Seamanship and Navigation: Seafarers on Board Daily Skills in Chinese Junk

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Seamanship and Navigation: Seafarers on Board Daily Skills in Chinese Junk


Chinese sailing traditions changed a little through time; sailors inherited their onboard skills, expertise, and experience by orally imparting others with physical instruction. But these daily skills were rarely recorded or studied in the past. For seafarers, how to operate and maneuver a Chinese junk was their daily work; and apart from sparse historical documents such as Phing-Chou Kho Than (Yu, 1117), Shi Liu-Qiu Lu (Xiao and Xia, 1580) (Fig. 1), and preliminarily observations by G.R.G. Worcester, Joseph Needham, Thomas Hoppe, and others, seamanship and navigation were kept in the minds of surviving successions of living sailors. In 2004, the author had an opportunity to sail on a nearly 100 year old Jin Hua Xin as an apprentice sailor for her last voyage. Several months of onboard experiences provided a rare field investigation to approach the complex mechanism of crew, their organization and their daily work. This experience led the authors to raise a marine ethnographic field investigation project along Fujian coast. Experimental archaeology creates effective scenes for realistic performance of past systems. A small full-size replica LanTay II was built for a series of archaeological voyages; the data gathered from the traces of past sailing routes will verify and add some knowledge for understanding the real daily work of Chinese seafarers onboard. In this paper, the authors shall present combined researches on historical documents, past observations with lively oral materials achieved by marine ethnographic field investigation on traditional sailing ports along South Fujian coast; throughout this research, the authors approach the knowledge about seafarers onboard daily skills and try to present the research about the sailors methods to maneuver the junk and its navigation system by means of a combination of instinct, eyesight, memory, and skill.


Xu Lu
Yu Long Fa


The Museum of Underwater Archaeology




Xu Lu
Yu Long Fa




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