After a roll of drums, Tuhua Village’s 13 traditional dragon boats made a ceremonial return from visiting relatives in nearby villages on June 9 and pulled ashore, one after another. Leaning on a wood paddle, 85-year-old Liang Yuxiong was the first boatsman to step ashore. The president of Tuhua Village’s Dragon Boat Association and the village director came forward to offer their hands to support Liang.
This is all properly vested honor for Liang.
He is the oldest known sculler in Tuhua Village and even in all of Haizhu District. Liang has been paddling a dragon boat for 33 years, longer than anyone else in the area, as far as folks know.
Tuhua Village, located in Guangzhou’s Haizhu District, is surrounded by water on three sides and owns a history of more than 600 years. It’s been a long tradition in the village to send its dragon boats to visit relative’s villages. The ritual was once suspended but then was reprised 33 years ago. Every Dragon Boat Festival, a dozen or more dragon boats, led by a small group of motor boats, sail Tuhua along the Pearl River like a massive fleet. People will go on board with celebratory couplets and and bring them to relatives and friends in other villages.
Liang has been a part of this tradition all 33 years since it was renewed in 1983. He hasn’t missed a single year, according to the president of the village’s Dragon Boat Association. Paddling to five to six villages a day, more than 30 kilometers back and forth, this is not a problems for the octogenarian. Despite his advanced age, Liang is still responsive and agile, walking with a steady pace like that of a young man.
Wearing a old-style boater and a pair of thick-framed glasses, Liang sits in the first-place seat of the dragon boat, leading more than 40 young boatmen. With ears always prepared for the drumbeat and hands clenching a wood pulp, Liang plays a very important role on the dragon boat team, because all the others sitting behind will mostly read his action for reference. If a mistake would be made, it would likely disrupt the coordination and pace of the entire team.
“I enjoy paddling a dragon boat a lot,” Liang said. “It makes me feel happy and can also help exercise my body.”
“As far as I’m concerned, Liang Yuxiong is the oldest one in Guangzhou who is still rowing,” said Rao Yuansheng, a famous scholar who studies the culture of dragon boats and has visited all the villages in the Lingnan area. In his opinion, participating in dragon boat activity at such a venerable age is very rare in Guangzhou. But he thinks paddling a dragon boat can actually benefit and preserve elderly people’s health.
(By Lancer Lan, Louis Berney)