The palanquin is still in use in modern China. Today, instead of being used to parade the rich and powerful through the streets they are used to cart overweight tourists up mountains.
Throughout Chinese history the rich and powerful have enjoyed being carried around by other people. They would ride in seats enclosed in little cabins which were attached to long rods called sedans or panalquins. Men would then be employed to hoist these boxes up over their shoulders and become vehicles. Apparently, this was a way to demonstrate status.
Today, little is different: the rich and lazy apparently still enjoy being carried on the shoulders of their fellow countrymen. But these days the rigs they ride in are a little more rustic.
One of the prime occupations of locals in Wulingyuan is carrying visitors up mountains on crude “palanquins.” they are really just wicker chairs tied to two bamboo poles.
Watch a video of these sedan chairs in action
The person paying for the lift sits in the chair and two men hoist them into the air and rest the bamboo poles on their shoulders. They then walk up the mountain, bearing a load that seems as if it is always about to tip over or break through the seat. I could only imagine what would transpire if one of the porters slipped on the wet rocks and fell down.
It’s grotesque, but I couldn’t contain a chuckle when thinking about some overstuffed rich guy being toppled off his throne and bouncing down the side of the mountain.
But all I observed myself was some strong looking men struggling under the weight of a colossal woman and a wealthy looking man who seemed embarrassed when I laughed at him and took photos.
Later on that day I had a laugh about this extremely lo-fi palaquin service with an American tourist. She became offended that people would hire others to cart their bloated asses up a cliff face.
“That is just so terrible,” she said.
Americans seem to look down on people who labor on our behalf in front of us. We look at this type of work with a demeaning, low brow sort of glare. We don’t care if someone is busting balls in the inferno of some factory or out breaking their bodies laying concrete or harvesting crops, just so we don’t have to watch them do it. But that shoe shiner, gas pumper, or waitress becomes the object of our pity.
I’ve known many proud shoe shiners, but there is something ingrained in our culture to not accept the fact that someone could be happy toiling for the benefit of others. So we give these people ridiculous tips and handouts and patronize them with condescending attempts at compassion. What we seem to miss is that these people are toiling for themselves. They are workers, working. It’s ultimately no different than the guy laying bricks or steamrolling pavement.
“You know, some fat tourist probably actually weighs less than what those guys usually carry up that mountain,” I said.
On top of this, these guys demand a relatively decent payout for their service. The first quote I got after inquiring was 80 RMB. When I didn’t seem interested they lowered the price to 60. I wouldn’t be surprised if they really sponge the rich Chinese tourist that come through here for even more money than this.
But even at the low rate, this is still not a bad wage. It’s 30 RMB, or nearly 5 US$ per guy for roughly a half hour worth of work. Two trips per day, or around an hour of hard work, would net more than the average daily salary for a laborer in this part of the country. A couple more trips on top of this and these sedan chair carriers would probably make a decent living.
They seemed content sitting in their own chairs, hanging out with each other on the paths to the park’s more elevated attractions. When a group of rich looking, overweight tourists would walk by they would start salivating, otherwise, they were just relaxing in the clean air of one of the most beautiful places in the country.