Traditional Folk Sport In China: The Skill Of Bamboo Pole Drifting

by Stacey Irwin on August 11, 2010 · 1 comment

in Bamboo Trends

While we knew bamboo could provide bamboo clothes and bamboo sheet sets (among many many other things), who knew it could help people walk on water?  We’re not talking walking above the water on a bamboo bridge, but rather right down on it with nothing but balance and a bamboo pole required.

Single bamboo-pole drifting is a designated national sport in China.  It requires an athlete to stand on a floating Moso bamboo pole and propel it forward with a thin stick of bamboo.  Skilled drifters are able to go backwards, forwards and around the pole with ease. 

The sport itself originated out of necessity in the Wujiang drainage area 100 years ago and became popular among the ethnic minorities in northern Guizhou Province.  Because of the constant state of flooding in the deep valleys of Guizhou and in the Wujiang drainage area, travel was extremely difficult.  Locals overcame this problem by chopping down the Moso bamboo and drifting along on them down the river.  Once they reached the bazaar on the lower reaches of the Wujiang River, they would sell their bamboo conveyance and this practice carries on to this day.  (In fact, the moso bamboo remains the favored bamboo variety for the sport as they can support as much as 75kg.)

However, the sport is becoming more recreational than functional with performers showing their delicate footwork at resorts around the country.  Single bamboo pole drifting looks to be a combination of tight-rope walking, gymnastics and water ballet.   In some performances, participants are walking as a team across a series of floating bamboo poles and in other pictures, they are doing the splits, one-leg poses and even using a hula hoop!

And yes, this is considered a sport in China.  If Westerners can have rhythmic gymnastics in our Olympics, then the people of China can have single bamboo pole drifting.  Recently, bamboo pole drifting was even added to the line-up of the National Traditional Ethnic Minority Sports Meet.  This sports meet, occurring every 4 years, started in 1953 as a way to recognize the importance of honor the many ethnic minorities in China and their skills at the not-so-Olympic-ready sports.  The traditional sports in China originated from the daily life of the people and have characteristics distinct to their regions and resources available.  They require skilled athletes and oftentimes incorporate traditional folk music, dancing and costumes. 

Events in the Ethnic Minority Sports Meet include horse racing, archery, sheep chasing on horseback, wrestling, swinging, springboard jumping, dragon-boat racing and mountaineering.  In an effort to re-establish traditional sports in remote areas of China, many training areas have been established as these sports not only provide a look at the rich history of tribes but they also keep them physically active and healthy.

Just as the northwestern United States has turned its natural hardwood trees into a source of recreation with a constant stream of log-rolling contests, so to have the people of China found yet one more way to utilize the populous bamboo plant.

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