The Lister List

Is the Junk Chinese?

Lisa Hodsdon's letter earlier today came as something of a coincidence for me as I had just fininshed sending a private e-mail in which I incidentally expressed the view that there was no evidence that the so-called Chinese Junk was really Chinese in origin. My argument went like this:

Some commentators seem to have thought that because the common name of the model is "Chinese Junk", then it must be Chinese. This argument carries no weight. A mere name can be no indication of origin, especially in respect of a model several hundreds of years old.

So far as the name is concerned, my own theory is that the paper model is a strange-looking model which can, with a bit of imagination be seen as a boat or ship. And as a Junk is, to Western eyes, a strange-looking ship, the association was made and the curious paperfold did become a Junk. Also, there are far more junks in the eastern seas owned by the Chinese, so that (again for westerners) all junks are automatically Chinese Junks. As a result, the paperfold inevitably became the "Chinese Junk", wherever the origin of the paperfold may have been. My own supposition, (which is without any shread of evidence), is that it originated somewhere in the East, but where in the East, we do not know. Nor are we likely to know. It may well have originated in China.

I confess that I had overlooked Eric Kenneway's discussion of the Chinese Junk, which, as Lisa Hodsdon points out, appears under the heading "Chinese Tradition" in his book "Complete Origami" (1987). Kenneway prints instructions for the commonly-known Chinese junk, but he precedes it with intructions for folding a traditional Chinese funerary offering which were given to him by Francis Ow of Singapore (who is of Chinese ancestry). The offering is supposed to represent a gold nugget, and was intended to be placed in the grave of someone who had died to make provision for him or her in the after-life. But it does have a superficial resemblance to the Chinese Junk and the result looks more like a boat than a gold nugget. However, the method of construction is very different from that of the familiar Chinese Junk, right up to the final move. This final move is, however, is crucial and significant, for it is none other than a "pull-out" similar to that which makes the Chnese Junk three-dimensional. It does the same for the funerary offering.

The question is, therefore, whether the "Pull-out" in the two models is in any way related. It is a technique that was surely discovered accidentally, for nobody could have forseen its possibility if he was not already familiar with the technique. Having discovered it, a folder would be able to design further models which would incorporate the Pull-out. So did the Chinese Junk derive from the funerary offering or did the funerary offering derive from the Chinese Junk? Or did both models derive from a prievious model? Or were both models invented in different places or at different times, quite independently?

Funerary offerings were (and are) a Chinese tradition, so that it would seem that the funerary offering derived from China. If the Chinese Junk was, indeed, related to the funerary offering, this would be an indication that the Chinese Junk really did derive from the Chinese tradition. But the Chinese civilisation lasted for thousands of years and its influence extended over the whole of the far east. There was infinite scope for a multitude of possibilities for its origin. So we are still little nearer understandng where the Chinese junk came from. For instance, it is still possible (and I deliberately use the word "possible"), that the "Chinese" Junk was discovered in Japan or Korea. (I think that "discovery" must be the right word for the process of designing this model).

The Chinese Junk is an extraordinary model and as a traditional fold it is only matched by the Flapping Bird, the origin of which is also a mystery. I caught glimpses of the"Chinese Junk" at sachool in my early teens, but was not able to learn it until I was in my twenties and accidentaly met someone who could teach it to me. I still have the step-folds I made at the time. This was in the early 1950s when drawing paperfolding instuctions and diagrams was far from easy, because it was before the introduction by Yoshizawa of his dotted lines and arrows which so simlified the writing of instructions. It was, in fact, the Chinese Junk that set me off on my study of paperfolding as it was then always known

As I have indicated above, it is my view that the paperfold we call the "Chinese Junk" must have been discovered by a fluke. Nobody could possibly have conceived such a model in his mind and then set out to fold it. The final move in which a repeatedly folded squidge of paper is pulled out to reveal the three dimensional model is something that nobody could possibly have envisaged.

In the West, the Chinese Junk is also known as the "Gondola", no doubt because a goldola is another strange-looking boat to which the shape of the Chinese Junk can be compared. In Spain it is known as the "Ship of the King and Queen", which appears to be an allusion to the elaborate gilded State Barges in which European Royal families travelled in State up the rivers of their capital cities. At one time it was argued in Spain that the "Ship of the King and Queen" must be of Spanish invention, not only because of its name, but also because its folding sequence starts, like that of the Pajarita (also claimed for Spain), with the windmill base. Therefore it must be Spanish. The name "Ship of the King and Queen" goes no further back than the last century and I do not think that anyone today would resonably accept the argument that the Chines junk originated in Spain.

James Sakoda has pointed out that while the familiar Chinese Junk is blunt at both ends, another version is known in Japan as the "Treasure Ship" or "Tenmsen", a cargo boat. This is made by a somewhat different technique and the finished model is much more elegant, with a pointed bow at one end, while still with a blunt stern. Instructions for the model are given in Kosho Uchiyama's "Origami Zukan" (1957), but I have found it in other modern Japanese paperfolding books. I suspect that it is merely a variant of the ordinary Chinese Junk, but the pointed end means that it has to be manipulated in a different manner from a quite early stage in the folding, with the interesting intermediate stage known as the"Omiya" (palace).

