10 September 2012

China Will Name its First Aircraft Carrier ex-Varyag “Liaoning”: PRC State Media Portal

An official state media source reports that China will name its first aircraft “Liaoning” after the province that contains Dalian Naval Shipyard, where it has been refitted. An authorized government portal site, China Internet Information Center (China.org.cn) is published under the auspices of the State Council Information Office and the China International Publishing Group (CIPG) in Beijing.

Since ~2 September, Internet photos have shown the Chinese carrier with the hull number “16.”

As I told Robert Farley in March, Beijing would not name its first-ever aircraft carrier Shi Lang, as had long been rumored and cited by many Western writers. See Andrew S. Erickson, “Chinese Aerospace Power,” interview with Robert Farley, bloggingheads.tv, 20 March 2012. Go to minute 08:28 for aircraft carrier discussion; and to 09:18-11:56 for explanation of why China’s first aircraft carrier will NOT be named Shi Lang.

  • Admiral Shi Lang (施琅), on behalf of the Qing dynasty, used ~300 warships and ~20,000 troops to defeat the Ming-loyalist Zeng family in the Battle of Penghu in July 1683.
  • Admiral Shis victory enabled the Zheng familys capitulation in September 1683 and Taiwans formal incorporation into the Qing polity, as a prefecture of Fujian Province.
  • This was an historical first: neither the Ming nor any previous dynasty had ever attempted to incorporate Taiwan directly in to official mainland administration.
  • Admiral Shi had previously advocated Taiwans integration into Qing administration.
For background on Admiral Shi Lang and Chinese naval operations during the Ming Dynasty, see Andrew Wilsons excellent chapter in Andrew S. Erickson, Lyle J. Goldstein, and Carnes Lord, eds., China Goes to Sea: Maritime Transformation in Comparative Historical Perspective (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, July 2009), especially pp. 268-72.
  • Because of Admiral Shis achievements in battle, and aggressive efforts to bring Taiwan under mainland administration, naming China’s first aircraft carrier after him would not send the right message for cross-Strait relations.
  • Moreover, some sources claim that Admiral Shis post-war actions as an official vis-à-vis Taiwan were problematic.
  • Finally, PLA Navy (PLAN) ship naming conventions suggest that ships are typically named after Chinese localities.
  • The rare exceptions in which PLAN ships are named after individuals include training vessels (Deng Shichang and Zheng He) and research ships (Li Siguang), but not larger combat-operations-focused vessels.
  • Since China’s first aircraft carrier will be its largest and most prominent warship, it would be logical to name it after one of the largest Chinese localities.

Pang Li, China to Name its First Aircraft Carrier ‘Liaoning’,” China Internet Information Center, 10 September 2012, www.china.org.cn.

China will name its first aircraft carrier “Liaoning” in honor of the province where it was retrofitted, the Southern Metropolitan Daily reported, citing an authoritative source.

The paper confirmed that officials decided to name the carrier to commend the province where it was renovated and repaired, thus Liaoning.

The carrier, often referred to by its original name Varyag, is a retired Soviet-era vessel that China bought from Ukraine in the late 1990s. The carrier was later harbored in Dalian, Liaoning Province, where it was retrofitted.

The vessel began sea trails in August 2011 and on September 3 received the side designation “16,” prompting speculation that the vessel had completed basic trails and would soon be commissioned.

The carrier’s name has been a topic of interest for some time, and many netizens opined that it was likely to be named after Shi Lang, a well-known general during the Qing Dynasty, or the former leader Mao Zedong, or even the capital city of Beijing.

However, according to Chinese naval designation regulations, vessels can only be named after provinces, cities, counties, mountains or lakes, and not people.

China will officially announce the name of the vessel after it has been commissioned.

China Internet Information Center

China.org.cn offers broad access to up-to-date news about China, with searchable texts of government position papers and a wealth of basic information about Chinese history, politics, economics and culture.

The authorized government portal site to China, China.org.cn is published under the auspices of the State Council Information Office and the China International Publishing Group (CIPG) in Beijing.


Other Chinese source:





For further background on Chinese aircraft carrier development, see also:

Overall analysis offered in Andrew S. Erickson, Abraham M. Denmark, and Gabriel Collins, “Beijing’s ‘Starter Carrier’ and Future Steps: Alternatives and Implications,” Naval War College Review 65.1 (Winter 2012): 14-54.

Coverage of the ex-Varyag’s sea trials offered in Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, “China Realizes Carrier Dream,” The Diplomat, 10 August 2011.

The longer report on which that post is based is Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “China’s ‘Starter Carrier’ Goes to Sea,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国) 43 (9 August 2011).

An early assessment of the larger implications of China’s deck aviation development offered in Abraham M. Denmark, Andrew S. Erickson, and Gabriel Collins, “Should We Be Afraid of China’s New Aircraft Carrier? Not yet.,” Foreign Policy, 27 June 2011.

Relevant defense industrial factors discussed in Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “LNG Carriers to Aircraft Carriers? Assessing the potential for crossover between civilian and military shipbuilding in China,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国) 12 (18 December 2010).

Early assessment of Chinese aircraft carrier options laid out in Andrew S. Erickson and Andrew R. Wilson, “China’s Aircraft Carrier Dilemma,” Naval War College Review 59. 4 (Autumn 2006): 13-45.

For analysis on aircraft that may eventually fly off China’s aircraft carrier, see Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “‘Flying Shark’ Gaining Altitude: How might new J-15 strike fighter improve China’s maritime air warfare ability?,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国) 38 (8 June 2011).

For related analysis on drivers and constraints concerning Chinese deck aviation, see Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “The ‘Flying Shark’ Prepares to Roam the Seas: Strategic pros and cons of China’s aircraft carrier program,” China SignPost™(洞察中国) 35 (18 May 2011).