The Wis­dom be­hind Fish­nets and Fish­ing

China Scenic - - Culture -

Guang­dong’s Qingyuan City holds an an­nual “An­cient Fish­ing Fes­ti­val” in which par­tic­i­pants equip them­selves with a large cone­shaped “fish cover” ( yuzhao ) in their hands and a nar­row-mouthed, wide-bod­ied rat­tan bas­ket on their backs. Once they catch sight of their prey in the shal­low wa­ter, they thrust the cone down over it, put their hand into the nar­row end of the cone and try to seize the fish. It’s a happy and rau­cous scene!

Snug­gled up against Bei­jiang River, Qingyuan’s to­pog­ra­phy is var­ie­gated and strange. With rivers and lakes, as well as karst caves and hot springs, this is a special wa­ter world where there is an as­sort­ment of ways to catch marine life. The place is a vir­tual mi­cro­cosm of Chi­nese- style fish­ing. In Com­pendi­u­mof the­re­alm­sofheaven,earth­and­mankind ( San­caituhui ), a Ming era en­cy­clo­pe­dic graph­i­cal book, the en­try for “net­ting” notes that new types con­stantly emerged, be­cause its fab­ri­ca­tion var­ied by re­gion and us­age.

Be­sides the hand-held “fish cover”, there was also equip­ment such as a square fish­net ( yuzeng ) held in place by thin poles at­tached at its edges. The fish­er­men of Qingyuan had a trea­sure house of tra­di­tional tools for catch­ing fish, in­clud­ing fish knives, spears, ar­rows and all sorts of nets. Only a hand­ful have been “re­vived” for use in the an­nual fish­ing fes­ti­val.

As il­lus­trated in the Com­pendium, be­sides the act of “rais­ing the net” ( banzeng ) — sub­merg­ing the fish­net, wait­ing for fish to swim just above it, sud­denly haul­ing it out of the wa­ter, and scoop­ing up the net­ted fish with a dip net — there are an ad­di­tional eleven draw­ings, each show­ing one spe­cific fish­ing tech­nique that high­lights the diligence of an­cient fish­er­men.

The “fixed net” ( zhuwang ) al­lowed the fisher to re­lax while his net did the hard work. This piece of fish­ing gear, de­signed to re­main sta­tion­ary, was placed near the river­bank or coast fac­ing the op­po­site di­rec­tion of the wa­ter or tidal flow. Nat­u­rally, the force of the cur­rent pushed sea crea­tures into the net. It was nor­mally po­si­tioned at night and re­moved in the morn­ing, which al­lowed large num­bers of marine life to ac­cu­mu­late overnight.

Per­haps the most po­etic was the act of “cast­ing the net” ( sawang ). Gen­er­ally used in con­junc­tion with a boat, the net was thrown out­wards with the open­ing en­ter­ing the wa­ter first. It was then hauled in by pulling on a rope at­tached to the net’s edge. It was light and por­ta­ble but re­quired con­sid­er­able skill. The savvy user cast the net so that it formed a cir­cle in mid-air, but the less skilled fish­er­man might find him­self awk­wardly tan­gled up in­side it!

The an­cient dan­g­wang — a scoop net — is also known to­day as a dip net ( chaowang ). It con­sisted of a long wooden han­dle and a tri­an­gu­lar frame at the other end, to which was at­tached a pouch-shaped net. The fisher could stand on the bank, ex­tend the long han­dle and cap­ture small fish or shrimp in the pouch.

Op­er­ated by two per­sons, the chaowang (wide net) was mainly used in shal­low in­land wa­ter­ways. There is an il­lus­tra­tion, en­ti­tled Thewidenet , that shows two peo­ple, each grasp­ing a long pole in be­tween which is stretched a very large pouch-shaped net that cap­tures fish and shrimp as the cur­rent con­tin­ues on­ward. This fish­net is equiv­a­lent to an over­size dip net, ex­cept that the lat­ter’s sin­gle han­dle has been re­placed by two poles, and the former’s pouch is in­com­pa­ra­bly large by com­par­i­son.

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