Return of the Naked River Trackers?
March 9, 2010 4:49 PM   Subscribe

Once upon a time, before boats had motors, the only way to move vessels up the Shennong River (a tributary to the Yangtze River near Badong, Enshi) was for labourers, known as River Trackers, to haul them by hand using heavy ropes along a dangerously narrow ledge hacked from solid rock. And while naked (slightly NSFW).

Being naked was practical, as wet clothes restricted movement and caused chafing, not to mention the clothing itself never lasted very long anyway. Over the years the tradition waned, with trackers wearing clothes to haul tourist boats and while singing folk songs.

But in February 2010, Enshi's deputy party secretary Yao Benchi suggested at a meeting of the local people's congress that a return to the tradition of nude tracking would turn Shennong into a major tourist attraction, an announcement that has generated some controversy.

Yet the trackers themselves don't care about wearing clothes if it makes money. As lead hauler Zhang Houfang told a Wuhan web site: "So long as there is a demand for this from tourists, and they are ready to pay, the majority of rope handlers are happy to haul ropes in the nude. Foreign tourists and amateur photographers find it more interesting."

Soon we may see the return of the Naked River Trackers, which in my mind wouldn't be a bad thing.
posted by bwg (27 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Being naked on a sail boat is one of the greatest things that a human can do. Being naked while pulling a sail boat I could probably just skip.
posted by Babblesort at 4:54 PM on March 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


"The main reason not to wear a shirt is to prevent from diseases. If the shirt is always wet and dry in turn, the boat trackers will tend to get rheumatism and arthritis."

What? Is this true?
posted by dammitjim at 4:58 PM on March 9, 2010


And I thought the days of calorie men were gone (and not yet to return).
posted by filthy light thief at 4:59 PM on March 9, 2010


Dammitjim,

Probably according to traditional chinese medicine. There's a lot about being exposed to sudden temperature changes, and being damp all the time causing illness.
posted by yeloson at 5:01 PM on March 9, 2010


NSFW? Would any actually object to this at an office?
posted by Omon Ra at 5:04 PM on March 9, 2010


Wonder if the bare-arsed blokes are in any way related to the X-creature legends of the wild men of Shennongjia? I mean, I might get pretty wild if a tourist was trying to snap me bare buttocks.
posted by Abiezer at 5:11 PM on March 9, 2010


not to mention the clothing itself never lasted very long anyway.

The last place I want to be nude is somewhere where clothing wouldn't last long due to physical conditions.
posted by DU at 5:13 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


And you wonder how the Great Wall got built.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:17 PM on March 9, 2010


And I thought my job sucked.
posted by punkfloyd at 5:26 PM on March 9, 2010


The last place I want to be nude is somewhere where clothing wouldn't last long due to physical conditions.

Humans are surprisingly resilient and tough; we've gotten very soft in our modern life, but if you're getting chafed a lot for a long period of time, you'll start healing faster, and you really do stop noticing minor abrasions and the like after you've been exposed to them long enough. Shirts don't adapt, and ones tough enough to have any staying power would be very expensive for very poor people; healing is free. It was an eminently sensible solution for the time.

Seems a bit exploitative to return to that tradition merely to get tourist dollars, though.
posted by Malor at 5:27 PM on March 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Nude folk-song singing rope-pullers, eh. I presume it's the Song of the Vulgar Boatmen.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:30 PM on March 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


If it was LADY Naked River Trackers you couldn't KEEP the tourists away.
posted by briank at 6:02 PM on March 9, 2010


If there was one thing we learned in my summer canoeing camp: it is fine to paddle in the nude, just make sure to apply lots and lots of sun block to your bits.
posted by docgonzo at 6:16 PM on March 9, 2010


There was at least one lady naked river tracker in the slide show, briank. That may have been the only NSFW part.
posted by yhbc at 6:21 PM on March 9, 2010


Even when they are with ladies, they usually don't feel shy.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 6:39 PM on March 9, 2010


NSFW? Would any actually object to this at an office?

One of the slides had a person with National Geographic style breasts (saggy). I couldn't tell if it a a woman or a man though, so I'm not sure if I was supposed to be turned on.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:39 PM on March 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


These guys are pretty hard core. I got to do this while I was on a boat tour up the river, on what is very possibly the exact same stretch by looks. They were all wiry old dudes: the titillation factor would be about zero. Anyway, as far as the job sucking, they seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves. I mean, it's a beautiful part of the country, and they spend all day every day outside. Besides, it's sort of the family business of most of them for god knows how long.

FWIW, if memory serves, these guys are not ethnic Han. So, they get some special exemptions and have to put up with a lot of bullshit and anything that gets them more scratch is alright by me. Additionally, I think the argument can be made that these sort of things actually preserve cultural traditions, in that now all of these folk songs committed to DVDs and CDs might otherwise be threatened with extinction.
posted by absalom at 6:44 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I bet naked river trackers never write NSFW in their Metafilter posts.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:48 PM on March 9, 2010


I'm impressed by the grooves worn into the rock by the ropes.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 6:48 PM on March 9, 2010


There's some hard-ass people.
posted by Anything at 7:05 PM on March 9, 2010


Legging was done in English canal tunnels prior to the introduction of powered craft or engine-powered hauling. Barges were usually hauled along canals by draught-horses walking on a path alongside; when they came to a tunnel the horses were uncoupled and lead over the top while two guys had to 'leg' the barge through the tunnel.

Presumably in deference to English sensibilities of the time, they remained clothed.
posted by Pinback at 7:11 PM on March 9, 2010


They were all wiry old dudes

Old-man strength. Respect it.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:17 PM on March 9, 2010


Probably according to traditional chinese medicine.
European medicine had this belief also. I remember reading a biography of Isaac Newton once which attributed his death to having gone into a cool house too abruptly on a hot day.
posted by hattifattener at 11:23 PM on March 9, 2010


twoleftfeet: "I bet naked river trackers never write NSFW in their Metafilter posts."

That's because they have no wardrobe to malfunction.
posted by bwg at 12:13 AM on March 10, 2010


Here in appalachia, companies were pretty well known for hiring groups of people who historically did not get along well to prevent things like unions from springing up. Sometimes though, they'd recruit effectively entire towns to come over together, promising them wealth and riches and freedom.

I don't have a link (wish I did, it would be a pretty cool FPP), but here in WV there was a town comprised of almost entirely people of Welsh descent. They were famous for mining completely nude, and for apparently singing quite a bit too. There are some interesting stories of dignitaries visiting and wondering at the naked [African] (their words not mine) savages coming out of the mines naked, and then being thoroughly amazed that they weren't African at all, just Welsh men covered in coal dust.

[And yes, I'm quite aware that white men covered in coal dust don't look like any African men I've ever seen, I'm merely discussing the story we discussed in my graduate WV History class regarding coal mining communities.]
posted by TomMelee at 6:36 AM on March 10, 2010


"Seems a bit exploitative to return to that tradition merely to get tourist dollars, though."

No worse than any other acting or hard labour.
posted by Mitheral at 9:40 AM on March 10, 2010


Malor: "Seems a bit exploitative to return to that tradition merely to get tourist dollars, though."

Perhaps, but as I included in the post, the trackers themselves don't seem to care if it puts money in their pockets.

When they put their clothes back on, of course.
posted by bwg at 5:06 PM on March 10, 2010


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