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Rolling on the river in Guizhou

By Owen Fishwick ( chinadaily.com.cn )

Updated: 2016-11-22

Rolling on the river in Guizhou
Miao people in traditional costume perform bamboo drifting.

A video posted online caused a stir recently, revealing the little-known Guizhou art of bamboo drifting. In just under a dozen hours after appearing on social media behemoth Facebook the video had received 170,000 views and 4,600 likes.

The fascinating video, entitled Dancing on Water: The Chinese Art of Bamboo Drifting, was posted by Great Big Story, a video series created by CNN (Cable News Network).

The video shows people in Miao ethnic dress balancing on thin poles of bamboo, bobbing along the Chishui River in Guizhou province. However, not only do these people balance on these precarious poles, they also dance, perform, and play sports.

“When I first saw it, I felt it was so unique,” says Kang Xiaobing, in the video. The 74-year-old is the president of the Zunyi Single Bamboo Drifting Association.

“Standing on a piece of bamboo on the ground is already not easy – not to mention doing it on water,” Kang says. “So I went out to try it and fell in love with it.”

Bamboo drifting maybe be an oddity to the outside world, but to Guizhou province’s Miao ethnic group and others it has been a unique, useful, and entertaining part of their culture for a more than a thousand years.

During the Qin dynasty (221 BC–206 BC), Bozhou district of Zunyi city was famous for its production of Nan wood, the most precious and expensive wood at the time, thanks to its warm olive-brown color and fine quality. As such it was in great demand by the royal court more than 2,000 kilometers north, in then capital Xianyang city in Shaanxi province.

Logistically this presented a bit of a problem. There were no viable means of transportation along the Chishui River, the first part of the journey from the Nan wood forest in Bozhou – so no way to transport the wood.

This brought about a creative and crafty solution. For a handsome reward, Guizhou locals were tasked with bringing a log each down the Chishui – the catch? They had to each stand upon their log as it drifted down the river, guiding it to its next stop, the Yangtze. From there the logs could be loaded onto boats and sailed north to the capital.

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