The design of this Chinese war junk of the nineteenth century would have been unchanged for centuries. The high stern could be used for deploying troops onto city walls during amphibious operations on the Yangzi River. A Chinese war junk of the “old style,” 1840s. Chinese naval vessels were small, around 300 tons burden and 100 feet in length, at a time when trading junks might accommodate some 1,000 tons. Each coastal province maintained its own flotilla of war junks, but they served more as local coast guards than as a unified naval strike force. Carrying around 100 men and perhaps a half dozen cannon each, the Chinese war junk was no match for a 19th century European warship.
Large, ocean-going junks played a key role in Asian trade until the 19th century. One of these junks, Keying, sailed from China around the Cape of Good Hope to the United States and England between 1846 and 1848. Many junks were fitted out with carronades and other weapons for naval or piratical uses. These vessels were typically called “war junks” or “armed junks” by Western navies which began entering the region more frequently in the 18th century. The British, Americans and French fought several naval battles with war junks in the 19th century, during the First Opium War, Second Opium War and in between. At sea, junk sailors co-operated with their Western counterparts. For example, in 1870 survivors of the English barque Humberstone shipwrecked off Formosa, were rescued by a junk and landed safely in Macao.