river junk
river junk
Maritime Topics On Stamps :

From the River Junks to the Treasure Ships!

treasure junk
treasure ship,
Ming Dynastie

China has those three large river systems, running from the west to the east (Hwangho, Jangtsekiang, Hsikiang). In addition there is a far network of tributaries, lakes and canals, which connects the large rivers (among other things the Large (Emperor) Canal). Thus China has a navigable distance of inland waterways of approx.. 108,000 km. In addition there are still 18,000 km coastal line and approximately 5,000 islands. So it is not amazing that around 2.700 B.C. the first Chinese vessels were already built. Chinese shipbuilding is over 4,000 years old. The word 'junk' is Malayan origin. Probably Europeans designated so the Chinese ships, which had a deck and a sail. On the stamp to the right, a local issue of Chungking, there ia a river junk on the Jangtsekiang depicted. River junks had high masts to catch the wind over the dykes.
Cook, courses

river junk
local junk
Before the junks were motorized, there are over 100 different types of junks. If one regards the travel areas, then one can divide the types in river, coastal and sea junks. One can arrange them, depending upon employment, into trade -, journey -, fishery -, police and war junks. Often the junks are designated by rivers, towns, islands, provinces and ports, e.g. the Shanghai Junk. On the stamp to the left we see a Southchinese river junk, length around 50 to 57 ft, beam 10 to 15 ft, load-carrying capacity 20 to 30 tons, a mast, a sail, crew to 3 to 5 men. On the stamp to the right it could be a Yucheng mail junk. Length around 33 ft, beam approx. 7 ft, load-carrying capacity 1 ton , a mast, a sail, crew 2 men.

sea junk
old junk stamp
The junks are advancements of the first plank and box boats of the Chinese. Their trunk is usually carvel planked and has several transverse bulkheads. Bow and stern bulkhead are always present. Bark woods (rubbing strake) rounds the whole ship. Caulking is done by a cement from lime and Tung oil and/or with hemp. The whole wood trunk is soaked two to three times in the year with the Tung oil. There are junks with and without centerboards and sideboards. As stern rudder one finds the balance as well as the normal rudder. On the coastal and/or sea junks the rudder blade can be adjusted in the height by a capstan. As anchors they use the the Chinese fisherman's anchor, the grapnel anchor and also stone anchors. Junks can have one up to 5 masts, the treasure ships had up to 10 masts, see below. The masts have no stays and no upper masts; they are tending slopy. Only in South China one finds shrouds and stays.

Fujian junk
../picjpg13/junk sail
The junks have luggersails. In the sail there are many inlayed bamboo slats in short distances. The earlier sails consisted of reed, rush or rice straw. To avoid tearing or losing the form many slats were necessary. Only since the mid of the 19th Century sails of cloths were used. The running rigging is manufactured from hemp or twisted bamboo strip. The sail is held by large, far loops at the mast, see the stamp cutout to the right. With an inhaul wire at the luff of the sail one can get 15 to 30% of the sail surface before the mast and change so the sail emphasis. It is possible thereby a trim against griping and/or lee helmt. On the stamp above the halyards to set the sail and the lazy jacks of the sail are well to recognize. At the after leech there is the complex sheet system. Larger junks had also a topsail. On the Singapore stamp a Fujian junk is represented. She is a merchant coastal junk. Length around 65 ft, beam approx. 16 ft, load-carrying capacity 60-80 tons, three masts with three sails, crew approx.. 10 men.

At each sail slat at the after leech there is a line, which is united over blocks to a sheet system, see stamp cutout right. The seaman on the junk must serve only one sheet, in order to adjust the sail optimally. There was a type of junks which was called 'Kualou', that means bottle pumpkin. Within the range of the main mast the trunk was restricted like a wasp waist. This strange design was to be due to past customs regulations, because the charges depends of height of the freight at the largest mast.
../picjpg13/junk sail
On the stamp we see a sea junk. Length around 80 to 90 feet, beam approx. 15 to 20 feet, load-carrying capacity around 100 to 150 tons, three masts with three sails, crew around 20 men.

