Ye Zaifu

One of those young Chinese men Mauchan was referring to might well have been a young Chinese designer named Ye Zaifu (1888-1957). According to a biography (in Chinese) I located, he was a 30-year-old Technician at Kiangnan when the project was awarded in 1918 and during the course of the project rose to Deputy Engineer in 1920 and Engineer in 1922.

Prior to that Ye Zaifu had graduated from the Imperial Naval Academy, Guangdong in 1906. In 1912, he was admitted to the University of Glasgow, Department of Shipbuilding, specializing in shipbuilding engineering. In 1914 he transferred to the United States Navy Yard in New Groton, CT. He was one of about 30 young Chinese men hand-picked to accompany Vice Admiral Wei Han to the Electric Boat facilities to observe the building and operation of the latest American submarines. China was considering buying up to 200 submarines for their own fleet. This is amazing because there was no higher tech industry than submarine building in the world at this time, and the fact that America was willing to openly share that technology with China speaks volumes to the eagerness of America to strengthen their ties to China and gain an edge over our European and the Japanese rivals. The deal fell through, however, as the leader of the Republic at the time, Yuan Shikai, attempted to install himself as emperor, leading to political instability and the American’s losing confidence.

In 1915 Ye Zaifu was admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated in 1917, receiving a Master's Degree in naval engineering sciences, and soon thereafter returned to China and joined the Kiangnan yard. Ye Zaifu stayed at Kiangnan after the four sisters were completed and continued his work designing and building ships for China, especially rivercraft.

When the Japanese invaded at Shanghai in 1937, he was with the group of experts and engineers that were evacuated inland to Chongqing (formerly known as Chungking) to continue the struggle. He was one of the founding members of the China Shipbuilding Engineering Society in 1943 and joined the Communist party in 1949 when they took control of post civil-war China.

He would go on to direct some Chinese manufacturing facilities and lead many ship design departments in various Universities, training generations of Chinese shipbuilders and engineers. One might call him the father of modern shipbuilding in China.