A junk is the flat-bottomed, high-sterned, wide-hulled square-bowed sea-going vessel widespread in East Asia from Japan to Java since antiquity. The term derives from the Javanese “djong” (meaning "ship") via the Portuguese “junco”.
Although today it is normally motorised, traditionally it has had one to three masts bearing four- or five-sided “lugsails” that have been frequently made of matting reinforced with horizontal battens. This design negated the need for stays or shrouds and allowed the sail to swivel 360 degrees. On multi-mast vessels the rear mast was often fore-and-aft rigged – this at a time when the generic European freight carrier was exclusively square-rigged.
The hull design is extremely ancient, going back over three thousand years, with variations according to the conditions. From as early as 1000 B. C. - with the advent of canals in south-east China suitable for ocean-going vessels, and the predominance of trade in the shallow estuarine regions of the coast – there was no keel. From as early as the 4th century B.C. a fixed rudder with sternpost was used, often designed in such away as to do some of the work of a keel; even capable of being lowered to well below the bottom of the hull in deeper water. Junks designed for canals and the narrower rivers were slimmer and had one tall mast with the sail near the top, to catch breezes above the often high banks.
At its largest, the junk was the equivalent in size to some of the larger European full-rigged ships of the 18th and 19th centuries. (Some 3000 to 4000 tons deadweight., and up to 60 metres long by 9 metres wide, capable of carrying well over 500 tons of freight.)
Junks looked clumsy but were fine ocean going craft. During the early 15th century fleets of them carrying up to 30,000 men sailed to the extremes of South East Asia and the Indian Ocean – even further if Gavin Menzies can be believed.
See Gavin Menzies - “1421 – The Year China Discovered the World”
Terms in bold see Sailing ship types: Glossary
- “Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea”
- Dictionary of Ship Types” – Conway Maritime Press, 1986
Junk is also a nautical word for useless bits of rope and that have been condemned and cut into short lengths and now are only kept for making fenders and matting and the like. It is from this that the meaning of “junk” as rubbish, or anything of no use is derived.