Battle of Sincouwaan

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Battle of Sincouwaan
Sai Tso Wan on Lantau Island
22°22′12″N 113°58′33″E / 22.3699°N 113.9759°E / 22.3699; 113.9759Coordinates: 22°22′12″N 113°58′33″E / 22.3699°N 113.9759°E / 22.3699; 113.9759

Ming victory

  • Portuguese managed to retreat with 4 of 6 ships intact
Ming dynasty Kingdom of Portugal Kingdom of Portugal
Commanders and leaders
Wang Hong (汪鈜),
Zhang Ding (張嵿),
Ke Rong (柯榮),
Wang Ying'en (王應恩) 
Kingdom of Portugal Martim Afonso de Mello Coutinho [pt]
Kingdom of Portugal Pedro Homem 

300 ships [1]

6 ships

  • 2 heavy carracks
  • 2 small carracks
  • 2 junks[2]
  • 300 men[3]
Casualties and losses
Unknown 1 ship destroyed
1 ship captured
42 men captured[4]
Battle of Sincouwaan is located in Hong Kong
Battle of Sincouwaan
Location within Hong Kong
Battle of Sincouwaan is located in Eastern China
Battle of Sincouwaan
Battle of Sincouwaan (Eastern China)

The Battle of Sincouwaan[5] (traditional Chinese: 茜草灣之戰; simplified Chinese: 茜草湾之战; pinyin: Qiàncǎo Wān zhī Zhàn), also known as Battle of Veniaga Island (Portuguese: Batalha da Ilha da Veniaga) was a naval battle between the Ming dynasty coast guard and a Portuguese fleet led by Martim Afonso de Mello that occurred in 1522. The Ming court threatened to expel Portuguese traders from China after receiving news that the Malacca Sultanate, a Ming tributary, had been invaded by the Portuguese. In addition, the Portuguese had been purchasing slaves on the Chinese coast, to sell in Portuguese Malacca. Portuguese traders were executed in China and a Portuguese embassy was arrested, with their freedom promised on the condition that the Portuguese returned Malacca to its sultan. Martim Afonso de Mello arrived at the Pearl River but was blockaded by a Ming fleet despite his offers of amends. After two weeks without being able to gain a foothold in China they decided to run the blockade and managed to escape with the loss of two ships and several dozen men. The battle was fought off the northwestern coast of Lantau Island, Hong Kong at a location called Sai Tso Wan today.


Because King Manuel I of Portugal wished to establish diplomatic and commercial relations with China, in April 1521, the new governor of Portuguese India Dom Duarte de Menezes was dispatched together with captain-major Martim Afonso de Mello, tasked with constructing a feitoria (trade post) close to Guangzhou.[6] Since Mello's mission was primarily commercial and diplomatic, his vessels carried mainly small caliber cannon, and barely any heavy guns; furthermore, two-thirds of his crew had perished during the long voyage to Malacca.[7][better source needed] He arrived there in July 1522 where he came across skepticism towards his mission from the local Portuguese, who had been trading in China for several years, and informed him of the tensions in China.

Portuguese such as Simão de Andrade had been conducting piracy and purchasing slaves along the Chinese coast to sell in Portuguese Malacca, and blatantly ignored the Ming emperor's authority by building a fort at Tunmen, after his request for Tunmen was denied.[8] Although buying and selling children was common practice in the region, the Portuguese chronicler João de Barros concluded that they had been seized without knowledge from their parents and even came from noble families.[9] Even children from well off families were sold and found years later at Diu in western India. Rumors that Simao and other Portuguese were cannibalizing children for food spread across China.[10][11] Besides aggressive trading through force of arms and abducting and selling Chinese men, women, and children into slavery, Simao also encouraged "robbers, kidnappers, and all sorts of wickedness."[12] Other foreigners such as Malays and Siamese were prevented from conducting trade until the Portuguese had finished their own business. They refused to pay customs duties and abused an official who had complained about their behavior. The Portuguese were also accused of robbing foreign ships.[9] Simao's pirating activities greatly angered both the Chinese people and the court, which led Ming officials to order the eviction of the Tunmen Portuguese.[13]

The Portuguese had also conquered the Malacca Sultanate in 1511. Ming officials were notified of the Portuguese conquest of Malacca by the Sultan, who called the Portuguese "sea robbers,"[14] and were displeased. As the sultanate was a tributary of the Ming dynasty, the emperor demanded that the Portuguese withdraw from Malacca and restore the Malay sultan to the throne.[15] Chinese authorities were suspicious of the Portuguese explanation that they conquered Malacca due to "the local ruler's tyrannies against the Chinese," even though the Chinese residents of Malacca had fully supported the Portuguese takeover.[16] The problem was further compounded by the illegality of overseas Chinese trade under Ming law, making them even more suspicious.[10] The Chinese responded by blockading the Portuguese.

