Chinese Junk Preservation Group Continues Efforts to Rescue Historic Vessel from Extinction
By Dione Chen
Efforts continue to save the Free China, a historic Chinese junk that was slated for destruction on Dec. 31, 2008, but begins 2009 with a tenuous extension of life.
The authentic junk is possibly the oldest Chinese wooden sailing vessel of operable condition in existence, and the last of its kind. However, the current owner—a boatyard owner in the Sacramento delta—has said that he would destroy the junk unless a new home was found by year end.
Chinese Junk Preservation is a small group of volunteers comprised of maritime experts, historians, members of the Chinese American community and friends and family of the crew that sailed the junk across the Pacific Ocean in 1955. The group hopes to beat the odds by finding a home for the junk in which it will have a public life contributing to awareness and interest in maritime, Chinese and American culture and history and immigration.
With the Dec. 31 deadline for destruction fast-approaching, the group negotiated a 3-month extension for continued temporary storage of the junk. This extension—granted at a cost to the preservation group, which has raised only minimal funds—is only a temporary lease on life, and so the group continues efforts to raise awareness and funds to save the junk.
Schematic of the Free China.(Photo courtesy of Chinese Junk Preservation).
Encouraged by interest in a recent MUA article as well as a December ’09 Associated Press article that was picked up by over 200 media (tv, radio, online and print newspapers) worldwide, the group hopes that the extension will “buy time” to find a new interim home for the remainder of the year, and, importantly, secure a long-term home and preservation plan.
Rather than abandon its efforts, the group has developed a pragmatic 1-year strategy to save the junk. The group needs to raise an estimated $50,000 within the next two months—no easy task, especially in this economy.
These funds would be used to undertake only the most essential steps to saving the junk:
- Pay for interim storage of the junk in the San Francisco Bay Area, and transportation to the new location, while the group continues efforts to secure a long-term home for the junk. Provide for physical protection of the vessel from the damaging effects of weather.
- Commission a professional survey and documentation of the junk’s construction and original and current (altered) condition. This study is vital in order to ensure that detailed knowledge of the vessel’s construction will be available in the future. This information is necessary to ascertain restoration requirements if the junk is saved, and all the more important to archiving the knowledge if the junk cannot be saved. Although John Muir, curator at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, will volunteer his time, and is looking to recruit other volunteers, the work is time-consuming and requires specialized knowledge—hence the need to procure professional assistance.
- Collect and save the rich array of documentation, photos, news clippings, and film that exist—but need to be preserved as they are currently vulnerable to deterioration. These items are vital to “telling the story” of the junk and its transpacific voyage, and to providing the historical background of the junk, i.e. what is special about this junk, and why it has attracted the interest and support of people throughout its century-long life.
Chinese Junk Preservation seeks assistance in the following areas:
- Identification of an interim and long-term home for the junk: There is an immediate need for an interim home located in the San Francisco Bay Area. The junk would be transported by water from its current location in the Sacramento delta to a new location, where it would be lifted by crane onto land, where it can be protected and surveyed pending identification of a long-term home. There is also the need for a long-term home—and a sponsor/organization that would become the new owners of the junk. The group hopes that by generating awareness of the preservation initiative, a home and sponsor for the junk may be found.
- Fundraising: The Chinese Junk Preservation group has operated on a shoestring budget, volunteers and members’ personal funds, but needs to raise an estimated $50,000 to implement its 1-year strategy to give the junk a last chance at survival. Tax-deductible donations can be made to the group via its fiscal sponsor, the Chinese Historical Society of America (www.chsa.org), which is the largest and oldest Chinese American historical society in the U.S. Information on how to donate can be found at the group’s website www.chinesejunkpreservation.com. The group also seeks an experienced fundraiser to lead fundraising efforts, and volunteers to assist with outreach.
- Professional survey/documentation: The group is seeking professional assistance in surveying and documenting the junk’s construction and condition. The work is time-consuming and specialized. Ideally, the services could be secured on a pro bono or discounted basis, as the group will need to raise funds for these expenses.
- Outreach: Chinese Junk Preservation welcomes interest and support in this preservation project. To find out more, help spread the word about efforts, or to make a donation, please visit www.chinesejunkpreservation.com.
About Author: Dione Chen established Chinese Junk Preservation and is spearheading efforts to preserve the Free China vessel and the story of its transpacific voyage. She is the daughter of the late Reno Chen, who was one of the Free China crew.
Return to In The Field home page.
Recent Press on the Free China:
December 2008 – "Historic Chinese boat may be junked" (Associated Press article was published in more than 200 print and online publications internationally)
December 2008 – "Chinese Junk Loses Norcal Home; May be Destroyed" (CBS 5)
December 2008 – "Historic Boat in Jeopardy" (NewsTalk 1530 KFBK)
Comments, suggestions, or questions regarding this webpage can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org