Chinese Junk, early 18th century
Junks encompass a range of different ships that were essential for maritime trade in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean for centuries. Original junks built in China were likely inspired by the design of ships visiting Chinese ports from Austronesia and Southeast Asian archipelagos. The most famous examples of these ships, which is a topic often discussed in World History courses, are the ones from the treasure voyages of Zheng He (1371 – 1433) during the Ming Dynasty. Based on contemporary sources, the largest estimate of Zheng He’s ships were well over 400ft (over 120 meters) long. According to Chinese scholars and engineers today, these sizes are likely inaccurate since 300ft (91.44 meters) is about the maximum size an entirely wooden ship can be before it is no longer structurally safe, especially for the rigors of ocean voyaging. However, even the more modest and reasonable estimates of today’s scholars mean these ships were still massive for the time and much larger than ships being constructed in Europe and the British Isles for at least the next few hundred years.
This source is a part of the Using Ships as Guides for Transnational Adventures through World History teaching module.