Nan Ch'en ('Ornament of the South')

The Nan Ch'en ('Ornament of the South') was one of two fast but unarmoured cruisers built in the 1880s in Germany for the Chinese Nanyang fleet. They were part of a force of five similar ships that included three Chinese- and two German- built cruisers. All five ships were un-armoured, three masted and fully rigged, but they fell into three rough categories. The first of the five, the Chinese-built Kai Che, was of composite construction (iron framework and wood hull), and was armed with two 8.2in Krupp guns. The Ching Ch'ing and Huan T'ai were also of composite construction, but were armed with three 7in Armstrong guns.

The Nan Ch'en and Na Shui were similar in general design to the three Chinese built ships. They differed visually in having two funnels instead of one, and they had steel hulls in place of the composite construction. They were armed with two 8.2in Armstrong guns that were carried in sponsons just in front of the funnel (and close to the bridge) and with eight 4.7in BL guns.

The two German constructed ships were built by Howaldt at Kiel. They were laid down in 1883 and both were completed by March 1884. This made them contemporaries of several more modern ships that were being built in Germany for the Chinese northern (Peiyang) fleet. The protected cruiser Tsi Yuen, with an armoured deck and barbettes was under construction at Stettin, while the battleships Ting Yuen and Chen Yuan had just been completed. These were all significantly more modern than the two Nan class cruisers, and this was recognised at the time. In 1884-85 France and China fought a short war. Germany refused to allow the Tsi Yuen or the two battleships to sail for China, but the Nan Ch'en was allowed to sail to Britain, where she was to pick up her guns. She was then allowed to be equipped with her guns and set sail for China.

In July 1884 the Nan Ch'en's main guns were test fired in the Tangtze. This revealed that the structure of the ship wasn't strong enough to withstand its own guns firing at full charge, and both ships had to be strengthened.

Soon after this the French inflicted a series of heavy defeats on the Chinese. The Nan Ch'en, Nan Shui and Kai Chi, were all withdrawn up the Yangtze to protect Nanking.

The three cruisers then formed the core of a force that was sent out to try and deal with the French. This fleet, which also included the steam frigate Yu-yuen and the sloop Teng Ch'ing, set sail in late December 1884. In mid-February the Chinese ran into the French while leaving Shipu anchorage at Sanmen Bay. The Chinese realised that they were outgunned and attempted to withdraw. The three fast cruisers escaped, but the older frigate and the sloop were both lost. The cruisers were blockaded at Chenhai for the rest of the war.

After the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 the five Nanyang cruisers was all rearmed. The Nan Ch'en and Nan Shui were the least changed. They kept their main armament, but had one 4.7in QF gun mounted in place of one of the original 4.7in guns (either on the poop deck or bow). The Nan Ch'en wasn't available in 1896 when Chinese ships briefly returned to Port Arthur.

The Nan Ch'en doesn’t appear to have been at sea at any time after 1900 and was probably sold off in 1902.

Alternative spellings

Nan Yin, Nan Ting, Nan Thin



Top Speed


Armour – belt

Cork at waterline





Armaments as built

Two 8.2in Armstrong BL guns
Eight 4.7in Armstrong BL guns

Crew complement



 12 December 1883


 March 1884



How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 August 2013), Nan Ch'en ('Ornament of the South') ,

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