Chinese Kungfu on the water: Bamboo Drifting


Chinese Kungfu on the water: Bamboo Drifting

by Live in Guizhou

PUBLISHED Nov 11, 2021 • 4MIN READ

Du Zhu Piao (Single Bamboo Drifting), originated from Chishui River in Guizhou Province, is a folk technique unique to northern Guizhou. Masters of Du Zhu Piao navigate on the water only by stepping on an individual bamboo pole, as stable as walking on the ground. “Chishui River Du Zhu Piao” has been included on the 3rd list of intangible cultural heritage under protection in Guizhou Province. At the 9th National Minority Nationalities Traditional Sports Games in 2011, “Du Zhu Piao” was firstly introduced to the Games as a competitive sport. The activity is present in many places in Guizhou Province.

Du Zhu Piao, or Single Bamboo Drifting, is commonly known as “bamboo stick rowing”. Performer stand barefoot on a straight moso bamboo pole about 15 centimeters in diameter and over 8 meters in length, with a smaller straight bamboo stick about 5 centimeters in diameter and 4 meters in length in hand as the oar, moving the oar alternately left and right to navigate on the water. Performers look elegant and refreshing, with coordinated and consistent movements, showing their astonishing skills of riding on the waves, reversing, turning back, circling around, shifting between poles, etc., just like kungfu masters crossing the water simply on bamboo poles.  

Poles used in Du Zhu Piao are made from upright moso bamboo with a diameter of more than 15 centimeters, the floatage of which is strong enough to hold a person on the water. This kind of moso bamboo grows deep in the moso bamboo forest, and can only be found on the sunward side of fertile land with abundant water. The bamboo can be as large as about 20 centimeters in diameter and over 10 meters in height. The drifting pole is a section of the stalk about 8 meters in length cut from the bamboo, and dried naturally for more than 20 days, without being additionally processed. The rowing stick is the well-proportioned and straight stalk of mottled bamboo or water bamboo about 5 centimeters in diameter and 4 meters in length. When navigating, performers will rely on the rowing stick to move forward and backward, and make a turn in a balanced manner.

Guizhou geographically features high mountains and deep valleys, which give rise to traffic difficulties in ancient times. The luxuriant moso bamboo in the Chishui River Basin becomes a water vehicle for the people alongside the River. For the convenience of travelling and going to the market, local residents often casually cut down a bamboo stalk, and step on the bamboo stalk with a thinner bamboo stick in their hands as the oar, floating down the river. In 1935, when the Red Army crossed the Chishui River four times, they once used the bamboo as boats.

Yang Liu, a 24-year-old lady from Guizhou, is an inheritor of the intangible cultural heritage “Du Zhu Piao”, which is an extraordinary and unique folk technique in Guizhou. Yang Liu began to learn this technique from her grandmother since she was 7 years old. At that time, she learned it because she was thin and weak, and her grandmother wanted to build up her body. No matter how cold or hot the weather is, she never stops practicing year in year out. Now, standing on the long bamboo pole, she is dancing on the water in her ethnic costume. Since 2020, she began to shoot videos to share the amazing technique of “Du Zhu Piao”. Her videos went viral beyond China very quickly, with netizens marveling: “What kind of Chinese kungfu is this?”