Farmer keeps art of bamboo balancing alive
China Daily

Fang Shuyun crosses the Xin'an River on a bamboo pole. (Photo: Xinhua)

On the wide, misty Xin'an River surrounded by lush green mountains, Fang Shuyun balances in the water on a bamboo pole. Wrapped in a rain cape and wearing a straw hat, he resembles a mysterious figure from a martial arts novel.

Fang, 54, is an ordinary farmer in Jiande, Zhejiang province, who does various temporary jobs to make a living.

But in his spare time he likes to practice the art of balancing on bamboo in water, a hobby he has enjoyed for almost 40 years.

"When I was little I always loved reading Chinese wuxia comic books," Fang said, referring to the popular martial arts publications. "When I was a teenager I saw an old lady practicing the art of standing on bamboo in water, and I was fascinated."

After the encounter, Fang spent more than three years trying to grasp the technique of keeping balanced while standing on a bamboo pole in the water. He only managed to master the acrobatic skill after falling countless times and getting cut frequently by the bamboo.

But Fang recently made a splash on the internet with his amazing skills.

The bamboo under his feet is about 8 meters long, with a diameter of 15 centimeters. For Fang, 167 centimeters tall and weighing 55 kilograms, the bamboo generates just enough buoyancy to keep him above water.

"When the wind blows, I usually just stand on the bamboo, and use a small bamboo stick to push the pole to help me flow into the river," he said.

The difficult art is often depicted in wuxia stories. In China, the most famous person with the skill is said to be Bodhidharma, an Indian Buddhist monk believed to have lived during the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-581).

Legend has it that Bodhidharma visited Emperor Wu of Liang, a patron of Buddhism. The emperor paid little head to Bodhidharma's words and disagreed with his interpretation of Buddhism. So Bodhidharma left. But the emperor soon realized he was wrong, and sent people off to find Bodhidharma.

Noticing he was being chased, Bodhidharma picked a reed from the bank and threw it into the river. The reed was transformed into a boat and it carried Bodhidharma away, leaving the emperor behind with a feeling of regret.

In reality, however, Fang said he does not know much about martial arts, and that his ability to float on bamboo in the water mainly depends on the direction and power of the wind, and the current. The most important thing, Fang said, is to keep his feet firmly on the bamboo.

"As long as I keep my feet firm, even if there is a strong tide, I can still keep my cool on the bamboo," he said.

But it is not easy to stay cool. The bamboo's round shape means it rolls easily in the water, even if the water is still. On the Xin'an River, which has strong currents and is more than 10 m deep, the art of balancing on bamboo can easily turn into a mishap.

"You must keep your weight on the front foot and use the other foot to grasp the bamboo firmly," Fang said.

But after years of practice, Fang has mastered the art. These days, he can not only stand on the bamboo, but also do push-ups and even jump on the bamboo.

"This is my hobby, and whenever I float across the river with the bamboo I feel excited," he said. "I will continue to practice and hopefully I can find someone who is genuinely interested to help pass on the art."