Huang Tangyang has spent most of his life working in a shipyard run by his family for hundreds of years in the coastal province of Fujian in east China. But now he is worried how long the business can survive.
The 55-year-old in charge of the plant that produces wooden sailboats near Quanzhou Port, the starting point of the 2,000-year-old maritime Silk Road, has seen orders plunge, mainly from local fishermen.
"We have to do a lot of repair work to make ends meet due to shrinking demand for new ships," he said.
The junks Huang's family specialize in, also known as Fuchuan (Fujian vessels), represent one of the four major types of Chinese ships. They used to navigate the maritime Silk Road that links China, Southeast Asia and Western countries for trade and cultural exchanges.
However, in today's era of steel-hulled ships, the traditional handmade junks have lost their allure and the industry is vanishing.
To preserve the endangered craftsmanship, earlier this month the local government opened a museum in the provincial capital of Fuzhou, featuring the culture of Fuchuan through pictures and models.P "It is certainly progress that modern shipbuilding techniques have replaced old ones. But as a cultural heritage, Fuchuan needs more attention and protection," said Ding Yuling, a local scholar on maritime history.
In 2010, the watertight-bulkhead technology of Fuchuan was inscribed in the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding by United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, which found "today only three masters can claim full command of this technology".
The junks are built with watertight compartments. If a cabin is damaged during navigation, seawater will not flood the other cabins and the vessel will remain afloat. The technology was later introduced to the West by explorer Marco Polo.
In 1974, a 24.4-meter-long Fuchuan, manufactured in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), was salvaged in Quanzhou Port, recognized as the oldest and largest wooden sailboat found in the world.
With decline of the industry seemingly irreversible, neither of Huang's two sons is willing to take over the shipyard with only 14 workers, all family members.
Huang's father Huang Chuzong, the former head of the shipyard, is deeply concerned that shipbuilding techniques passed from generation to generation could be lost soon.
"The kids don't want to build Fuchuan, I can't help it," said the 79-year-old. "But I have asked them to learn making ship models to master the skills."
Since he retired two years ago, Huang Chuzong has been immersed in creating Fuchuan models. He produces about 20 a year and sells most of them.
In 2012, he spent eight months handcrafting a 2.3-meter-long Fuchuan model, worth 200,000 yuan (about 32,467 U.S. dollars).
He wants to make it a family heirloom. "If our offsprings fail to make the business a success, I hope the legacy of our family can be carried on through the model," the elder Huang said.
Though the father and son are struggling to sustain the business, they take great pride in the family's former glory in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), when the great Chinese explorer Zheng He made seven voyages to other parts of Asia and Africa on vessels produced by their ancestors.