Saturday, June 11, 2011

China’s first aircraft carrier to be named Sa Zhen-bing?

It has been publicly discussed for a while which name China would pick to name her first aircraft carrier. The local United Daily reported that Sa Zhen-bing (薩鎮冰)was preferred by Chinese military. Since Admiral Sa was a career naval commander serving for four regimes of modern China---Qing Dynasty, Beiyang Government(北洋政府1912-1928), the Republic of China, and the People's Republic of China, using his name for this strategically important combat vessel was believed to highlight certain level of significance and carry less political entanglement.

This aircraft carrier, in fact former Soviet Navy's Admiral Kuznetsov class Varyag, sold to China and being reconstructed for duty at a shipyard in Dalian, is scheduled to begin her first sea trial on October 1, 2011, the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. It was deemed a symbol for China's attempt to build a trans-ocean navy.

Sa Zhen-bing (1859-1952), a graduate of Greenwich Naval College of the Great Britain, was ordered to rebuild the Beiyang Navy (北洋海軍) by Qing court after the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). He was appointed the Lord of Admiralty by Beiyang Government of the Republic of China after the collapse of Qing Dynasty following the successful revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. He also served a short period as the prime minister of Beiyang Government. In 1949, he declined the invitation by Chiang Kai-shek to come to Taiwan and offered his support for the newly formed People’s Republic of China. He died in April, 1952. His son Sa Shi-jun (薩師俊1891-1938), also a highly decorated naval officer, killed in the line of duty on October 24, 1938 and posthumously promoted to the rank of captain, became the highest ranking officer of the Republic of China Navy killed in action during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

If the name Sa Zhen-bing is adopted, it would be more appropriate than the previously suggested Shi Lang (施琅 1621-1696), the name of Emperor Kang-xi's top naval commander, who helped Kang-xi (康熙) to unify China by defeating the regime-in-exile of Ming Dynasty in Taiwan. Using his name on the first aircraft carrier of the People's Liberation Army Navy would be too sensitive and no doubt produce tremendous impact on fragile cross-strait relationship.

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