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Hard work has its reward

By Xu Wei | China Daily | Updated: 2012-08-17 11:32

Hard work has its reward

Hard work has its reward

Scenes from Impression Wulong, the latest production in the Impression series, which are staged in some of the country's most popular tourist destinations. Photos Provided to China Daily

Impression Wulong, in Chongqing, celebrates the boat trackers who have traditionally hauled craft up the province's rivers. Xu Wei reports in Wulong county, Chongqing.

For centuries, boat trackers have powered boats going upstream in Chongqing and Sichuan province's rivers. Making their way through dangerous shoals and rapids, boat trackers required brute strength and knowledge of potential dangers. The highly-demanding job started to vanish as boats with engines have thrived in recent decades. The construction of the Three Gorges Dam was a vital blow to the ancient trade. "The role of boat trackers might be redundant now, but their spirit is not," says Wang Chaoge, a Chinese director. Together with Zhang Yimou and Fan Yue, the "Golden Trio" have become experts at directing open-air live shows at scenic spots nationwide.

The lives of boat trackers, ranging from their harsh work conditions to love stories, is currently being staged in a show named Impression Wulong, in Wulong county, Chongqing.

It is the seventh production in the Impression series. Previously, the Golden Trio found inspirations at hot tourist destinations like Lijiang in Yunnan province and Wuyi Mountain in Fujian province.

The 70-minute Wulong show is set in a karst-formation canyon that echoes to the actors' voices.

"The songs bounce back and forth in the canyon and are majestic and touch the soul," Wang says.

"For thousands of years, the boat trackers used their shoulders to haul for their life, their destiny, for history and civilization," Wang says. "Modern technology has forced them to fade away, but we shouldn't let them go so easily."

The show starts with two locals mocking chirping birds, with sound bites from rivers and ravines.

"No need for any work songs," says an aged boat tracker who shouts out to the mountains, rivers and clouds to ask if they remember him as a boat tracker.

In a monologue, the boat tracker recalls his surprise on seeing a steamboat speeding by as they hauled boats one day.

"People on the boat waved to us and we waved them back. But they had a clear sense of pride," the boat tracker murmurs.

Besides being motivational, the work songs of boat trackers used to be of practical value.

The lead singer's role was vital. He would decide on the rhythm and tone of the song depending on water flow and the pace of oaring. The boat trackers would work according to the rhythm.

The show shifts mood with the folk song, The Sun Comes Out With Jubilance. There are also references in the show to local hot pot culture and the ancient tradition of women weeping the night prior to marriage.

As in previous Impression shows, most of the 300 actors were local hires, while the group dance and visual effects are reminiscent of the Beijing Olympic Games' Opening Ceremony, which Zhang Yimou directed.

Situated in the southeast edge of Chongqing, Wulong county is renowned for its karst landscapes and caves. The local authority is expecting the Impression show to further boost tourism, as the shows have done elsewhere.

However, for Wang and Fan, who directed the shows, the preservation of local culture is an equally pressing matter. The pair will use a portion of the revenues from performances to aid the boat trackers.

"We wish to turn the performance into a real-life museum, which provides a living space for local folk culture and especially the work songs of the boat trackers," Fan Yue says.

By mid-August, the Impression Wulong show had played to more than 292,900 people, with 136 performances and an attendance rate of 75 percent.

Luo Menglin, a 27-year-old local, is impressed. "The show was very artistic. I like the part that depicted women weeping the night prior to their weddings. It depicted in depth the character of women in Chongqing, especially their strong will in the face of hardships," he says.

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