are always warmly welcome -

15 January 2006

The Shennong River Trackers
The Shennong River Trackers
A Vanishing Way of Life
by James Michael Dorsey

The Shennong River is a green jewel that flows into China's Yangtze River. It is the ancestral home of a proud people whose way of life will soon vanish.

They call themselves 'River Trackers,' and they are the last generation of a profession that has helped keep China's commerce flowing for centuries.

The Shennong River joins the Yangtze east of the Chonquing (Southwest China) in the center of a natural wonder known as the Three Gorges. Giant granite walls rising straight out of the water for a thousand feet (about 300 m) form the theater through which these rivers flow. Only a few feet above the ancient waterline, a thin ledge runs for several miles, hardly visible from the river. Barely two feet wide (60 cm), it was cut by hand from solid rock over many generations.

Thousands died to cut this track, for it required balancing on the side of a sheer cliff where one misstep committed the hapless victim to a 12-knot current racing below. When the water level fell or a particularly large boat was unable to traverse and got stuck in the Gorges, local 'Trackers' went into action.

Stripped to a loincloth or sometimes naked, they formed a human chain on both sides of the river. Shouldering heavy ropes, they would drag the ship along by brute force until it was able to float freely [....]

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