China / Society

1,000 years on, the art of fish hunting is in safe hands

By Han Junhong in Songyuan, Jilin (China Daily) Updated: 2014-12-30 07:40

 1,000 years on, the art of fish hunting is in safe hands

Tourists (in background) look at freshly netted fish during the opening ceremony of the annual fish hunting festival in Chagan Lake, Qian Gorlos Mongolian prefecture of Songyuan, Jilin province, on Sunday. Provided to China Daily

It's still dark at 5 am at Chagan Lake in the Qian Gorlos Mongolian prefecture of Songyuan, Jilin province.

1,000 years on, the art of fish hunting is in safe handsShi Baozhu, 80, the eldest and most experienced local fisherman, has already risen, put on his fur jacket and hat, and headed for the center of the frozen lake with a group of other fishermen on a horse-drawn carriage.

These men are in charge of choosing the location for Chagan Lake's annual winter fish hunt.

Chagan Lake fishermen are China's last fishing tribe. Drilling holes in the ice, they put their fishing net underwater and use horses to pull the winches as they trawl for their catch. In doing so, they are preserving the skills and traditions of winter fish hunting.

The tradition dates back more than a thousand years. The fish hunting festival, on the other hand, has been held for just 13 years but attracts thousands of tourists from around China and abroad to witness the spectacle.

1,000 years on, the art of fish hunting is in safe handsThis year's winter fish hunting started on Dec 28, and more than 50 metric tons of fish have been caught in their massive net, which is 1,000 meters long.

The biggest fish from the catch was sold at 370,000 yuan ($59,460).

As the countless fish were being pulled out of the water, people standing on the ice-covered lake were cheering at the spectacular sight.

In the - 20 C cold, the flapping fish took just a few minutes to die, soon freezing solid.

Shi began fish hunting when he was 15 and became the head fisherman eight years later. As the most experienced fisherman of Chagan Lake, he is the hero of every year's winter fish hunt.

"A qualified head fisherman has high expectations put upon him," Shi said, while squatting on the ice to observe the fish. "Experience is very important to locate the fish. When you walk on the ice and find small bubbles, it means the fish are still there."

At 506 square kilometers, Chagan Lake is one of China's top 10 freshwater lakes and the largest one in the province. It is home to some 68 species of fish with an annual yield of more than 6,000 tons.

Shi's biggest concern has always been that the winter fish hunting technique would be lost one day. But he no longer worries, as he is happy with the skills his apprentices have learned.

"Chagan Lake winter fish hunting is a living fossil, a way for us to research the fishing tribe in ancient times," said Cao Baoming, deputy president of the Jilin Provincial Folk Literature and Art Society. "The fish hunting process, including every detail, is a good example for protecting the old traditions and our cultural heritage. It preserves people's memory."

He Na in Beijing contributed to this story.

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