Ancient Fisherman of Folklore

Fisherman of Chinese Folklore


Prior to the break of dawn, there is the pure ‘silence of nature’ as a man begins his day.  There are no beeping alarm clocks, no blare of traffic and it is the noticeable absence of the incessant sounds of technology ~ a staple of our every day existence ~ that creates greater peace to this calm.

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The silence of nature, with only faint sounds of the water lapping along the skiff and soft squawks of cormorants as the fisherman prepares himself for the day.  Such scenes were common centuries ago, but today are just rare hints of a glorious past.

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Nothing captures my interest more than mystical stories of the past.  Stories of folklore that can provide an adventurous path to archaic ideas and faraway cultures: sanctuaries to contemplate what was, what is and what could be.

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Tales from the past, part myth and part tradition, containing so much excitement that we are never sure “what to and not to believe.”  So we take it all in and churn these ideas around in our heads.  Folklore, a hint of our creative past pushing to remind us not to take our present so seriously.

When a piece of folklore shows itself in modern times, it draws out the calm and romantic emotions of days gone by.

Amid the talk of terabytes and the latest sound bites from twitter, a piece of folklore can instantly transport us back centuries and silence the screams of modernity.

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Today, when met with such folkloric sights as Cormorant fishing, it is hard not to believe it is authentic…as it is all based on cultural traditions.

The fishermen on the picturesque Li River in Southern China still exist, but not as their forefathers would have envisioned.  Like their kin, their livelihood and to some extent their culture dictates them to carry-on with their ancient traditions, but instead of fishing as a craft, they fish to exploit their craft for tourism, strongly supported by the local government .

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Does this act take away from the magic of viewing these last practitioners of ancient cormorant fishing?  At some level yes, as it is impossible to see it for anything but what it is today…however, inside it does strike a chord as it takes little imagination to see such a scene unfold as it took place centuries ago.

That is the beauty.

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The magic of photography can pull these mystical, ancient stories out from the attic and bring them to life today.  Is it necessary to describe the modern scene of today’s logic?  Or just let the imagination flow and take us back…to feel the romance of history and culture, to dream of a time where mortals and gods mingled daily.  Stories of folklore make this possible.

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Ancient cultures are vanishing as societies modernize.  While globalization brings people closer, there is no doubt that it also distills and homogenizes cultures.

The romantics of the world will always long for the ideals and spirit of the past, be it the Cowboys of the American West or Ancient Fishermen of Folklore in China.

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Often, the enemy is the incessant din of technology, and the narcissistic pursuit to be heard (ahem, this blog for instance).  The hum of computers and ring-tones of cell phones all which drive a wedge between ancient folklore and modern reality.

Yet, tech can be the savior as well.  Our job, as either artists or as those who appreciate great art, is to educate and pass-on the folklore to the next generation.  To ensure the spirit never dies.  Whether in stories, poetry, paintings or photography to name a few mediums, it is the respect and preservation of the past that helps fulfill the dreams of tomorrow.

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76 Comments on “Ancient Fisherman of Folklore

  1. Just when I had started disagreeing with you in the second last paragraph, you prevented that from happening by writing the last.
    Awe-inspiring photographs.
    Awe-inspiring write-up.

    • Thank you Meghna, and it is funny sometimes when I think I have found the problem (e.g., modernity eradicating folklore), I then realize that the problem is also part of the solution. Such is life 🙂

    • Thanks Mark, as you say sometimes during those magical hours of the day it is hard not to get a nice shot! I would like to head back to Guilin during the late fall and winter, however, and get a different perspective.

  2. A-amen! 🙂
    As in the response to a heartfelt prayer. The images here take me back to a place very precious to me, my home town. I spent a lot of time in a small lake village and the images of these fisherman bring warmness to my heart.
    I too am sold on the last paragraph Randal 🙂 and yes, it’s so necessary to describe, often times the imagination does not come close to doing justice.
    Just when I think I have a favorite of your incredible photographs, you go confusing me all over again. Truly breathtaking images.

