20. Hulled Wooden Ships East and West: The Junk and the Nao
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20 Hulled Wooden Ships East and West The Junk and the Nao Absolute, unvarying rigidity, rigidity! —Rudyard Kipling, “The Ship That Found Herself,” 1895 Like rafts, the smaller sailing-­ canoes are essentially “wet” craft on which the travelers are subject to being soaked by wave, spray, and leakage. This is acceptable in the warm tropics. However, farther poleward “dry” craft are distinctly preferable, and outrigger canoes are generally absent to the north of Vietnam’s­ Annam, although they once were present in Taiwan. In China proper, a completely different, rigid-­ hull tradition emerged, that of the dry craft known as the junk. Compartmentalization in China: The Junk In common with Mediterranean ships, the Chinese junk (fig­ ure 20.1) was a sizable rigid wooden vessel that was carvel-­ constructed (the edges of its hull planks abutted rather than overlapped). The junk differed markedly from West­ ern ships—showing that functionally similar end products can be achieved by very different specific means—and some see it as a descendant, via the small three-­ plank sampan, of the three-­ log or three-­ bamboo raft, the sampan being a boat supposedly first created as the raft’s sides were built up to contain cargo. First, although its plank bottom curves longitudinally, in cross-­ section the traditional, keel-­ less Chinese junk is flat-­ bottomed, not round-­or V-­ bottomed, which gives it superior stability and cargo capacity. It has bluff transom (square) ends instead of the Mediterranean ship’s stem-­and sternposts and rounded, wedge-­ like, or pointed ends. Finally, instead of having a continuous, framed hold as does a European ship, the junk is divided like a bamboo into separate water-­ tight compartments by means of a series of transverse bulkheads built simultaneously with the addition of the side planks. This imparts unequaled strength and rigidity as well as another very significant safety feature: if the Hulled Wooden Ships East and West / 207 hull is holed at one place, the leakage is confined to a single compartment. In the absence of a keel, longitudinal rigidity is achieved by application of great wales of timber along the ship’s sides. That this type of construction began early is suggested by the curved ladderlike Shang dynasty (sec­ ond millennium BC) written character for “ship,” and there is no question that the vessel was in use before the time of Christ. A terra-­ cotta model of a small junk from the Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220) has been published, and archaeologists have excavated a large ship-­ construction berth circa 200 BC in Guangzhou.1 Kofun-­ period (AD 250–800) Japanese boat-­ form haniwa (terra-­ cotta funerary models) also display bulkhead-­ separated compartments.2 Geographically, the distribution of the junk is centered on coastal China, and, in a variety of forms, the craft came to be the characteristic ship of East Asia from north­ ern Vietnam to Japan. Large and handy vessels had been outlawed in Japan in 1636 (see chapter 5), which came close to terminating a previously Figure 20.1. Early twentieth-­ century Jiangsu freighter, a five-­ masted north­ ern Chinese junk carrying Chinese lugsails with yards slightly inclined forward. Note the sheets tied to each sail’s luff and leach and the means of attachment of each batten to the mast. Also note the bluff ends. There are decking, cabins, and bulkheads creating watertight compartments, and a median stern rudder. This is a type probably ancestral to many sorts of Chinese ships. From G. R. G. Worcester, Sail and Sweep in China, 1966, p. 36. With permission of the Science Museum Group, Lon­don. 208 / Chapter 20 lively overseas trade. Although “Chinese junks were as a rule slender, seagoing vessels which could sail the oceans . . . the only large Japanese junk which still existed in this [twentieth] century was a broad, heavy and bad sailer”; interestingly , except for its rudder the Japanese junk closely resembled a Roman merchantman rather than traditional Chinese models.3 A fascinating fact is that flat-­bottomed, high-­sterned, transom-­ended ships of very similar profile, dating to pre-­ Dynastic times, existed in ancient Egypt.4 And in both Egypt and south­ ern China, bipod masts were used (shear in Egypt, parallel in China), as were the antihogging truss and oculi on the bow (see below).5 In Japan, instead of Chinese lugsails the more archaic junks there carry tall, rather Egyptian-­ looking square-­ rigged sails.6 A west–east influence has been suggested. However, as proposed above, an Indian...


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