The Sichuan Boatmen
The Sichuan Boatmen's Chant is a type of work song in folk music style sung to synchronize the working movements of boatmen and boat trackers in the Sichuan reach of the Yangtze River, with one person leading and all others joining in the chorus.
Chongqing Municipality and eastern Sichuan are the main birthplaces of the Sichuan Boatmen's Chant, which is kept well alive in these areas. It is mainly popular in Jinshajiang River, the Yangtze River and its tributaries like the Minjiang River, Tuojiang River, Jialingjiang River, Wujiang River and the Daning River etc.
Waterways in these areas are twisty; the mountains are dangerously steep; the current is swift and rapids are everywhere. The whole course is characterized by great drop height. It is especially difficult for boat trackers to make their way out of Sichuan through the precarious Three Gorges. The special geological conditions contributed to the emergence of the Sichuan Boatmen’s Chant.
The Sichuan Boatmen’s Chant is made up of upstream and downstream chants. Upstream chants include those for punting, oar pulling, mast hoisting, sail-spreading and boat tracking etc; downstream chants include those for shouldering, sailing, traveling on calm water, sculling, breaking and overcoming rapids. The chants in dozens of categories and thousands of pieces formed a unique music culture in the Sichuan Reach of the Yangtze River.
The most representative pieces include Casual Chat, Balang Returning to Barracks, Sister Gui’s Letter, Kuixing Tower, Boat Tracking Chant, Cable Seizing Chant, Sculling Chant, Resisting Chant, Big Turtledoves and Small Turtledoves etc.
The Sichuan Boatmen’s Chant is a cultural treasure in the transportation history of the Yangtze River and draws a vivid picture of the dauntless boatmen and their fight against turbulent torrents and dangerous shoals. It is not only fully developed in terms of music style and content, but also highly valuable in terms of culture and history.