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Beyond Sailing: Chinese Junks in Hong Kong

Chinese junks played a significant role in maritime transportation in Hong Kong’s early days and facilitated the development of local fisheries. Today, junks have largely withdrawn from major marine transportation, yet they remain as one of Hong Kong’s most important cultural and tourism icons.


Hands on the tiller tackles Victoria Harbour, 1980s, Stephen Davies (Author), William Heering (Photographer), ‘Coasting Past: The Last of the South China Coastal Trading Junks’, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Maritime Museum, 2013

Traditional Wooden Junks (Before 1950s)


Before the Second World War (1939–1945), Hong Kong had a small population. With an abundance of fish or other aquatic species in the coastal waters, fishermen did not need to venture far to secure their hauls. Wooden sail junks and sampans became the dominant choice for fishing vessels, which doubled as the fishermen’s home.


Junk loading, Nov 1984, Stephen Davies (Author), William Heering (Photographer), ‘Coasting Past: The Last of the South China Coastal Trading Junks’, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Maritime Museum, 2013

The Transformation of Boatyards (1950s – 1990s)


In the aftermath of the Second World War, a large number of refugees flocked to Hong Kong. With an increasing demand for fisheries, the Hong Kong government promoted the modernisation of junks by importing motor engines to develop a new style of motorised junks. These new junks gradually replaced traditional sail junks in the fishing industry. By the 1970s, more than 90% of Hong Kong fishing boats were powered by diesel. During the period, many Chinese junks for trade were still visible on Hong Kong waters, which served as a short-cut for transporting goods from the Pearl River Estuary to the ports along the South China Sea.


Junks in 1980s, Stephen Davies (Author), William Heering (Photographer), ‘Coasting Past: The Last of the South China Coastal Trading Junks’, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Maritime Museum, 2013

Junks as a Tourist Icon (1990s – present)


During the 1990s, steel and reinforced fiberglass replaced wood as the favoured material for building junks due to their higher durability. This new style of junk allowed for an increase in vessel efficiency, significantly increasing the amount of hauls. At the same time, due to the booming tourism industry in Hong Kong, some commercial companies and sailing enthusiasts built Chinese junks for the purpose of sightseeing. They were built with the traditional design and features of Chinese junks to deeply impress passengers and remind people of Hong Kong’s fishing heritage.


Junk in Eastern Victoria Harbour, mid 1980s, Stephen Davies (Author), William Heering (Photographer), ‘Coasting Past: The Last of the South China Coastal Trading Junks’, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Maritime Museum, 2013

Conclusion


As a collective memory of people in Hong Kong, Chinese junks are closely connected with Hong Kong’s early fishery, maritime trade, and tourism. Along with the change of time, the design and purpose of junks evolved in response to the city’s rapid development. It has witnessed the growth of Hong Kong, from its former fishing port, gradually developing to an international metropolis today.


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