  The original coaling jetty and the old buildings on the waterfront date from his day.  Further uphill you’ll find bourgeois villas and detached houses from the 1920s that are laid out in lanes and parks like an ideal well-to-do English seaside town.  It’s all a bit odd as the colonialists created a replica of English towns as they should be, not as they really were.  The best analogy that I could think of was imagining how a real American from turn of the Century Middle-America would feel if he was plopped down into Disneyland ’s “Main Street USA”.  But the island is no museum or theme park.  The lower town buildings still house a naval academy and the upper class villas are now schools, kindergarten, officers quarters and guesthouses.


Whilst the island isn’t a museum it does have two museums on it, and good ones they are too.  A lot of Mainland museums can be a frustrating, even traumatic, experience for lovers of history as they are often poorly cared for, superficial and seemingly only kept open to eke out a tacky souvenir trade.  Liu Kung’s museums, however are not only good by Chinese standards, they are world class.


The Museum of the Sino-Japanese War is the star.  There is nothing “high tech” about this place but for me it scored big on several points.  For a start it is located in the original buildings of the Beiyang Fleet’s Headquarters Yaman.  Here Admiral Ting received his ridiculous orders from the Empress Dowager and was torn between obedience and common sense as he fought the Japanese.


The museum entrance


The conference rooms and some of Ting’s offices have been left as they were.  Being adorned with well-executed wax works dummies they tell a story in time in a very effective way.  If you have been to the “Battle Box” in Singapore you will know the feeling.  The main point that they made to me was one of incongruity ~ although Ting was fighting a modern war, commanding steam powered leviathans he still lived in the environment of a Ching dynasty mandarin.


The exhibition galleries are well laid out and, again unlike many Mainland museums, the captions were clearly written by people who knew what they were taking about.  So, for instance, the captions on the photos of the various forts give details of the armament.  Not all of this is in English but if you know the historical background of what you are looking at, with a bit of Chinese and a bit of common sense you can make things out.  The Museum is obviously very proud of its academic efforts and has its own journal.  The Museum’s CD ROM and publications are also well worth getting.  The only thing that detracts from this is that the room attendants are typical of their ilk, i.e. disinterested to the point of unconsciousness, who resentfully eye the visitors depriving them of their afternoon nap.  However I got the distinct impression that if you contacted the museum in advance and explained your interest I’m sure that they could find someone who actually gives a damn to discuss the exhibits with you.


Tsi Yuen's 21cm Krupp main guns


At the back of the Museum is some hardware that requires little explanation ~ the main guns of the protected cruiser Tsi Yuen.  She was built in Stettin as part of the same contract as the Ting Yuens and had an interesting history.  It was the Tsi Yuen that Captain Togo attacked before the declaration of war on 25July 1894.  Although outnumbered the Tsi Yuen managed to escape, but with her superstructure wrecked and her guns disabled.  Repaired, she fought at the Yalu, and survived only to eventually surrender with the rest of the fleet at Wei Hai.  She was taken into Japanese service as the Sai Yen.  She went to war against the Russians but was sunk by a mine off Port Arthur in 1904.  In 1986 the wreck was located and the guns and many artifacts recovered, which were shared between the Liu Kung and Lushan museums.


As you leave the Museum there is yet more firepower on your right.  For 20 RMB you can climb all over a 280 mm Krupp gun which has been moved here from its original site.  Although there are other guns on the island “in their natural habitat”, as it were, you can get right up close to this beast, so it is well worth the price of admission.


The 28cm Krupp outside the museum


To the west of the Museum are located most of the original buildings on the island.  They are still in use so you cannot enter many of them but the area still makes for an evocative stroll.  East of the museum are the modern buildings. You see a shopping centre, mercifully located mostly underground; a monstrous new ferry pier; and then a remarkable and massive bust of Admiral Ting gazing out to sea that marks the entrance to “The Exhibition Hall of the Sino-Japanese War in 1894”.


