A Chinese Junk is a Chinese sailing vessel. The English name comes from Malay dgong or jong. Junks were originally developed during the Han Dynasty (220 BC-200 AD) and further evolved to represent one of the most successful ship types in history.
Junks are efficient and sturdy ships that were traveling across oceans as early as the 2nd century AD. They incorporated numerous technical advances in sail plan and hull designs that were later adopted in Western shipbuilding.
The historian H. Warington Smith considered the junk as one of the most efficient of ship designs:
"As an engine for carrying man and his commerce upon the high and stormy seas as well as on the vast inland waterways, it is doubtful if any class of vessel is more suited or better adapted to its purpose than the Chinese junk, and it is certain that for flatness of sail and handiness, the Chinese rig is unsurpassed." (H. Warington Smith)
Chinese Junk Sail plan
The structure and flexibility of the sails make the junk easy to sail, and fast since the sails are not square rigged, i.e. they can be angled when sailing upwind.
The sails are cut elliptically and slightly curved with bamboo inserts (battens), giving them the shape of an airfoil, and permitting them to sail well on any point of sail. The sails can also be easily reefed and adjusted for fullness, to accommodate various wind strengths. The battens also give the sails added strength, and make them more resistant than traditional sails to holing or rot. Junk sails have much in common with the most aerodynamically efficient sails used today in windsurfers or catamarans, although their design can be traced back as early the 3rd century AD.
The rigging is very simple because bamboo is very strong; thus fewer ropes are needed.
The sail-plan is also spread out between multiple masts, allowing for a powerful sail surface, and a good repartition of efforts, an innovation adopted in the West around 1304. The rig is fore-and-aft, allowing for good sailing into the wind.
Wikipedia contributors (2006). Junk (ship). Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:19, May 6, 2006 from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Junk_%28ship%29&oldid=49715408.
Chinese Junk, Chinese Ship Summary
For all practical purposes, there was no other type of ship in the Far East but a junk for untold centuries. This unimposing but unique flat-bottom design was highly adaptable to merchant, military, and piracy demands alike.
Notable features include its very high stern, flat bow, wide breadth, and adjustable rudder height. Junks could range in size from 45 to 100 feet and have two to four main masts, as well as several heavy guns.
See also our page about all pirate ships.