Fishermen of the Li - I

Xingping Fishing Village is located on the scenic Li River against a backdrop that is among the most spectacular landscapes on earth. I first met Huang Fuechuang there five years ago. Today, he is undeniably one of the most photographed men in all of China.

The then 71 year-old Huang sat across from me looking like no entrepreneur I'd ever met before. With his white goatee, vintage self-made fishing clothing, and traditional conical bamboo hat, he looked like he came straight of of central casting. A wiry, spry man with a quick smile, Mr. Huang is a semi-retired cormorant fisherman who still works about 20 days each month on The Li River around Xingping Fishing Village in Guangxi Province. There are fewer fish in the Li these days, so Huang and his elder brother, raised as fishermen from their teens, have out of necessity become models for the many millions of travelers who visit the area each year.

A few years back in a somewhat bold move, Mr. Huang, along with his 82-year-old brother Huang Mingde, ended a long affiliation with a Yangshuo-based tour operator and struck out on their own. The reason was purely financial: The younger Huang's wife had been diagnosed with diabetes a few years ago, and the family needed to cover the mounting monthly cost of insulin and testing supplies.

Cormorant fishing is a dying art. For thousands of years, fishermen have used trained cormorants to fish the rivers and lakes of China. The process is simple: The fisherman first ties a snare near the base of the bird's throat, which effectively prevents them from swallowing larger fish, although they can still swallow some smaller fish. When a cormorant catches a fish, the fisherman then brings the bird back to the boat and has it spit the fish up onto the bamboo deck.

While there aren't many practicing cormorant fisherman left these days, a few, such as the Huangs, can still manage a decent living serving the tourism industry. Mr. Huang first began working with photographers back in the 1970s and never imagined it leading to this. He offers a practical explanation:

"Tourists are interested in seeing the traditional way of life here, such as fishing with cormorants and lanterns, and we are happy to keep the old ways alive while supporting ourselves." It was a risk for the men to go it alone, but risk is the definition of entrepreneurship. So far, it has worked out well for the brothers Huang.

Parts of this project originally appeared in The Atlantic. The images here were taken over a five year period. This is the first of a two-part essay, with the second installment scheduled to follow in March of 2015.

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