Model Chinese junks sail on

Fujian junks have eyes to guide them in their travels. The bows have characteristic, large, sweeping “wings,” one on each side of the ship. These wings surely helped in wet weather and are a very aesthetically pleasing and distinctive design feature of these seaworthy ships.

South China Sea junk

This Chinese-made model of a cargo junk is from the South China Sea, most likely Hong Kong. Like the full-sized junks from this region, the model is made of teak wood from Southeast Asia. The South China Sea junk shows a lot of foreign influence, such as the shape of its high stern and the keel meant for deep-water sailing. As is typical for these junks, the model’s rudder has holes in it so that some water can flow through and it will be more controllable.

Large Soldier junk

Trading junks were often attacked by pirates, so the Chinese imperial government directed provincial soldiers to pursue them in large war junks designed for this purpose. We have a beautiful model of one of these, which is known as a Large Soldier Junk. This type of junk carried cannons, a crew of 40 to 60 persons, and up to 100 soldiers.

Local model maker

The Burke Museum’s Ethnology collection contains 11 Chinese model junks at this time, but not all of the models were made in China.

Ralph Birkinshaw, a local man from Westport, Washington, became fascinated by Chinese junks during his trips to China in the 1920s and ‘30s. He started making models of different traditional junks in the 1930s, spending an average of 1,000 hours building each entirely from scratch, and continued this hobby for more than 40 years.

After completing his seventh model, built to scale and accurate in its details like the others, he realized that he had one of the few collections of authentically-made Chinese junk models in existence. In 1976 he gave six of the seven models to the Burke Museum.

Sail on

Mariners and model-makers around the world have always been fascinated by Chinese junks. Today, there seems to be a resurgence of interest in the construction and history of Chinese junks within China itself, and a few full-size sailing replicas have been built. One of them recently sailed across the Pacific Ocean and back again without incident (until it was hit by a freighter in Chinese waters and sunk just a few miles from home port).

Perhaps we’ll see one of these newer junks come to Seattle in the near future. In the meantime, we have the Ethnology collection’s small fleet to study for a long time to come. See more photos of the model Chinese junks in our Flickr set.

Article Source: Burke Museum