Model Maker Keeps History From Sailing Away
Yu Qi
Model Making

A local craftsman preserves China's heritage with exhaustively researched copies of ships that once were Shanghai's lifeblood. Yuqi has been dedicated to Chinese ancient ship modelling for more than 30 years. Over that time he has made hundreds of painstakingly detailed sailing ship models.  As a child Yuqi was fascinated by sailors and their boats, but nowadays he is hooked on Chinese ships, particularly the junks that plied the Yangtze. He spends a lot of time observing and studying, collecting many rare and historical books and materials on ship-building. However many ship-building skills were not passed along in print, but exactness is vital for a model ship, so Yuqi also goes to see the real thing whenever and wherever he can.  He toured Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, doing extensive research before building his favourite junk. “Fewer and fewer people participate in this kind of ship modelling, but if no-one takes the time to do it, this culture might vanish," he says.  In fact the quality of his work is so high that his models may be found in some of the world’s most prestigious museums.

He creates every part in the original materials, such as solid teak, and hand-makes everything from pulleys to tillers and sails with meticulous attention to the accuracy of each tiny piece.  He is one of  only a few people who can fashion by hand the slender wire saws necessary to cut out such small and delicate parts.  His cluttered workshop has tables strewn with thin lathes of the beautifully aromatic teak and his work bench sports an assortment of wood-working tools, many fashioned by Yuqi himself.

After doing the research, it usually takes Yuqi a month to finish a historic model ship in a proportion of 1:25. Such is the integrity with which he builds that a model can be almost finished when he gets some new information about the original and he has to start over!  But seeing one of his models close up transports you to a fast flowing river, with wind in the sails, taut ropes and creaking timbers.  The romance of the Chinese river junk lives on.

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