    • Beautiful reply, thank you Dotta for your story; something about home town simplicity and no matter how far away, it always can pull at the heartstrings. It sounds like you have a magical place “back home” and it is flattering to hear that some of my images helps bring such a nice feeling and memories back to you. Your words are inspirational.

      Now, I really want to visit your home town and see the magic myself… 🙂

  3. This post was magical. I too enjoy folklore. Enjoyed so much the stories that lie behind the Chinese calendar, stories I’d never heard before I moved to Taiwan… Your pictures *do* take one back to days of long ago… I understand the mixed feelings about the fact that these men are, in fact, in large part just a show. I felt the same way when I did a day tour to Ben Tre and My Tho along the Mekong, complete with bee hives and traditional instruments and all… I enjoyed it, but… There was something in that man’s aged eyes, as he showed us the honey combs. Something so deep – and sad. I knew he remembered more than the tour could ever show – stories I would have loved to know…

    I too am glad you ended by showing the positives and negatives of technology. I agree about its negatives, and yet I know it isn’t ever going to go away, so we might as well try to be positive! Still, I would love to waken to the sound of water lapping the shore rather than my cell phone. There is no sound I love more.

    Stunning photos, as always. 🙂

    • Agree, isn’t Chinese folklore so rich & diverse…and then to think almost every country has such folklore too, it would be an amazing study their origin. The mixed feelings at seeing ‘staged traditions’ initially bothered me, but then given the opportunity to talk with the people and get personal, the deep love for their culture flows. I love seeing & experiencing those moments. There is something about eyes of an older person who has seen and experienced things we could not even imagine (and possibly not want to imagine). The stories that they could tell…

      Great observation, and one day someone may look into your eyes and think the same 🙂

      As for technology, it is this double-edged sword. At times I find it troubling and a bit repulsive – usually moments before I am frantically looking for my phone to check the latest scores or e-mail… nothing like being a little self-righteous at times with tech! Agree with the sound of water. On Thursday, I head out to Hood Canal for a few days to enjoy the water and the Olympic Mountains…and listen to the cries of seagulls and waves. Cheers!

  4. Wonderful pictures and wise words!
    Today the change is so fast that we lose the roots of our past (in nearly every culture). But how can we know who we are if we do not know where we come from?
    Standing still is moving backwards? … I’m not always sure about this saying.

    • I feel the same, knowing where you came from makes it easier to move forward… Per a quote from The Shawshank Redemption, you either “get busy living or get busy dying” so, I would agree that standing still is moving backwards. Many things to learn in life – so I think moving forwards shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Thanks for the compliment.

    • Thanks Scott. Enjoyed the video compilation on Vietnam and the time-lapse spot you had on your site. Time-lapse photography is a great mix of still & video, and that is piquing my interest right now…so much to do. Enjoy the week!

  5. Once upon a time folklore was the glue holding us together. I often wonder if society’s current state of free fall doesn’t stem from our abandonment of simple traditions, unfettered by religious or “modern” restraints. I for one, still talk to the fairies and listen to the wind 🙂

    • Agree! Much of what we know about our past, both ‘factual history’ as well as our more spiritual side all came through folkloric tales and writings. It seems that as the world modernizes, our links to traditions and the past become more chaotic…so keep listening to the wind, it holds the answers to happiness 🙂

  6. I love your photography and words. The pictures capture the soul of the subject I think. The sound and sensations of it, too.

    • Thanks Brett, whenever a writer/photographer can capture part of a scene and pass it onto someone else via their medium, it is a comforting feeling to know. I appreciate your kind words.

  7. Those images of the cormorant fishermen are outstanding. The colours are speaking a language of their own. A great write-up too. Love this post.

    • Thanks Otto, sometimes being in the right place with the colors & lighting/environment both photos and thoughts are right there out in front of you. It makes both the shooting and writing a fun process.