Admiral Ting looks out over the entrance to the exhibition hall


The Exhibition Hall tells the story of the war in a series of displays and vignettes using wax works, photographs, multi-media and narration.  The narration is all in Putongwha but again, if you know a bit about the history you will be able to follow what is going on.  Perhaps it is not very high brow but I found the Exhibition Hall to be both educational and entertaining.  I particularly enjoyed a CGI movie showing the 25July battle between the Tsi Yuen and the Japanese cruisers and the Japanese sinking of the British merchantman Kowshing which was transporting Chinese troops to Korea .  Between them the Museum and the Exhibition Centre cover the entire educational spectrum from popular to academic so there is something to offer everyone.  The two facilities compliment each other well and I recommend both to you.


Liu Kung is about three km long , two km wide and 150 meters high at its highest point.  A walking tour is possible in a day, although I’m not sure how much remains of many of the batteries so, other than for fitness freaks, I don’t know how worthwhile this would be.  Although, even without any history, the views of the rugged north shore would repay a little effort in getting there.  Less strenuous ways of getting about exist.  There is a cable-car to the monument perched nearly on the centre of the island, and the southern shore is serviced by 10-seater electric buggies that run a circular sightseeing service for 10 RMB.  These buggies only stop for a few moments at each site to take photos but for 100 RMB you can hire a whole buggy.  The driver can’t leave the prescribed route but he can stop for longer and give you time to explore.  If you want to spend a lot of time though you will have to “compensate” him some more for his lost time.  On my trip this wasn’t really a problem since the most westerly positions on the small Hwang Island were inaccessible because the causeway was closed.


One of the 24cm Krupps at Donghoing Fort


Any disappointments that I had in the west were more than compensated for by a visit to the most easterly battery on the island at Donghoing Fort.  This position originally mounted two 240 mm Krupp guns and two 120 mm.  One of the latter has been moved down to the fort’s courtyard.  For the price of admission you get to wander at will through empty but well preserved barracks, magazines and shell rooms dug into the hill.  Then, following a long gallery upwards you emerge at the watershed on the eastern point of the island.  Here there is the other 120 mm.  Looking back towards Wei Hai you get good views of the little Jih Island whose fortifications covered the eastern approaches to the bay.  Turning out to sea and following the path around you get good views of Liu Kung’s northern cliffs which are still guarded by the two 240 mm guns in their concrete pits.  There is also a command bunker but, since Tyler relates that there were no range finders on the island in his day, it is probably a later addition. This is a bit odd because the works were installed under the direction of the German advisor Von Hanneken, and, when built, they were 'state of the art’.  They should have included the best 1890s fire control systems such as depression rangefinders.  The fact that they didn’t is perhaps another example of a weak power arming quickly and spending the money on impressive hardware, without investing in the software to make it really effective.  In any event Von Hanneken built well and the fort was kept in use until the 1980s.


Overall we spent about five hours on Liu Kung including the ferry trips.  This was a comfortable amount of time.  You can whistle-stop the place, but for the pre-dreadnought buff it is such a treasure trove that this would not be satisfying.  To walk all of the battery positions as well would take the best part of a day.  Whatever you do I think that time spent on Liu Kung Dao is well spent.


Admiral Ting with best friend


On to Lushan


There is a lot of history in Lushan, but, unfortunately, a lot of paranoia too.  All but three of the sites are off limits to 'foreigners', by which they mean white folks since they don’t check anyone else.  Still the place is very well worth a visit and is easy to get to from Dalien.  You can hire a taxi for the afternoon for 200 RMB.


On the drive down you get good views of the rugged terrain on the peninsular where the Russians fought their delaying actions in 1904.  There is still a lot of Russian architecture in the town which is much more spread out than I had assumed from my readings.  I was expecting the hills to give a “punch bowl” effect but the basin is a lot wider and the hills less dominant than I had thought.  Indeed from the centre of town the only dominant hills are those by the shore, all of which were securely held by the Russians in 1904.  Thus the fleet could continue to operate even though Port Arthur was besieged.


Lushan: the Baiyushan memorial and Russian coast defence piece


The best place to view all of this is from the Baiyushan Tower set on the hill which dominates the harbour.  This is one of the “off limits” sites but my Hong Kong Identity Card got me in.  The souvenir vendors inside took my wife to be my tour guide, so they gave her a hard time for bringing a foreigner into the place.  This did not stop them from trying to sell me model tanks, jets and destroyers made out of, hopefully, spent 12.7 mm machine gun bullets and speaking to me in Russian.  However, the few words that I learned on a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway came in very handy and we were soon all bosom Tovarovichs!


