Keeping Tradition Alive: The Last Cormorant Fishermen of Guilin, China

With its myriad shades of purples and blues, the following series of breathtaking photos provide a touching insight of a dying 1,000-year-old tradition

[This article was written for Barcroft Media and published in National Geographic, The Guardian and The Daily Mail]

Sailing peacefully across the River Li in Guilin, the cormorant men fish without the aid of a rod, hook or bait, instead, using a method which was first practiced in 960 AD.

Cormorant fishing is a dying art which involves sending trained cormorant birds to catch fish and bring them back alive.

The fishermen tie a snare at the base of the bird’s throat to stop them from swallowing larger fish which they spit out. Once a vibrant and lucrative art, it has been practiced for more than 1,000 years but is now quickly fading.

The following series of beautiful images were shot by 39-year-old photographer, Andy Beales who was born in the South Coast of England but now lives in Guilin, China and owns his own travel company, which focuses on creating unique adventures.

With not only these captivating images being a result of his incredible work, but Andy has also gotten to know and befriend many of the cormorant fishermen and their families.

The snapper said: “Today the last traditional fishermen only go out fishing when they know there is a very good chance of a catch; some months maybe three to four times, some none at all. Mainly to feed their birds, but larger fish they’ll sell or eat themselves.”

In the collection of touching images, we are also introduced to a fisherman known as Blackbeard, the youngest of the last fishermen in XingPing.

Beales said: “The last and youngest of the last fishermen is Mr Huang Neng Di; but friends and locals call him Blackbeard. In the village all the fishermen have the surname Huang, so nicknames became essential.”

Blackbeard started learning the craft of fishing with his father when he was thirteen but took it on as a profession after finishing school.

Andy said: “Blackbeard lives in a very simple, single-storey terrace house. His brothers built houses next to his, but they are now living in other towns, and the houses stand empty.

Only he and his wife remain in their little village, and their two daughters, who now work in factories, visit from Guangzhou twice a year.”

In other images we see the River Li begin to light up as the sunrises in Guilin, these stunning images were taken in the very early hours of the morning as Andy set off at 3.30am.

He said: “A local Chinese friend of mine called Mr Huang from the fishermen’s village first introduced me.

“The first time I met Mr Huang it was pitch black, he picked me up at 3.30am and we set off by foot to his raft. We motored out onto the Li River in the complete darkness.

“Only 50 minutes later there were already signs of light, the blue hour starting. Out in the distance, a cormorant fisherman was lighting his kerosene lantern.”

“Watching the sun come up that morning, no tourists, no noise, no boats, just me, my friend, and the fisherman on the river, was something I will never forget.”

To view the full set of images, visit:

To see more of Andy Beales’ photography visit his website:


KeiKei is a London-based award-winning journalist and videographer with a degree in Broadcast Media and Journalism from the University of the West of Scotland and an extensive reporting background in news, entertainment, travel, and lifestyle.

KeiKei has travelled the globe interviewing, reporting and reviewing. Her work has been published in worldwide media outlets including, The New York Post, The Guardian, The Mirror, The Daily Mail, National Geographic and Conde Nast publications.


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