The Treasure Ship in Japan is at least three hundred years old and Satoshi Takagi in his Japanese book, the title of which roughly translates as "Origami from the Classics" (1993) shows a drawing of a kimono decorated with the Treasure ship dating from 1704. The earliest representation of the ordinary, blunt-at-bot-ends Chinese junk in Europe is in a drawing found in Holland in 1806. Since Holland had an extensive shipping trade with the east, the question arises as to whether the Chinese Junk was brought to the east by Dutch sailors.

In her posting Lisa Hodsdon compares the Chinese Junks in Eric Kenneway's "Complete Origami" and Paul Jackson's "Classic Origami". This variant can be found in Robert harbin's "Paper magic" (1956) on pages 76 and 77. A variant folding sequence is used to fold a different form of the intermediate box. When the box is collapsed to for what is sometimes calle the "mirror", it has the appearance of a belt threaded through a buckle. Harbin does name it "The Buckle". The buckle is then folded in half and the "pull-out" applied to give a variant Chinese Junk with what look a bit like sails on either side. Harbin indicates that this model is also traditional.

Harbin goes on to give diagrams for a different sequence for folding the "Buckle" devised by Gershon Legman. The resultant "Buckle" is the same, but Harbin gives it the different name of "Bar and Bolt". This is an expurgated name for what Gershon Legman in his typical manner, described as a "penetration puzzle" and called it the "Lingam and Yoni". I once asked him if it was a traditional model in Japan. He replied that it was not traditional; it was merely a bagatelle by himself.

Finally, it is not generally known that any fairly shallow box made by paperfolding can be transformed into a "Chinese Junk". Just make your box by whatever folding pattern you choose. Next collapse its sides like a paper bag with sides to reach the "mirror" stage. Then pull out the two sides. It really is that "Pull-out" that makes the Chinese Junk such a fascinating model.As we have seen, this move also appears in the Chinese funerary offering of an ingot. What I should like to ask is: Has the "pull-out" move ever been used in any modern Origami creation?

in a related post...

In his posting on Gershon Legman's Lingam and Yoni yesterday, Andrew Hans ( referred to Gershon Legman's article about his Lingam and Yoni in the magic magazine "Phoenix" (vol. 5. pp. 1091-2), in which Legman writes about Cleopatra's Barge. he writes: "A similar form called the Chinese
Junk, is well-known, having first been shown in the West in T. de Moulidars' "Grande Jeux" (1888) p.339.

Cleapatra's Barge is shown on page 78 of Robert Harbin's "Paper Magic" (1956) (Oh! the limitless resources of that goldmine of a book!). The model was obviously given personally to Harbin by Legman an (as Andrew says) it turns out to be one in which the typical "pulling-our move" of the Chinese Junk is applied to Legman's own Lingam and Yoni (or "Bar and Bolt", as Harbin
expurgates it). The result is something that looks rather like a Chinese Junk, but with curled canopies rising from both sides: I find it to be an attractive model.

Legman cites T. de Moulidars' "Grande Encyclopedie Jeux" as the earliest European source for the Chinese Junk in his Bibliography of Paper Folding (1952). Legman had done considerable research into the history of paper folding and he clearly had not come across any earlier instance. de Moulidars is clearly an important work, although I have not seen a copy. There must be more paperfolded models in it, which should make it invaluable for research into other traditional models. Does anyone know how to locate a copy? However, new discoveries have been made since 1952, when Legman was writing. I myself found the Chinese Junk in "The Kindergarten Principle" by Mary J. Lyschinska. which was published in 1886, two years before de Moulidar's "Grande Enclyclopedie".

This leads me to think that there may be other instances in the Froebel literature, but so far I have not made a search. However, dramatic new evidence was discovered in Holland by Elsje van der Ploeg. She published it in her book "Papiervouwen" in 1990. She found a drawing which showed a little boy riding in a Chinese Junk in a teacup filled with water (or tea). I am unable to read the Dutch text, but she told me that she found the drawing in a book called "Hanenpoot" which was dated 1806. The little boy was a real boy and was known as Julius Willem. He later grew up to be a sea captain and this points to the possibility that he came from a seafaring family and that one of his forbears had brought the Junk to Holland During the Japanese isolation, the one European nation that was allowed to trade with Japan was Holland and then only in a very restricted was through an island off the port of Nagasaki.

It all suggests that the Chinese Junk might have come to Holland along the sea route. Of course we cannot be at all certain about this. We don't know whether the Chinese Junk was peculiarly Japanese, or whether it was known in China and other eastern countries as well. It happens to be called a "Chinese" junk, but the strange-shaped paper fold does suggest a junk and junks tend to be called "Chinese" whether they come form China or not. We must remember, too, that the Spanish know it as the "Ship of the King and Queen" and claim that it originated in Spain.

However more credence is given to the suggestion that the Dutch brought the Junk from Japan because there are two different versions of it One is blunt at both ends (rather like a medieval European ship with a castle at each end), whereas the Japanese always fold their "Treasure Ships" (as they are known in Japan) with a blunt stern but also with a pointed prow. And Julius Willem is riding in a junk with a pointed prow! At present I am surveying the more important traditional models one-by-one with very much help from David Petty who has been making a detained survey of traditional models and who is now sorting them out and cataloguing them That is something I could not possibly have done. We are learning more about the history of both traditional and modern Origami daily.

David Lister Grimsby, England. 

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