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Chinese Spear Fishing

A man with a tri-pronged steel spear attached to a bamboo pole is looking intently down into the murky water of a heavily polluted canal. He is walking down the bank slowly, with absolute focus on something he saw flinch beneath the surface. He slowly raises the spear over his head and lets if fly into [...]

chinese-spear-fishing

A man with a tri-pronged steel spear attached to a bamboo pole is looking intently down into the murky water of a heavily polluted canal. He is walking down the bank slowly, with absolute focus on something he saw flinch beneath the surface. He slowly raises the spear over his head and lets if fly into the canal. Nothing. He pulls the spear up out of the water and walks on.

I follow him along this canal on the outskirts of Taizhou, in an area that is currently being completely redevelopment. On one side of this canal, new, towering, middle class high rises shoot up into the sky. On the other is an old, rural community of traditional brick style houses and people who ply their country’s old traditions seeming regardless of the construction projects hemming them in.

Spear fisherman in Nanjing

Spear fisherman in Nanjing

The spears that these fishermen use are incredibly simple. They are just long lengths of bamboo with a metal, multi-point spear attached to one end. On the opposite end a rope is tied, which the fisherman holds on to so he can throw the spear into the water and easily reel it back in.

I have yet to see one of these fishermen spear a fish, but as they keep at it I have to assume that they do skewer them occasionally. What puzzles me here is the fact that this particular canal is so thick with runoff and other pollutants that the surface is like a grey wall — i couldn’t see any distance beneath the surface. I had to wonder how these fishermen are able to find the fish to begin with. It’s clear from their actions that they are not throwing at random, so, somehow, they are able to see through the muck enough to identify the objects of their hunt.

I’ve been watching these spear fishermen for the past few months, checking out their equipment and technique. Their methods are completely at odds with life on one side of the canal, but on the other they are an inconspicuous part of the landscape. Looking out upon a scene of BMW cars and mid-range luxury homes interspersed with people fishing with iron age tools is the story of today’s China. This is a culture adept enough to use technologies, skills, and techniques of multiple eras interchangeably. This culture is nothing if not versatile.

spear-fishing-nanjing

Filed under: China, Fishing

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 89 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3465 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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