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Craftsman navigates Red Boat Spirit in east China

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Han Minghua is a craftsman in the city of Jiaxing, east China's Zhejiang Province. Over the past 20 years, Han has created more than 200,000 models of the Red Boat, big and small in size.

Updated: May 18, 2021

Every month, Han Minghua comes to Nanhu Lake just to take a look at the Red Boat, one of the most iconic boats in the country.

"It's like visiting an old friend," said Han, 67, a craftsman in the city of Jiaxing, east China's Zhejiang Province. Over the past 20 years, Han has created more than 200,000 models of the Red Boat, big and small in size.

The Red Boat is a replica of a historical boat in Jiaxing, honoring the conclusion of the first National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1921.

One hundred years on, the CPC has grown from a small party of some 50 members into the world's largest ruling party, with more than 90 million members. The CPC celebrates its centenary this year.

About 15 km from Nanhu Lake, Han's studio is full of piles of wood. On the eastern side of his rural yard studio sits a 6-meter-long Red Boat model.

In the studio, Han is busy crafting another Red Boat model made of red sandalwood.

"I plan to make 100 such models as a gift for the Party's centenary," he said.


Han's craftsman career began 20 years ago, when he was the owner of a home appliance repair store in Jiaxing.

"I remember welcoming a friend from afar, but didn't have anything to offer as a souvenir," he said. "So I thought maybe I should learn to craft something on my own, so that when friends come to visit, I have something special to give to them."

Han thought hard about what best represents Jiaxing, before coming up with the idea of making models of the Red Boat.

"The Red Boat is just iconic," he said. "Besides, I grew up around the river in Jiaxing, and I have always been quite familiar with boats. I even created a small boat model when I was 12."

Han said he did not know how to draw pictures, but images of boats were deeply engrained in his mind.

"I made a cutter by myself, and used home decoration materials to make the boat models," he said.

The models were not toys in Han's eyes, but symbols of China's history and culture.

"You need to respect history and culture," he said. "The CPC sailed toward the future on a boat 100 years ago, and the Red Boat is a spiritual symbol for every Chinese person."

When he first started out, Han visited Nanhu Lake again and again to examine the details of the Red Boat.

"The Red Boat is under protection, and you cannot go on it to measure it, so I just used my feet to calculate its size on the bank," he said.

Each of Han's steps was 30 cm, and he managed to determine the boat's size after countless walks along the bank.

To make his creations more authentic, he resorted to a variety of measures.

"For example, the door of the boat cabin features carved pictures, so I bought sandalwood fans and cut the parts with engraved flowers to use as raw materials," he said.

As the Red Boat had no nails, Han made sure none of his creations used nails.

"I also put asphalt in the cracks of the boats' bodies to seal them up," he said.

Through his hard work, one of his Red Boat models was added to the collections of the Nanhu revolution museum.

Han's work is accurate in terms of proportion, and the model's details are quite delicate, according to the museum staff.

In 2009, one of Han's boat models won the top prize in a national tourism souvenir competition. In 2018, Han became a provincial-level "inheritor" of intangible culture, and his brand, Minghua Red Boats, gained renown in Zhejiang.

These days, Han continues to make creative boat models.

"My latest boat model is created according to specific proportions," he said. "It is 71 cm in length, 19 cm in width and 21 cm in height, and together the numbers can be read as July 1, 1921, which is the birthday of the CPC."

Han said that such creative works are his pursuit of not only art, but also the Red Boat Spirit, which highlights pioneering work, striving spirit and dedication.

Han's current goal is to bring his Red Boat models to more places. So far, the models have been displayed in many former revolutionary sites, as well as in museums at home and abroad.

"We want more people to understand the Red Boat Spirit," said Han. "We will also make more efforts to create more 'red souvenirs' in the future."