Written by Dione Chen
The Free China junk made international headlines when it crossed the Pacific with an inexperienced crew of five Chinese fishermen and one American diplomat. The oldest Chinese wooden sailing vessel of operable condition in the world and the last of its kind, the junk sits abandoned at a Sacramento delta boatyard, and will be chopped up and burned if a new home is not found by the end of this May.
I never planned to spearhead efforts to preserve this historic vessel. But standing before it in late 2007 with my children, I thought that I must try.
Since then, I’ve traveled a steep learning curve in historic preservation – and it’s been an amazing journey.
To California by Sea – A Story of Immigration
I have a personal connection to the Free China junk. My father was one of the 1955 crew. Growing up in California, I took my father’s story of how he came to America for granted. It was not until he passed away in fall 2007 that I visited the junk along with my young children, my mother, brother and a local journalist. We found the junk a mess, and on the verge of being destroyed.
I wanted to save the junk. I believed I could. I transformed that belief into a commitment by telling the journalist to state in her article that I was going to try to save the junk. It was a thrill to see the article on the front page of the San Jose Mercury News. And so my education began…
Knowing next to nothing about historic preservation and maritime restoration myself, I founded Chinese Junk Preservation together with a small group of historians, maritime experts and friends of the Free China junk. Our vision: to preserve the junk and the story of its transpacific voyage so that they may generate public awareness and appreciation of maritime, Chinese and California history and culture. We dream that the Free China--a distinctive, once-beautiful and now rare vessel--might serve as a tribute to past generations of immigrants who have traveled by sea to come to America, and a catalyst for inspiring others to explore their rich family history before the people and memories have passed.
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