Early Chinese Ships and Trade
The origin of Chinese vessels is obscure but similarities with Nile vessels suggest western influence. The first historical mention of a Chinese vessel is in 331 BC. Roman and Chinese accounts document trade between the Near East and China before AD 500. After AD 622 Chinese navigation expanded with many vessels trading throughout the Indian Ocean and to the Persian Gulf, as well as the East Indies and Japan. Several contemporary accounts of extensive voyages are quoted including detailed descriptions of the ships involved. Illustrations of Chinese ships are not known before about 1700 apart from a sixth century Indian cave painting. Later sources illustrate vessels very similar to those still in use. Nine examples are included. A brief note on the origin of the word junk is appended.