Model ship maker sails on to keep history alive


HEFEI: Wearing a mask and gloves, Wu Pei, 65, carefully smoothed the wooden steps on the scale model of the famed Swedish warship Vasa with a file and then polished them with emery paper. “The middle part of the steps should be made to look dented and old as the original ship,” said Wu in his workshop in the city of Hefei, capital of eastern China’s Anhui Province. In an era when ships are no longer the main mode of transportation, Wu has spent some 30 years painstakingly recreating old ships from different periods and countries. His 300-square-meter workshop is packed with handmade models of warships, fishing boats and schooners. Many of his works have been selected for exhibition in local museums. “Each ship has its own story and is part of history. I want to keep the history alive through these ships,” said the model ship maker. Growing up along the Yangtze River, Wu was fascinated by the vessels that passed through the river. His interest grew even further when hearing his father tell stories about sailing. “I have liked handwork since childhood. I tried to carve a small stone boat during my summer vacation,” Wu recalled, thinking of his first handmade boat. His various work experiences as a carpenter, painter and carver paved the way for his pursuit of making model ships. In the 1990s, Wu decided to focus on it full time after the factory he worked in was closed. “Building model ships demands great patience and meticulousness, and it can take months and sometimes even more than a year to complete one,” said Wu, adding that all the models are built from scratch using wood and wire for the hull and canvas for the sails. However, for him, the biggest challenge is not making ships but searching for information about a ship before starting a project. “We have to respect history and try to recreate the ancient ships according to the historical records rather than by imagination,” said Wu, adding that the lack of original drawings of many Chinese ancient ships made the process even harder. In one case, Wu spent two and a half years making a Chinese Treasure Ship, a type of large wooden ship in the fleet of admiral Zheng He, who led seven expeditionary voyages to other regions during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). “There are no clear records left about its layout and facilities, and I had to find clues from many places and piece them together like completing a jigsaw puzzle,” said Wu. After searching in many public libraries, he even asked a friend in Japan to help him find a painting collection that could shed light on the ship’s original look. His final work, a miniature 4 meters high, 3.2 meters long and 1.2 meters wide, retains as much detail as the original, with a watchtower, anchors, guard bars, lamps and dozens of cannons. The ship was later collected by a museum in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province, at a price of 280,000 yuan (about 40,205.6 U.S. dollars). “Ships are also a cultural icon, which reflects different cultures, economies and history at different times and regions,” Wu said. “The culture embodied in these ships is the part that captivates me the most.” – The Daily MailChina Daily News exchange item