On the rivers the junks were often towed upstream. The towing men were organized even in guilds. They pulled the ships with a haulage rope, which was 300 to 600 feet long. These ropes, twisted by green bamboo crust, were cooked in Tung oil before towing. The haulage rope was fastened to the capstan or to specially small, compact masts. A towing master had the command, he instructed a drummer for the speed. The junks were rowed too, in standing, see stamp cutout. On the river junks they rowed with the view ahead. Because of the design with cab superstructures the junk on the stamp could be a voyage junk. Length around 65 ft, beam approx. 16 ft, load-carrying capacity around 50 tons, two masts with two sails, crew around 18 men.

war junk
On the stamp to the left we see a war junk with a set of oars and a cannon at the bow. Piracy was also common in China. Thus one needed also armed junks for safety on the sea routes. For protection against pirates the merchant junks sailed also in convoys.

The Chinese had not only invented the gun powder. They had e.g. already in 14th Century cannons, catapults, flame thrower, naval mines, rockets and a machine crossbow, with which a sailor could shoot 20 arrows in 15 seconds, see stamp to the right. This stamp and two further down originate from an interesting Liberia block with 17 stamps about ' Science and Technology of Ancient China '.

fishing junk
On these Hong Kong stamp we see a fishery junk. Length around 65 ft, beam approx. 16 ft, load-carrying capacity around 50 tons, three masts, three sails, crew around 10 men. The net was caught up with winches or by hand. Among other things they caught yellow fish, line fish and calmaries.

Hainan junk
Singapore trader
At the south coast of China the island Hainan is located. On the stamp to the left a Hainan junk is shown. Length around 40 to 55 feet, beam 20 feet, load-carrying capacity approx. 30 tons, three masts, three sails, crew 5 to 10 men. Hainan junks had an compact hull, a pointed bow and a deck house on the after-body.
On the stamp to the right we see a sea junk, the ' Jiangsu Trader ', also similar to the Peichihli junk. Length around 80 to 170 feet, beam around 30 feet, depth around 14 feet, load-carrying capacity 180 (240 to 360) tons, five masts with nine sails, crew 20 to 30 men. Starting from 13th Century China began to build large sea junks for the trade with other countries.
At the stern of the ships the home port was up-painted in Chinese characters. Additionally an Arab number was added. It was practically a customs number and refers already to European influence.

fish painting
tiger painting
On the stamp to the left a Ningpo junk is shown. This sea junk has a length from 114 to 180 feet, beam 20 to 28 feet, load-carrying capacity around 180 to 400 tons, three masts with three sails, crew 38 to 42, max. 60 men. There is a Ningpo junk in a smaller version for the fishery. These juks are noticeable by their special paintings. The junk is regarded as a living nature and compared with a kite fish. The high stern represents the raised tail of the fish. On the bow the open mouth is up-painted. At both hull sides the eyes of the fish are to be seen, by which the junk finds the correct course. At the stern the bird Feng is represented, to which the element water is assigned and which is to tune the sea God in a well-meaning manner.
Also multicolored painted is the Hangchou junk, stamp to the right. The bow is decorated by a tiger head, which should protect the ship and infuriate the bad demons in frights. At the hull sides ornamentation and the Ying-Yang symbol are painted, which represents the ancient strengths. At the stern one finds also the bird Feng.

trade and junks
Left we see a river or a coastal junk and on the stamp to the right a coastal and seagoing junk. It is operated lively trade. In the inland traffic food was often transported like vegetables, soy beans and rice. Otherwise merchandise were clay/tone goods, silk, porcelain, gun powder, tea and spices. Left in the background we see two freight boats. On them one recognizes a standing person, with an oar sculling. The sculling as travel drive was and is still today far common.