In 1520, Fernão Pires de Andrade arrived in Beijing awaiting an audience with the emperor. However, when reports of Portuguese piracy and the seizure of Malacca reached Beijing, the embassy was sent back to Guangzhou.[17] They were detained there and offered their freedom on the condition that the Portuguese returned Malacca, which had been a Ming tributary, to the Sultan. When Pires arrived he was put in chains and kept in prison. He was never released.[4][18] Prior to Pires' arrival other Portuguese had been executed by beating, strangling, and other forms of torture.[19] Ming officials confiscated from the Portuguese embassy "twenty quintals of rhubarb, one thousand five hundred or six hundred rich pieces of silk."[20]

Nevertheless, Mello departed at once with two more trade junks belonging to Duarte Coelho and Ambrósio do Rego joining the fleet.[6]

The battle[edit]

A heavy 16th century Portuguese carrack

Initially Mello's expedition experienced a storm but survived and successfully sailed up the Pearl River delta towards Guangzhou before the end of July. They were promptly confronted by a Ming fleet led by Ke Rong and Wang Ying'en, which proceeded to fire warning shots at the Portuguese. According to Mello, "They just wanted to demonstrate their power ... doing nothing more than going in front of me and shooting a few shots, [making noise] with their drums and gongs, placing themselves in front of the port that I intended to reach."[1] Mello gave orders not to return fire as his goal was peace, but he wrote that "it pained me that I could not shoot them."[1] As the Ming fleet closed in on the junk ship of António do Rego however, he opened fire, making the Chinese fall back with Rego abandoning formation to give chase. Immediately he was signaled from the flagship to return to formation and was later reprehended by Martim Afonso.[6]

The Chinese could not prevent the Portuguese from dropping anchor by an island the Portuguese dubbed Veniaga ("trade"), and remained outside their effective range, occasionally firing their bombards on the Portuguese ships to no effect. That night, the Portuguese captured 5 fishermen, who were given a reward and told by de Mello to deliver a message to the captain of the Ming fleet the following morning, stating that he intended to trade and offer compensation for any past misdoings of his countrymen. Mello received no reply. The following night, the Portuguese again sent two envoys to the Chinese fleet, but were met with a brief bombardment.[6]

On the third night, a craft from Duarte Coelho's junk ship managed to run the blockade under cover of darkness and reach the fleet, and stated that Duarte Coelho had his ship sheltered behind an island close by, but would not join the fleet because of the Chinese, unless they came to his aid. De Mello detached two armed craft to return to Duarte Coelho and escort him, but could not breach the Chinese blockade. Irritated, Mello finally decided to confront the Chinese, but was rebuffed by his captains who thought that they should remain passive instead. Several days passed by until Duarte Coelho eventually decided to depart for Malacca.[1]

For the remaining Portuguese, their greatest concern became their dwindling water reserves. Mello armed four boats with cannons and personally led them ashore to fill the barrels with water. Such a move did not go unnoticed by the Ming fleet, which detached several oar ships to give chase to the Portuguese water expedition, and pinned them down with artillery fire for an hour before Mello ordered his men to abandon the water barrels and immediately re-embark.[1] The Ming fleet gave chase as the Portuguese made their way back to their ships, forcing them to detach extra weight and abandon their anchors to make a break for deep water, all the while firing volleys of shrapnel and matchlock fire to keep the Chinese boarding parties at bay.[1] When they reached their ships, the Ming fleet gave up chase as the carracks out ranged them and proceeded to bombard their fleet.[6] According to Mello, they came back with "blood instead of water."[1]

Back on board but lacking enough water, de Mello decided to retreat and return to Malacca. Fourteen days after arriving on the Pearl River delta, the Portuguese weighed anchor and prepared to run the Chinese blockade. The two heavy carracks in the front cleared a path through the Ming fleet amidst heavy arrow and gun fire while replying with powerful cannon salvos, matchlock fire, and hurling gunpowder bombs. In the rear, two smaller carracks got separated, and on Diogo de Mello's carrack a gunpowder barrel keg was lit by a cannon shot and exploded. Another account says it was an accident. The ship sank.[21][22] Portuguese chronicler João de Barros writes, "The first sign that victory would be given to the enemy came in the form of a spark getting into the powder carried by Diogo de Mello, which blew the decks of his vessel into the air. He and the hull went to the bottom together."[23] Diogo's brother was devastated, writing, "I saw one of the vessels burst into flames and go down to the bottom, with nothing left alive or dead that we could see, and it was my brother Diogo de Mello's vessel, and with him went fifteen or twenty members [criados] of my father's household, and of mine, who had gone with him."[23] Pedro Homem, the captain of the other small nau immediately ordered the sails to be furled and a craft set out to rescue the castaways, but they were faced with artillery fire from the Ming fleet and were then boarded until all the Portuguese were killed or captured. On the Chinese side, "Pan Ding-gou (潘丁苟) … was first to board, and the other troops followed and advanced in good order."[23] According to Portuguese sources, Pedro Homem put up an admirable fight, being "in stature one of the largest men of Portugal, and his spirit of bravery and physical strength were different from the common man."[23] He was the last to fall for he wore European plate armour and kept the Chinese at bay with a heavy montante until he was eventually taken down by a cannon shot.[6] His death is corroborated by Portuguese sources, which say that "[Pedro Homem's] fighting was such that if it hadn't been for the shots of [Chinese] artillery, he never would have died, so great was the fear of the Chinese to approach him."[23]

