An inheritor of ancient boat making techniques

By Xu Lin and Hu Meidong ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-06-20 09:04:01

An inheritor of ancient boat making techniques

Villagers watch the trial paddling of Zheng's 29.48-meter-long dragon boat.[Photo by Lin Ruihong/China Daily]

In early June, he just finished a dragon boat with a length of 29.48 meters and width of 1.5 meters, probably the biggest in southern Fujian. After a grand sacrificial ceremony, Zheng and the villagers happily watched the paddlers row the boat swiftly in the river, accompanied by gongs and drums.

Unlike the dragon boats in Fuzhou, Zheng's boats have no dragon head, just a triangle red cloth to represent the dragon's tongue. The dragon's eyes are painted on both sides of the boat body.

"Paddlers squat inside the boat in two lines to row with from their waists. The helmsman is very important as he sits at the stern to control the direction and speed," Zheng says.

He used a boat model and small paddlers to show how it works. If the speeds of both lines are much the same, the rudder will be up to speed. If not, the helmsman will put the rudder in the water to balance the speed.

The gong striker is in the middle to pace the speed of the boat, while the one who beats the drum is in the fore. The more up in the front a paddler is, the more strength he has to use.

"In southern Fujian, all villages along the rivers have dragon boats, about four or five on average. The boats symbolizes the identity of a village and showcases its collective honor, " he says.

Although he is an elder master, he is not looking to retire just yet. Building dragon boats is more than a way to make a living, it is his spiritual sustenance. His 30-year-old son Zheng Hailong and 46-year-old nephew Zheng Haiming are his only apprentices.

"Boat making is very profound. My father loves it very much, but it is so hard for him to visit all the places for the trade, such as to buy wood," the son says. He is a crane driver and sometimes helps his father. When he was a kid, his grandpa often brought him to the shipyard to play.

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