During the Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644) shipbuilding, shipping and trade in China experienced an enormous upswing. Starting from the year 1400 to today the largest sailing boats of the world were built here. These huge junks were called treasure ships because they were as valuable as a treasure. Some data: Length 460 to 540 feet, beam around 180 feet, loading capacity 3600 tons, 16 waterproof bulkheads, hull with three plank layers, material teak wood and bamboo, 7 to 10 masts, lugger sails and top sails, crew 650 men, arms with cannons, flame throwers, catapults for grenadels and naval mines.
Into the stamp bottom right the 'Nina' (L-69 ft) of Columbus is in-copied to show a size comparison to the gigantic dimensions of the treasure ships.
treasure junk

Zeng He
From 1405 to 1433 the Chinese undertook seven historically provable voyages into the South Pacific, Indian Ocean, to the Persian Gulf and to Africa. This happened 80 years before Columbus sailed to America. Commander of these voyages were the China's most famous navigator, Zheng He (Cheng Ho). Zheng He (1371 - 1435) originated from a Muslim family. With 10 years he was sent to the yard of the Ming rulers. Like all serving he was castrated there and then trained in the military service. 1403 he got the order to build a large fleet from warships and supply vesels. So the treasure ships developed. On the souvenir sheet Zheng He is shown with different junks of his fleet. His flagship had the name 'raft of the stars'.

Zeng He
On the stamp to the left we see Zheng He and in the background the courses, which sailed his ships on the seven voyages from 1405 to 1433. The data concerning the fleet strength vary from 160 to 317 ships, of hem were approximately 2/3 treasure ships. The crews are indicated from 27,000 to 28,000 persons, inclusive 2,000 concubines. With them in recently discovered areas colonies were created. Beside living cattle and germinating soya beans, which covered the vitamin C need of the crew, distillation apparatuses for fresh water were also on board! And the ships were heavily armed with cannons, rockets and flame throwers ( stamp to the right).

treasure ships
treasure ships
Today people assumed the fact that the Chinese expeditions sailed also into the Atlantic Ocean until Greenland and rounded Cape Hoorn. 1993 in California the wreck of a junk was saved. And some European discoverers used maps, which showed the far coasts, which they wanted to discover first! The British hobby historian G. Menzies collected vouchers and proofs, which enrol that the Chinese had created small colonies at the coasts of America. Right we see a cutout of the stamp to the left. At the treasure ship the top sails are clearly recognizable.

canal lock
In the mid of the 15th Century in China a radical direction change happened. Between official ones of the Confucius's school and the eunuch administration a political controversy developed. The Confizius group became generally accepted with its arguments for more domestic agriculture and promotion internal cultural efforts against the maritime trade and foreign contacts of the administration. The country isolated itself, a political centralism became generally accepted. The navigation and the trade to other countries were given up. The own canal system was removed, the domestic economy was forced. Building of new ships with more than one mast was forbidden, documents of the expedition voyages were consistently destroyed. The navy broke down, in the year 1503 she was shrunk to one-tenth of her former size!
On the stamp a river junk without mast on a canal before an lock is to be seen.

On this stamp we see the Chinese junk 'Keying'. She has a length of 148 ft, extreme beam of 36 ft, largest mast height 92 ft, displacement 750 tons. 1846 she was bought by some enterprising Englishmen. They sailed thereby from Hong Kong (December 1846) around the Cape of Good Hope (March 1847) until England (March 1848). On the way they made station at St. Helena (April 1847). That was the reason for the publication of this stamp. With this voyage it was proven that the junks were 'dry' and sea-going ships, which could sail around the whole world.
../picjpg13/junk Keying

Pearl S. Buck
Here a junk stamp with a purchase to the literature.
Pearl S. Buck, American authoress, lived from 1892 to 1973. It grew up in China and married there a missionary. She was a professor for British literature at the university in Nanking. She received many honors, the Pulitzer reward and 1938 the Nobel reward. The motive of the junk on this stamp is to remind of her novel 'The good Earth'.

Peter Wieg, Dschunken (Junks)
Peter Wieg, Johannes Freyer, Chinesische Flußdschunken (Chinese River Junks)
Lutz Bunk, 50 Klassiker - Schiffe (50 classics, ships)

© 1998 - 2003 Bjoern Moritz, all rights reserved.

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