  8. Some of these are just amazing bro. Would you like to layer some of my poems over them? We could do a series together. Let me know.

    • Thanks Michael, please feel free to use these images with your poetry, it would be fascinating to see with your words, as your work is amazing and emotional.

  9. I enjoyed this article so much but those simple and full of meaning images made my day !

    • Agree, pretty cruel… At least these days, such fishing rarely takes place, as these fisherman now just sit and put on a show for the tourist like me 🙂

  10. I am not in a position to comment on these work of art 🙂

    To me these images are right there on top… all National Geography stuff.

    • Thank you for such a great comment Sreejith, enjoyed Guilin very much, and the photos felt almost secondary to just the experience. Cheers!

  11. Reblogged this on closetoeighty and commented:
    Recently I found blog “China Sojourns Photography” and started to follow it. So far I did not get any new post but several minutes ago i found a beautiful post that I want to share with you. Thank you, Randall Collis.

  12. i marvel at the depth of your [works]. the pictures are stunning if not most awesome piece of creativity. wish i had a minute of this ability. Wow! brilliant work. Your pictures as always tell more than the writings even though the two are a killer combination. you have struck me with a dose of awe! outstanding!!!

  13. Stunning pictures and story..I like them all, but the last two photos were impressive, the action, the moment, the composition – the humanity being a fisherman.
    Sincerely, now I am curious in learning how to arrange such photography trip. I have been thinking to visit the area for quite some time – Did you rent a private boat during the visit?

    • This trip was pretty straight forward, Yangshuo is a common destination and I was able to find a guide pretty easily and arrangements with the fishermen. From HK, a quick trip which makes it nice as well.

  14. I want to ride on the raft of picture number 8. Like kinda right now…
    Fisherman and cowboys are a lot the same in my experience. Both uniquely quiet about their views until you get them alone on their own turf. I know this because I have loads of both in my family. I can get to the heart of that personality in no time. Love’em.

    • Ha, ha…I love #8, it is my favorite just because of the skiff and character of the man & birds. Agree. Growing up my best friend’s dad was a big-time fisherman and we’d go out fishing on week night which was such a treat…solitude sharing with others. You have a gift and lucky life being able to relate to them as you do! I gotta be careful what I say 🙂

  15. Absolutely breathtaking! The fourth and sixth shots should be submitted for international competition. They are all world class photography.

    • High praise coming from you Cindy ~ truly appreciate your comment and thoughts 🙂 Made my day ~

  16. Dear Dalo
    What a well done blog (as all your blogs). Perfect in the combination of text and pictures. Thank you very much.
    The Fab Four of Cley

  17. Incredible documentation for the future. We are lucky to be able to see what will surely vanish in the not-too-distant future. I’m really enjoying perusing your archives, little by little. Your blog is so different from the usual blogs about Asia. It goes beyond just sights and sounds and into the essence.

    • Thank you very much, your comment made my day as I enjoyed seeing parts of Guilin and the surrounding area…and you are so right, many of these sights will be vanishing. Wish you a great week Julie ~ Cheers.

  18. Myths and folklore are so intriguing. Even more intriguing to discover common threads between various legends from different cultures. Reveling for a few moments in the blue silence of your photos before beginning the hectic tumult of the day. Thank you.

    • It is strange, I am against myths in part because I see people (politicians & businessmen) trying to carve their own mythical stories with falsities…but then as a kid, there was nothing like admiring heroes and dreaming to become one myself. We need myths and legends, they make our imaginations run wild 🙂

      Wishing you well 🙂

      • I don’t think the human race could function without stories. However, I agree with you — there is a time and place for myths and legends. As with anything else, too often they are used when they shouldn’t be.

  19. One of the readers of my blog who’s been following your blog for years recommended me this post – and I’m very glad she did! Absolutely stunning photographs. (I wish I had this kind of talent.) I’m looking forward to discovering more of your blog bit by bit!

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