The Pea Pod Boatmen of The Shennong Stream

These are the “Pea Pod” boatmen of the Shennong or Shennongxi stream in China. This is a small tributary that runs into the Yangtze River, in Badong County. These boatmen also known as the Tujia boatmen, have been ferrying passengers up and down stream in their wooden sampans for centuries. As you can see in these photos, when the river runs low, the boatmen jump onto shore and tow the boat via handmade rope, until the water is deep enough to navigate once more. Throughout the centuries this was done entirely au naturale or as we say down south nekkid. There were several reasons for this, first, their clothing was too rough and would chafe and abrade the skin, second, their clothes would become heavy in the water and third, they believed wearing wet clothing would give them a cold. We missed the “fully monty” tour by about 5 years, as they had discovered the beauty of cotton clothing. We also surmised that as more Americans began to take the tour, our rather prudish fellow countrymen couldn’t withstand the sight of being ferried by naked locals.

The Shennong Stream is a beautiful place to visit as you are surrounded by tall rocky cliffs covered in green vegetation. It is also a lot calmer and quiet compared to the traffic and current out on the Yangtze. We encountered many fisherman on various sized sampans and some nice traditional architecture nested among the cliffs. You will also see some hanging coffins that have been here for centuries, that are believed to have belonged to the Ba people. At the time we visited this area, the Three Gorges Dam was in the final stages of construction. We were told that this area would be underwater in the near future to aid in letting the larger shipping boats navigate the river. I don’t know if the Pea Pod boatmen are still there, but I hope they have found a way to keep their centuries old traditions and way of life intact.


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