The Chinese killed almost everyone on board the carrack and made several prisoners before abandoning it, taking with them the cannon and even the ropes, anchors, and pulleys. A sole survivor was left behind - a sailor that had taken refuge on the crow's nest.

In the meantime, the two heavy carracks and António do Rego's junk ship successfully repelled all boarding attempts, forcing the Chinese to abandon pursuit with severe losses. Only by night fall did the wind allow the Portuguese to return to the drifting carrack and rescue its last survivor. The carrack was burnt to prevent the Chinese from capturing it.[24] Afterwards, Martim Afonso de Mello gathered a council with his captains, in which he expressed his intentions of renewing battle the following day, but the rest of the captains saw it as a pointless exercise and objected. The Portuguese then proceeded to Malacca, and despite being off-season, encountered favourable winds that carried them to the Singapore strait, where they met up with Duarte Coelho and his junk.[6]


After the battle, Wang Hong presented 20 captured Portuguese cannons and other firearms to the imperial court. He Ru was ordered to begin manufacturing breech-loading cannons in the same style as the captured Portuguese breech-loading swivel guns, which were called "Folangji" (佛郎機), [25] meaning "Frankish" in Chinese. He Ru was promoted in 1523 and completed the first folangji cannons in 1524.[22]

Forty two men were captured and taken into custody by the Chinese. On 6 December 1522, Portuguese prisoners were exposed to the public in pillories in Guangzhou. Their sentences read that "Petty sea robbers sent by the great robber falsely; they come to spy out our country; let them die in pillories as robbers."[26] Ming officials forced Pires to write letters for them, demanding that the Portuguese restore the deposed Malaccan Sultan back to his throne. The Malay ambassador, who refused to leave fearing that the Portuguese would kill him, was forced to take the letters with him on a junk to Patani. It left Guangzhou on 31 May 1523, and brought back an urgent request for help against the Portuguese from the Malay Sultan. Dom Sancho Henriques' forces were attacking Bintang and Patani.[25][27] When they received his reply, the Chinese officials sentenced the Portuguese embassy to death. On 23 September 1523, 23 Portuguese were executed by slicing their bodies into multiple pieces, and their private parts were stuffed into their mouths.[26][28] When more Portuguese ships landed and were seized, the Chinese executed them as well, cutting off the genitalia and beheading the bodies and forcing their fellow Portuguese to wear the body parts, while the Chinese celebrated with music. The genitalia and heads were strung up for display in public, after which they were discarded.[29]

In 1524 the Chinese sent the Malay ambassadors Tuan Mohammed and Cojacao back to Bintang with messages for the Portuguese. They got lost at sea.[30]

On 1 January 1524, Jorge de Albuquerque wrote a letter to the King of Portugal requesting him to send the captain-major, because he feared that the Chinese would send a fleet to Malacca and punish the Portuguese for destroying the Sultanate. The Chinese on their part feared possible Portuguese retaliation, and in 1524 constructed a new fleet of war junks in preparation for future Portuguese incursions. However, the attacks were not forthcoming, and the fleet was left to decay. The new fleet's ships were either scuttled or captured by pirates. By 1528 no new ships were being constructed.[30]

Despite hostilities, the Portuguese continued to trade and raid along the Fujian coastline for the next thirty years with the aid of corrupt local merchants with official connections. They formed a group of smugglers and pirates composed of Fujianese, Japanese, and Portuguese mariners.[31] However this came to a stop with the appointment of Zhu Wan in 1547 as special grand coordinator to stamp out piracy in Zhejiang and Fujian. In 1548 Zhu Wan carried out a raid on Shuangyu, a pirate base off the coast of Zhejiang. In 1549 the Portuguese abandoned their goods after realizing the new administration had made it impossible for them to conduct business, and moved further south to Guangdong. Zhu Wan's success was short-lived, and he was convicted of wrongful executions by his enemies the same year. He eventually committed suicide.[32]

