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The Customs of the Thousand Lakes Province
by courtesy of Qiu Huanxing and Lu Zhongmin,
the authors of Folk Customs Of China




Hubei Province is so named because of its geographical position north of Dongting Lake (hu means lake and bei means north). In ancient times, this area was a wide expanse of marshland.

Afterwards the Jianghan Plain with an area of 30,000 square kilometres was silted up by the water with mud from the Yangtze and Hanshui rivers. In this area, there are more than 1,000 lakes, hence Hubei Province is called the Thousand Lakes Province.
Nanzui Village in Miaoyang County juts out into the Paihu Lake. More than 20 farm houses have been built on a platform, only one metre higher than the water surface of the lake. The local people said that in the past when it rained several days continuously, the village would be submerged. When the Yangtze and Hanshui rivers flooded this area, it became a vast expanse of water. When the flood came the villagers would move their furniture and some other things up to the attic and then they left for other places taking with them food and clothing. Some people went fishing; some sought refuge with their relatives and friends; and some wandered to other places to sing for a living. They went back to their home till the flood went away.

They had to build straw sheds to live in. Sometime later, inspired by the arches of bridges "water gate houses" were created which means that when a house is built, a hole one metre high and one metre wide is left from the base of the back wall. When the construction of the house has been finished the hole is filled in with bricks. So when floods come the bricks are moved away and the water flows out through the hole. In this way the wall of the houses can be protected from the force of the flood. When the flood recedes the hole is filled again. Some houses have undergone floods dozens of times, but they are still in good shape.

Fishing boats were scattered all over the lakes and some fishermen standing on the front of the boats were casting nets and some others were catching fish with lampshade-shaped nets. The local people used different ways to catch fish and they have about 20 kinds of fishing nets. The biggest net is several hundred or sometimes nearly 1,000 square metres. It is lifted by a winch.

What interested me most was the trap made for the fish by the fishmen. The fishmen put tree stumps in the lakes and then fenced them in with a net. When fish go into the trap they cannot get out. Finally they have to swim into a bag at the end of the net.
There is a saying in this area, "The fish is the son of the Dragon King. Everyone can fish no matter who he is." so it has become an unwritten law that people can fish around lakes and rivers. But at the end of spring, fishing is forbidden because that is the time for fish to spawn. In addition, if several fishermen are fishing with the lampshade-shaped net at the same time, the one who sees the fish first should cast his net first. If he cannot catch the fish, the others can cast their nets. Otherwise the person who rushes to cast the net would be condemned by other fishermen and the fish he catches would be sent back to the person who saw the fish first.

Fishermen are loyal to their friends. When they meet in the lakes on their fishing trips, whether they know each other or not they are friendly. After fishing they put their boats together and then go to eat and drink on one boat. The host of the boat cools the food for them. They often put rice, vegetables, condiments, fish and meat into one pot. The meat is fat, but not greasy. The oil of the meat goes to the fish, which makes the fish fresh and delicious. And the juice from the fish permeates the vegetables and rice,which gives them a special taste.

The lakes abound with lotuses. In early summer, the new lotuses bud and come out of the water, so the green water is dotted with white and pink flowers.

The history of the lotus in China can be traced back to very ancient times. Two lotus seeds were found together with a pot of carbonized grain in 1972 in the ruins of the New Stone Age, near Zhengzhou in Henan Province. These relics are more than 5,000 years old. These lotuses are uncultivated and they grow every year. Lotus seed picking areas are divided by the villages along the lakes and villagers built watch towers to survey the lotuses. Early autumn is the time to pick lotus seeds. The date for picking lotus seeds has to be decided by villagers and at the same time they donate money to buy pork because they will get together to eat on that morning. After eating they will go down to the lakes. The boats rowed by the men are in a line. Women cut the seedpod of the lotus seeds, and the old people break the pods with bamboo slips to take the seeds out.

When the sun sets, the villagers will call it a day and go to the watchtowers. They put the lotus seeds together and then distribute them to each household. After going back home, they are busy shelling and drying the lotus seeds.

In early winter when the water is low, people begin to dig lotus roots. Whoever wants to dig the lotus seeds can go. It is a hard job to get the roots out of the mud. Lotuses usually grow in mud about one metre deep. So people have to stand in the mud, which makes it hard to move.

The peasants have experience in digging lotuses. When they pick lotuses, they go to the places where there are old lotus leaves, so they can find big ones there. Sometimes they pick up lotuses which are not too deep in the mud. For the deep ones they have to tramp the mud on one side and then the root of the lotus will come out more easily.

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