The Story Behind My Most Viral Photograph - Yangshuo Cormorant Fisherman

The Story Behind My Most Viral Photograph - Yangshuo Cormorant Fisherman - Peter Yan Studio

In the picturesque region of Yangshuo, China, nestled along the banks of the Li River, lies a tradition as ancient as the land itself—Cormorant fishing. This time-honoured practice, with its origins tracing back to the Sui dynasty in 636 CE, has woven itself into the cultural tapestry of China, Japan, and Korea. It's a spectacle that embodies both the harmony between man and nature and the resilience of tradition amidst modernisation.

For me, born and raised in China, the allure of Yangshuo was magnetic yet unfamiliar until recently (2019). Drawn by the enchanting images scattered across social media platforms, I embarked on a solo journey to explore this hidden gem before reuniting with family for the Chinese New Year festivities. Despite the less-than-ideal weather, Yangshuo's charm enveloped me as I wandered through its ancient streets, peddled across its verdant countryside, and savoured its culinary delights, particularly the renowned beer fish—a surprising delicacy that soon became a nightly ritual.

My encounter with the old Cormorant fisherman, affectionately known as Lao Huang, unfolded serendipitously along the banks of the Li River. Positioned just a stone's throw away from my hotel, I stumbled upon his tranquil "workstation" as he meticulously prepared for the day's catch. Approaching him with a mixture of curiosity and admiration, I sought his permission to immortalise his craft through my lens, to which he kindly acquiesced.


Through our exchange, a glimpse into Lao Huang's life unfurled—a venerable 86-year-old guardian of tradition, his weathered hands a testament to a lifetime spent in communion with the river's ebb and flow. He shared snippets of his journey, recounting how he and his brother learned the art of Cormorant fishing from their father, their ancestral legacy now preserved as a cherished pastime. Despite the evolution of time rendering Cormorant fishing more a tourist spectacle than a thriving trade, Lao Huang's passion for his craft remained undiminished.

The images captured during that serendipitous encounter with Lao Huang transcended the confines of my camera lens, resonating with audiences worldwide. Shared across social media platforms, they ignited a wave of fascination, garnering over 40 million views and earning accolades from media outlets globally. Yet, beyond the numbers and accolades, it's the essence of Lao Huang's story—the embodiment of tradition, resilience, and the symbiotic relationship between man and nature—that continues to echo in the hearts of those who pause to listen.

In retrospect, my journey to Yangshuo transcended mere sightseeing; it was an odyssey of discovery, a testament to the transformative power of human connection and the timeless allure of tradition in a rapidly changing world. And in Lao Huang's weathered visage and the silent dance of his cormorants, I found not just a captivating subject but a poignant reminder of the beauty that lies in embracing the past while navigating the currents of the present.

My Yangshuo Cormorant Fisherman piece can be purchased here.

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