JUNKS AND SAMPANS OF THE YANGTSE
SHANGHAI AND THE WHANGPOO [p 215ff]
"THE HUNG-T'OU OR SHANGHAI HARBOUR SAMPAN
This quaint and colourful little craft is a distinctive
feature of the Shanghai Harbour. It is called the hung-t'ou or red
head, because of its painted bow, but is more commonly referred to as
the mu-chi, or hen boat, for its supposed resemblance to that fowl.
Actually, if one were to liken it to a bird, a duck would be a better
choice, for it is squat in appearance, with a turned-up tail, and rides
the river like a duck.
These boats are entirely Chinese in design and construction.
It would seem that they owe something to Amoy influence. Their history
is obscure, but the fact that they have no guild would seem to point to
a comparatively recent origin.
They are preferably built of Foochow pine, but if this is
unavailable, softwood from Ningpo is used. The bulkheads are made of
hsiang-chang , a hardwood from Kiangsi. The timber is supplied by the
merchants in the form of chang-pa-t'ung, that is to say, poles of 1
chang 8 ch'ih. These sampans are all built in or near Shanghai.
The sampan illustrated in Plate No.21 is 18 feet over-all,
with a beam of 5 feet and depth of 2 feet. It draws only a few inches
unless loaded to capacity, when there is the minimum of freeboard.
There are three bulkheads, forming four compartments. In
addition, there are two half-bulkheads and four frames. The fore part
is decked, leaving a cockpit amidships which is covered with a small
house made of closely woven matting arranged in three overlapping
sections and painted white.
Click here for
In this portion the passengers are accommodated, and
actually as many as five can be carried and even more; nine, however,
is about the limit. In the after compartment is the galley, that is to
say, a cooking-stove. Here, too, is the oarsman, who acts in the
capacity of "owner-driver." He can, therefore, keep an eye on the meal
that is cooking while he yulohs, if he is alone. If his family live on
board, they also stow themselves away in this small space during
working hours. In the fore compartment are stored the bedding,
clothing, provisions, oil, charcoal, and extra cooking utensils.
Propulsion is by means of a single yuloh, or lu, a quite
original and extremely efficient implement which has already been
described in detail; 13 feet in length, it is scarfed in three pieces,
thus forming a gentle curve. The loom measures 2 feet 8 inches, the
neck 2 feet 2 inches, and the blade 9 feet 8 inches, the overlapping
portions being never less than 10 inches in length. When in operation
the blade is kept very deep in the water, that is to say, 3 1/2 feet,
or more than one-third of its length being below the surface, and as
the face of the blade is 6 inches in width, this combination gives much
increased leverage and power.
The yuloh pivots on a 3-inch bearing-pin which ends in a
knob. This pin is situated on the transom, and the loom is held in
place by a coir lanyard, 5 1/2 feet long, attached to a ring-bolt in
The hand holding the yuloh is held at head level and rather
behind, while the hand on the lanyard works across the breast. It is
interesting to record that the sculler can average 41 strokes to the
minute under favourable weather conditions, yielding the satisfactory
speed of 8 li per hour. This type of boat is sometimes called the
Ningpo sampan, and has many features in common with the Ningpo junk,
such as the shape of the bow and stern, the free-flooding foremost
compartment, the standard pattern of gaudy design, and, sometimes, the
oculus. With the exception of the eye, which may or may not be present,
these sampans are most markedly uniform in every particular, for all
are of identical construction and size. Even the painted ornamentation
on bow and stern hardly varies. Nevertheless, these boats fall into two
definite categories, known as pang, or groups. These are the ning-pang,
or group manned by Ningpo men, and the soo-pang, or group
manned by either Soochow men, men of Shanghai, or men from Kiangyin, a
small town some 80 miles up the Yangtze.
Even the experienced observer finds it hard to detect any
difference between these two types of craft. Actually the
distinguishing feature is that in the Ningpo-owned craft the
bearing-pin for the yuloh is situated on the port side, which
necessitates the sculler using his left hand on the oar; while in the
boats operated by Soochow, Shanghai, and Kiangyin men the bearing-pin
is on the starboard side and the sculler operates the yuloh with his
right hand. The exponents of both methods maintain that theirs is the
only reasonable mode of propulsion. The only other differences are that
Ningpo men never take their wives and families afloat, as do the
sampanmen from the three other localities, and that the former also,
when living on board, are content to sleep in the confined space
between the first half-bulkhead and the third bulkhead, which compels
them to lie more or less doubled up...
The Soochow people, on the other hand, are universally
popular, the women having a reputation for beauty and the men for an
easy and graceful bearing. They must, moreover, have either more
ingenuity or longer legs than the Ningpo men, for the sampan-dwellers
sleep in pairs between the second and third bulkheads, which gives a
space of 5 feet 4 inches. In the winter all the various groups sleep in
the space between the first half-bulkhead and the first frame. Two
sliding sections can be withdrawn from the first bulkhead to enable
them to lie at full length.
As already mentioned, the men of the soo-pang live in these
small boats accompanied by their families. It is astonishing that so
small an area can constitute a permanent home for two adults and
several children while functioning in addition as a passenger-carrier.
The wives and even the children of these sampan-dwellers can take their
turn at the yuloh. They scornfully maintain that one reason why the
women of Ningpo do not live afloat is that they suffer from seasickness
and are unhandy in a boat.
These sampans, of which there are to-day the record low
figure of 813, are required to register with the harbour Police of the
Chinese Maritime Customs. This is done annually, usually in April. No
fee is charged for registration, but the sampanmen are required each to
pay 40 cents towards the cost of the paint used in numbering the boats.
On the hood, on each side of the registered number of the sampan, a
coloured dot will be noticed. The colour is changed each year and shows
at a glance when the boat was last registered. The harbour Police
record the names, addresses, and other particulars of the boatmen and
insist on the boats being kept seaworthy and clean. The sampanmen claim
that they belong to the Customs and are very proud of this association.
For the men of the other group, the ning-pang, the Shanghai
sampan forms probably as clever an adaptation of a very limited space
as it is possible to find, and combines the dual purpose of a
passenger-boat and a two-roomed floating dwelling with a degree of
seaworthiness surprising for its size. It has, in addition, the charm
of pleasing lines and bright colours.
It seems not improbable that this beautiful little craft
will at no distant date vanish completely from the Whangpoo, and with
it much of the romance and charm of the waterfront."
In December, Craig visited the Mariners Museum
in Newport News, Virginia, and discovered a Shanghai Harbor Sampan in
their small craft collection. Alongside it is a Burmese sampan which
just shows in some of the pictures - not enough time to take pictures
of them both, and due to the lighting and how crammed the boats are,
sketches would have been much handier. But here are the photos and an essay
Late-breaking news: Jerry Sousa from Hong Kong is
restoring some sampans and other Asian small craft and he's sent me
some pictures of the basket cases. When I have a chance I'll add the
scans to a third page.
- See also:
- Yam Seng
- adaptation of Blake's sampan in a recent issue of Classic
- Bo Colomby: Building a Chitagon Samban in Burma
- Classic Boat 4/91
- Bob Means: Sampan Gaffer
- Classic Boat 3/93; Vietnamese small boat, great article.
- C. Andrade: Lessons from a Chinese Sampan
Pages: from the Rudder ca. 1917.
New: R/C Model by Tony Cardiff.