Chinese Junks on the Pacific:
Views from a Different Deck

Hans Konrad Van Tilburg

Foreword by James C. Bradford and Gene A. Smith, Series Editors

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"It is Van Tilburg’s goal to broaden our understanding of Chinese nautical technology, to explore the evolution of Chinese vessels between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, to investigate the differences between Chinese and Western ships and, in the absence of historical documents, to read the vessels themselves as cultural artefacts [sic] or texts that contain historical information regarding their construction and functions that would otherwise be lost to history."--International Journal of Maritime History

"This monograph is rather unusual, not because it deals with old-fashioned Chinese ships but because it treats surviving ships as living records of China’s pre-modern shipbuilding and shipping practices at an archaeological and anthropological juncture. This is a welcome move in scholarship."--Mariner’s Mirror

"Seeks to introduce Chinese agency into Pacific history by focusing on the voyage of ten junks that crossed the Pacific between 1905 and 1989…. Reveals the multifarious history behind these vessels and the stereotypes held by an intrigued American public witnessing their arrival."--Bulletin of the Pacific Circle

"This important and original study, with the rather unlikely selection of twentieth-century representatives, reaches far beyond that era to explain the historical and cultural significance of a vessel type poorly understood by westerners."--Sea History

"Successfully shows how Chinese oceangoing junks are linked to the West, both in the past and the present."--Historical Archaeology

"Van Tilburg’s whole-hearted admiration of the achievements of Chinese ship-builders and sailors underlies his exploration of their role in the modern North American and Chinese maritime culture."--Cheryl Ward, Florida State University
From a Western perspective, junks were among the most mysterious vessels ever to sail the open seas. Offering more than just history, Chinese Junks on the Pacific focuses on ten ships, such as the Whang Ho, Ning Po, and Amoy, that sailed to the United States in the early twentieth century. Hans Van Tilburg examines why these ships, some of the last commercial sailing junks of China, came to the West, what they represented, and why we are only now beginning to understand East Asian seafaring. Crowds gathered in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland to welcome the ships with a mixture of surprise and derision. In the era of the steamship, these were quaint, unwieldy constructions fashioned to look like sea monsters and bizarre objects of fancy. But they were also traveling cultural objects. Some served as floating museums, displaying grisly weaponry and other artifacts. The arrival of these vessels allowed Western observers a rare glimpse of a littleknown yet sophisticated maritime technology and seafaring culture.  
Combining history with ethnology, anthropology, maritime archaeology, and nautical technology, Van Tilburg provides a window into the lives of Chinese seafarers, their transpacific experiences, and a critical look at our own crosscultural perceptions. He draws on a wide range of newspaper sources, secondary texts, nautical treatises, archaeological site work, rare historical photos and sketches, and the personal testimony of the sailors themselves to view these junks not only as transport vehicles but as complex cultural artifacts that “speak” of a distant seafaring past and intimate cultural ties to the sea.
Hans Konrad Van Tilburg, maritime heritage coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is the author of A Civil War Gunboat in Pacific Waters: Life on Board USS Saginaw.

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…important and original study. Sea History

…well-written and fascinating. Historical Archaeology

Accessible reading, this book will appeal to scholars of Asian seafaring and archaeology, sailing aficianados drawn to the junk's form and sailing qualities, and those interested in Chinese-American interactions and encounters. H-Maritime

" Noteworthy to those interested in aspects of maritime culture beyond the material culture." Maritime Compass

" Undoubtedly the best work on these ten junks ever written or ever to be written." Choice

" For students of maritime history interested in the technical aspects of junks, their construction and operation, or for students of cultural history, interested in what artefacts from the past can tell us about the culture and beliefs of the people who constructed them, this book will be invaluable." International Journal of Maritime History

" Van Tilburg's effort to insert junks into the history of Pacific crossings is an important addition to our understanding of a wider maritime past in this region. Provides a healthy antidote to the more sensationalist works that have appeared on the bookshelves as of late." The Pacific Circle

"Will play a significant role in our understanding of China's maritime past." Mariner's Mirror

"A wonderfully enlightening book." "Argues forcefully for the relevance of studying these ships to understand their importance to the West." "A wonderful addition to a sorely understudied field." Nautical Research Journal

"Maritime Archaeology is about more than just recording, measuring, and preserving old bits of wood for posterity. It is also about researching the rich histories and telling the unique stories of the artefacts we discover. Hans Konrad Van Tilburg offers a unique view of the history of such an artefact. It covers the ten-year career of a small, little-known vessel, USS Saginaw, a 155-foot, fourth-rate, wooden side-wheel steamer that served as a gunboat and all-purpose vessel for the United States Navy from 1860-1870. Since she was built during the long transition from sail to steam, she was a hybrid vessel and had both forms of motive power. Van Tilburg tells her story using a range of documentary sources, including the logs and letters of those who lived onboard. Ultimately, the book will appeal to anyone who has an interest in steam boating history, the history of the United States Navy and its activities in the Pacific Ocean, the history of the American Civil War, as well as economic, technological, and social history. For those historians, sociologists, and philosophers who have repeatedly ignored the richness of archaeological material in their own works, they are advised to read this book. This little vessel and its crew, played an important part in the history of the United States at a time when the nation's future was far from secure." Journal of Maritime Archaeology

“Highlights both the impressive technical development of Chinese vessels and their far ranging voyaging achievements” Ausmarine

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