Traditionally the fisherman would live in a boathouse on the river itself, rarely stepping on land Migrating along the river with fish - following their source of livelihood. They would trade a portion of their daily gain of fish with other villagers for their own basic needs, as they say: on the river there is no use for money.
In the old times, most fishermen had more than 10 birds on their fishing boat, all of which had been raised personally by them, all the way from egg to fearless fishing bird. Some bloodlines of birds have been living with the same family for hundreds of years.
Yue Ming (75 year old fisherman):
“… I have been fishing for many years; since I was a kid the birds were my friends. Every morning I would ask them if they slept well and every night I would wish them good dreams…”
“… My favorite bird was called “Damao” (Big-Idiot) it was a large bird, big and strong, and while most birds pick fish that are easy to catch, Damao was always going only for the biggest fish in the river, even when they were too big for it to put in it’s mouth. I always had to help him to get them out of the water or just make him to let them go…”
After the cultural revolution of the 80's in china more and more fishermen came to this area to catch the fishes of the river and most Yin-Bou fishermen were pushed aside by the big industrial fishing boats that could collect most of the fishes in the river in a single day.
“… The water went dark and the fish small. We had no way to feed ourselves. We had to find other way to put food on the table for our families. I still remember how, just like that, one morning I had no choice but to sell my birds… I had to sell my friends, would you imagine selling your friends?”
Nowadays, most of the fishermen’s families left the river and moved to the big cities into a different and modern life style. Old masters of the art, like Yue-Ming and his brother, who are the last of their kind, are making a living by presenting their art to others, functioning as small floating museums, and when their children decide to come visit them they entertain them with old fishing stories and take their grandsons to the river for a ride.
When I first went to Xing-Ping Village I wanted to document the life of these fishermen in the modern world, one of my intentions was to continue the work I started during the photo project of the “Eagle huntress of Mongolia”
when I set myself to photograph the “Future generation” of these old traditions. I wanted to do the same with the Yin-Bou fishermen of Xing-ping village in China.
But, sadly, as I reached the shores of the Li-river and set down to talk with the fishermen I learned that there are no current successors for this art on the Li-river, fishermen and their families prefer that their children will find a new way of living in fast growing modern china.
And so, many tourists come and go, the river gets darker and darker, fish are hard to come by and this rare glimpse into an ancient and simpler world, where man and nature worked together in beautiful harmony, is almost entirely gone. Fading away into the shadows in the face of modern life.