Living On A Boat – Tough Life For Suzhou Fisherman

We  like to feature news  from Chinese news that may not caught the eye of the western media.  Find out what happens in China outside of what is published on China Daily.  Johann, from Easy Mandarin Chinese School (, will be finding, translating and helping us learn some related words to teach us a little more about China

On the Wusong River near Suzhou Industrial Park lives a small community of fishermen who migrated from the city of Ma’anshan (Anhui Province) and from the county of Gaochun (near Nanjing).


Their favorite spot for fishing is far up on the Yangtze River where there is less pollution. The fishing season starts just after Spring Festival and ends in November. Then, they rest for a couple of months until the next fishing season starts. The same routine has applied every year for the past 15 years. Learning to speak the Suzhou local dialect, they have progressively integrated into the city, becoming a part of Suzhou’s culture.


A fishing boat is like a mobile home shuttling back and forth on the river with about 8m2 of living space. Catching fish at night and sleeping in the afternoon is the norm – average sleeping time for a fisherman does not exceed 6 hours per day. Being a fisherman is very tough.


Entertainment on board is limited to watching DVDs or watching the sun set before being draped over by the darkness of the night. During school holidays, children go back to live with their parents, bringing back a little joy to the family and distracting them from their daily routine.


Old Xia, Mrs. Wu, Old Zhang, Mr Wu and Feng Cai are all members of this community.

After taking all his fishing nets out, old Xia smokes cigarette after cigarette. He is a chain smoker, smoking up to 2 packs a day. Mrs. Wu usually sits in the back of the boat and eats watermelon. On early mornings along the banks of the Loujiang River, she sells the fish that her husband caught the night before. She has plenty of customers and the fish sell super fast.


After lunch, Old Zhang listens to the radio and then he is back to sleep again. There is a small kitchen on the back of the boat where they eat and sleep. Among the community, Old Zhang is the second eldest – he arrived in Suzhou 15 years ago. He has the smallest ship and the smallest nets. As a result, his income is less than the other fishermen. But he does not complain. He has big plans for the future and will change his boat next year for a bigger iron fishing boat.


Mr Wu came to Suzhou almost 10 years ago. His Suzhou dialect is good enough to socialize with local people. After he wakes up around noon, he exercises a bit. Being a fisherman was not his first choice in life. He still owns his transport ship, but his business collapsed and he lost more than RMB 300 000. To cover his debt, he decided with his wife to turn to fishery. His eldest daughter is already married which eases the pressure a little bit, though, he still has to take care of his younger daughter who is still in junior high school.


Feng Cai is studying fifth grade. After she was born she stays on the boat with her parents. She went back to her hometown to attend kindergarten and now she only comes back during summer vacation. She is rather shy. There are not many people to socialize with when the boat is off shore, sometimes she is by herself staring blankly, daydreaming.


On summer holiday, Feng Cai does her homework alone in the boat cabin. During most part of the day her parents are busy. Her school results are average though doing her homework is a very demanding task. During summertime, the cabin is very hot and humid, and she is always very sweaty. “We do not really use electric appliances on the boat; the electric fan in the cabin is mostly for decoration and only if it is so hot we cannot bear, then I am allowed to turn it on”. The electricity which is coming from batteries is mostly used for illumination.


When the boat is on shore – Feng Cai wears a pink skirt to go out, which she only wears for the occasion. Her parents bought her a big bottle of Sprite. The family is very poor, so her parents rarely buy snacks. Feng Cai has to share the bottle with her little bother and it will have to last for a week.Yet today – her father is not happy with how she takes care of her little brother and he scolded her – making her cry. She should have let him drink first.Aside from this little incident, it is a very happy time for Cai Feng when she is on shore she can meet with other friends and play with them. Adults usually are busy selling fish and cleaning up the boat.


At 5:30 pm supper is ready. Most of the time the boat is already navigating on the river, however, today because of the heat, many boats are sitting under the bridge in the shade and the atmosphere is very lively among the fishermen.After dinner everyone rests until 9 pm, then back to get the nets. Looking at his catch Mr Wu does not look very happy – he can sell the fish and shrimps for a little more than a 100 Yuan. For him, pollution is a big problem; fishing stocks are declining year after year because of it.


For this small fishermen community, living on the river is now deeply rooted in their blood and they do not know if they will ever be able to settle down on the land and flourish again.When asked about their future, each face of this community expresses uncertainty and desolation. Urbanization and the scarcity of fishing resources mean for them that one early morning at dusk they could all disappear forever from this river.





钓鱼 (diàoyú) – to fish

捕鱼 (bǔ yú) – to catch fish

渔船 (yúchuán) – fishing boat

渔民 (yúmín) – fisherman

渔网 (yúwǎng) – fishing net

春节 (chūnjié) – spring festival

污染 (wūrǎn) – pollution

黄昏 (huánghūn) – dusk

夕阳 (xīyáng) – sunset

河道 (hédào) – river course

运输船 (yùnshū chuán) – transport ship

欠债 (qiàn zhài) – to owe a debt

亏 (kuī) – to lose (money)

长江 (chángjiāng) – Yangtze River