The tower was erected by the Japanese to commemorate their dead, and re-dedicated by the Chinese to commemorate theirs.  From the terrace you can look down on the port built to accommodate Admiral Ting’s fleet where the Russian First Pacific Squadron met its end; see why the “Tiger’s Tail” is so aptly named; and ponder on the narrow entrance to the harbour that the Japanese tried several times to block.  On a summer’s afternoon in 2005, or on a chart in the Mikasa standing offshore in 1904, it looks a relatively easy task to obstruct this entrance with blockships.  But, as the Americans discovered at Santiago and the British at Zeebrugge, at night, blinded by searchlights and shell splashes and with the blockships sailing to seemingly certain destruction by the enemy’s fire, such an easy task was practically impossible.


The view from the memorial

The dockyard on the left, the "tiger's tail" on the right and between the narrow entrance that the Japanese couldn't block


There is a display of modern naval equipment at Baiyushan but I didn’t want to push my luck with my Hong Kong ID too far so I didn’t go in.  On the road down from the hill you can take a photo opportunity with an original Russian coast defence piece.


The Memorial Hall of the Ten Thousand Martyrs Mausoleum commemorates the Japanese massacre in 1894.  It is “on limits” and, in addition to its main purpose as a shrine, includes a largely picture based commemoration of the Sino-Japanese War and the Massacre.  A 3 lber and the 5.9” stern chaser of the Tsi Yuen complete her raised firepower shared with Liu Kung.


Tsi Yuen's 15cm stern chaser


The hut where the Russians surrendered to the Japanese in 1905 is preserved, and “on limits” but it is just, well… a hut.  The admission is about double that for most of the other historical sites too ~ all-in-all it is not worth the price.


Hill 203 is “on limits”, and surprisingly far out from the centre of town.  It is well worth the admission though.  A steep but well paved road leads to the top.  If you want a real throwback to the bad old colonial days you can get two coolies to carry you up in a sedan chair!  Apparently nobody but me thought that this was both anachronistic and unacceptable, as I risked the heart attack and made the top under my own steam.  At the top is a small Japanese memorial in the shape of a rifle cartridge.  In 1894 General Nogi took Hill 203 on the first day of assault and cracked the Chinese defences.  In 1904 it took him six months and thousands of casualties to do the same.  His son was killed just below the summit.  There is a small monument to the younger Nogi where the trench lines have been preserved.


Having taken Hill 203 the Japanese could look down on Port Arthur .  They brought in 11” howitzers, which ironically, had originally been mounted as coast defence weapons to protect the Japanese Home Islands from the Russian fleet, and used them as coast offence weapons to destroy the same fleet.  Crude, half scale replicas of the Japanese and Russian artillery have been installed on the hill but, having seen the real things at Liu Kung, these just look tacky.  Although the artillery might have changed, the view is the same 100 years later, and that makes the whole visit worthwhile. The day that I was there was quite hazy, and I could barely make out the harbour… but in my mind’s eye it was easy to see the shell splashes that marked the beginning of the end of the Russian First Pacific Squadron.


The 'subtle' Japanese monument on Hill 203


The defences of Lushan are well covered in several photo based books which I had bought and poured over.  This made the “off limits” business all the more frustrating as I knew what I was missing.  But, despite a beguiling smile, Hong Kong ID and Pidgin Russian I was not able to effect entry to any of the other sites.  Anyway the whole trip from Dalien had taken about four hours and I had seen much of what I wanted so I left happy.  But I will still be happy to return… when they realise that the Russia-Japanese War is over and that the defences of Lushan are just as redundant as those of Liu Kung.


So there you have it.  If your thing is pre-dreadnought era technology, or if your thing is Chinese, Japanese or Russian Military history, then the shores of the Yellow Sea are the place to be.  It is good to see what is preserved, and, in the case of the Ting Yuen what has been rebuilt.  The world’s newest pre-dreadnought battleship and the sites at Port Edward and Port Arthur exist today so that the lessons of the past can be learned, and Liu Kung and Lushan will not relive their turbulent pasts or be re-named again.


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