Watertight-bulkhead technology of Chinese junks


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Inscribed in 2010 (5.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

© 2009 by Huang Yanyi :

Developed in South China’s Fujian Province, the watertight-bulkhead technology of Chinese junks permits the construction of ocean-going vessels with watertight compartments. If one or two cabins are accidentally damaged in the course of navigation, seawater will not flood the other cabins and the vessel will remain afloat. The junks are made mainly of camphor, pine and fir timber, and assembled through use of traditional carpenters’ tools. They are built by applying the key technologies of rabbet-jointing planks together and caulking the seams between the planks with ramie, lime and tung oil. The construction is directed by a master craftsman who oversees a large number of craftsmen, working in close coordination. Local communities participate by holding solemn ceremonies to pray for peace and safety during construction and before the launch of the completed vessel. The experience and working methods of watertight-bulkhead technology are transmitted orally from master to apprentices. However, the need for Chinese junks has decreased sharply as wooden vessels are replaced by steel-hulled ships, and today only three masters can claim full command of this technology. Associated building costs have also increased owing to a shortage in raw materials. As a result, transmission of this heritage is decreasing and transmitters are forced to seek alternative employment.

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