Fishing skills

Traditional naval skills kept afloat by the passion of the craftsman

Zhang Guohui has been making ships, from ships over 30 meters to model ships, for more than six decades.

“Every minute I think about how to make it perfect,” says the 77-year-old, heir to Chinese junk watertight bulkhead technology.

Hailing from a poor family in a fishing village in eastern China’s Fujian province, Zhang started earning a living by deep-sea fishing when he was just 16 years old, and it It was there that he developed a keen interest in boat building.

Being a quick learner, Zhang was later sent to shipyards in Quanzhou and Xiamen cities of Fujian where he received training and became a master of traditional Chinese junk building and gained fame due to his knowledge. – make consumed.

Due to the development of the modern shipbuilding industry, the need for large wooden ships has greatly decreased. Zhang started building model ships using his 20 years of shipbuilding experience.

“I had feared that traditional skills would one day die. Fortunately, in 2007, I met Wang Lianmao, the former curator of the Quanzhou Maritime Museum,” Zhang said.

After their meeting, he embarked on the renovation of old boats and made models for the museum.

In 2010, the watertight bulkhead technology of Chinese junks was inscribed on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding by UNESCO.

Invented in the Tang dynasty (618-907) and widely adopted after the Song dynasty (960-1279) in Fujian, the technique allows the construction of ocean-going vessels with watertight compartments. If one or two cabins are accidentally damaged during the sailing process, the sea water will not flood the other cabins and the ship will stay afloat.

Thanks to dedicated craftsmen like Zhang, the boat building method can be inherited and promoted.

“The renovated old ships are the historical witnesses of Quanzhou as a maritime hub of East and Southeast Asia’s trade network,” says Zhang, who has built and renovated more than 20 model ships for the museum.

“Every time I see my works in the museum, I get excited,” he says, adding that it’s meaningful for younger generations who can learn from exhibits of these ancient ships that their ancestors had shipbuilding technology from an early age. advanced.

In 2016, Zhang was appointed as a researcher of ancient ship models at the museum and was invited to give lectures to university students.

“Students are intrigued by the craftsmanship of shipbuilding, and many of them have even come to my workshop to learn boat building during the holidays. As long as I am alive, I will continue to pass on my knowledge,” Zhang said.