The new Portuguese trading presence in Guangdong got off to a solid start in 1554 when the merchants Leonel de Sousa and Simão d'Almeida offered bribes to Wang Bo, the vice-commissioner for maritime defense. After a pleasant reception from the Portuguese merchants on their ships, the two sides agreed to a payment of 500 taels per year made personally to Wang Bo in return for allowing the Portuguese to settle in Macau as well as levying the imperial duty of 20 percent on only half their products. Following 1557 the Portuguese were no longer asked to leave Macau during winter.[33] The Portuguese ambassador Diogo Pereira arrived in 1563 to normalize relations. Portuguese presence in Macau was further strengthened in 1568 when they aided the Ming in fighting off a hundred pirate ships. The nature of Wang Bo's business transactions were almost discovered by imperial observers in 1571, but the vice-commissioner obfuscated the payments by identifying them as "ground rent" made to the imperial treasury. Macau's merchant oligarchs continued to bribe their Mandarin overseers and in this way the settlement persisted. The most important incident of bribery occurred in 1582 when the viceroy of Guangdong and Guangxi summoned Macau's chief officials for a meeting. Remembering the fate of Tome Pires decades earlier, Macau's leaders chose an elderly judge and Italian Jesuit to go in their place. The viceroy raged at the Macau representatives, accusing them of conducting governance in contravention of Ming law, and threatened to destroy the colony and evict all Portuguese from Macau. His attitude changed dramatically after the two presented him with 4,000 cruzados worth of presents. In his words: "The foreigners, subjects to the laws of the Empire, may continue to inhabit Macao."[34][35]

The Malay Sultanate of Johor also improved relations with the Portuguese and fought alongside them against the Aceh Sultanate.[36][37][38]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Andrade 2016, p. 128.
  2. ^ Monteiro 1995, p. 5.
  3. ^ Hao 2010, p. 12.
  4. ^ a b Diffie 1977, p. 385.
  5. ^ Chinese Character Database: With Word-formations Phonologically Disambiguated According to the Cantonese Dialect 茜 and 扇 carry the same syllable in Cantonese -- sin3; in addition, 草 carries cou2 and 灣 waan1.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Monteiro 1995, p. 5-7.
  7. ^ Rodrigues 2016, p. 87.
  8. ^ Chang 1978, p. 57.
  9. ^ a b Keevak 2017, p. 43.
  10. ^ a b Wills 2011, p. 28.
  11. ^ Twitchett 1998, p. 338.
  12. ^ Antony 2017, p. 270.
  13. ^ Dutra 1995, p. 426.
  14. ^ Lach 1994, p. 734.
  15. ^ Hao 2010, p. 11.
  16. ^ Fernão Lopes de Castanheda, 1552–1561 História do Descobrimento e Conquista da Índia pelos Portugueses edited by Manuel Lopes de Almeida, Porto, Lello & Irmão, 1979, book 2 ch. 106
  17. ^ Hsia 2016, p. 1-2.
  18. ^ Pires 1990.
  19. ^ Pires 1990, p. xli.
  20. ^ Pires 1990, p. xlii.
  21. ^ Monteiro 1995, p. 9.
  22. ^ a b Chase 2003, p. 143.
  23. ^ a b c d e Andrade 2016, p. 129.
  24. ^ Andrade 2016, p. 130.
  25. ^ a b Chang 1978, p. 60.
  26. ^ a b Pires 1990, p. xliv.
  27. ^ Pires 1990, p. xliii.
  28. ^ Chang 1978, p. 59.
  29. ^ Pires 1990, p. xlv.
  30. ^ a b Chang 1978, p. 61.
  31. ^ Hsia 2016, p. 2.
  32. ^ Wills 2011, p. 34.
  33. ^ Wills 2011, p. 38.
  34. ^ Wills 2011, p. 45.
  35. ^ Diffie 1977, p. 390.
  36. ^ Tony Jaques (1 January 2007). Dictionary of Battles and Sieges: F-O. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 620–. ISBN 978-0-313-33538-9.
  37. ^ J. M. Barwise; Nicholas J. White (2002). A Traveller's History of Southeast Asia. Interlink Books. pp. 110–. ISBN 978-1-56656-439-7.
  38. ^ Merle Calvin Ricklefs (2001). A History of Modern Indonesia Since C. 1200. Stanford University Press. pp. 36–. ISBN 978-0-8047-4480-5.


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  •  This article incorporates text from Journal of the China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society for the year ..., Volumes 27-28, a publication from 1895, now in the public domain in the United States.
  •  This article incorporates text from Journal of the North-China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Volumes 26-27, a publication from 1894, now in the public domain in the United States.