You may not have heard of them, but the Tanka boat people are an interesting ethnic group in Southern China. Though many now live onshore, some from the older generations still live on their boats and pursue their traditional livelihood of fishing. Get to know more about this unique community in the article below.
Who are the Tanka People?
Tanka people are believed to have originated from the Baiyue, a native ethnic minority of southern China. They may have taken refuge on the sea and gradually assimilated into Han culture. However, Tanka have preserved many of their native traditions that are not found in Han Chinese culture. A small number of Tankas also live in parts of Vietnam. There they are called Dan (Đàn) and are classified as a subgroup of the Ngái ethnicity. Though many now live onshore, some from the older generations still live on their boats and pursue their traditional livelihood of fishing.
You may be wondering what sets the Tanka Boat People apart from other Chinese ethnic groups. Well, for starters, they are mainly coastal dwellers. They also have their own language and dialects which differ from the standard Mandarin spoken throughout most of China. And unlike most other Chinese groups, the Tanka Boat People have largely managed to preserve their traditional lifestyle and culture.
Where the Tanka Boat People Live?
The Tanka boat people live in coastal provinces in Southern China. They live in Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian, Hainan, Shanghai, Zhejiang and along the Yangtze river. They also live in Hong Kong and Macau. They have traditionally lived on junks in these areas. Many now live onshore, but some from the older generations still live on their boats and pursue their traditional livelihood of fishing.
Native Traditions of Tanka People
The Tanka people have long held many native traditions that are not found in Han Chinese culture. One of the most well-known is their unusual method of fishing. Tanka fishermen use small, hand-operated wooden boats to catch fish. These boats are so well-crafted that they can navigate the narrowest creeks and channels in the rivers and canals of southern China.
Tanka fishermen are also famous for their “night fishing.” This is a traditional fishing method where they use bright torches to attract fish to their boats. The light from the torches stuns the fish, making them easy to catch. Fishing is a difficult and dangerous occupation, but it has provided for them for centuries.
Tanka people also have their own distinct dialect, which is different from the dialect spoken by other Han Chinese people. The Tankas are a close-knit community, and are known for their strong sense of family values.
Different Names for the Tanka Boat People
You might be wondering why the Tanka people are called different names in different parts of China. The answer lies in their history.
The Tanka people are descendants of the southern Han Chinese who migrated to Guangdong and Guangxi during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). They were originally known as the “Qiao people”, because they lived in stilt houses along rivers.
During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), they were called “Hoklo people” because they came from Fujian and Hainan. And during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), they were called “Tang people” because they lived in Guangdong, Guangxi, and along the Yangtze river.
The name “Tanka people” didn’t come about until much later, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). It was given to them by the government, which lumped all of the southern Han Chinese migrants together and called them “Tanka”.
So there you have it—the Tanka people are called different names because of their history. They have a long history of living on boats and fishing. In the past, they were known as “boat people” or “gypsies of the sea”. Today, most Tanka live on land, but they still have a strong connection to the water.
How to Visit and Engage With Tanka Boats as a Tourist
Although many Tanka boats now reside in marinas, if you want to get a taste of the traditional Tanka lifestyle, there are a few ways to go about it.
One option is to take a leisurely day cruise on a replica of a traditional Junk boat. These tours typically include a stop at a fishing village where you can learn about the history and culture of the Tanka people, as well as try your hand at some traditional fishing techniques.
If you’re looking for something a little more hands-on, there are also opportunities to stay overnight on a Tanka boat. These types of experiences give you a chance to not only learn about the history and culture of the Tanka people, but also help with daily tasks like cooking and cleaning.
Cultural Significance and Impact in Southern China
The Tanka boat people have a rich culture that has been passed down through the generations. Many of the old traditions are still practiced today, such as fishing and living on the junks. The boat people are also known for their unique handicrafts, such as wood carvings and basket weaving.
These boat people have had a significant impact on Southern China. They have helped to shape the region’s culture and economy. The boat people are known for their hard work and entrepreneurial spirit. Many of the businesses in Southern China were started by Tanka boat people.
The Tanka boat people are an important part of Southern China’s history and culture. They have contributed to the region in many ways, and their unique way of life is a treasured part of Chinese heritage.
So, while the Tanka people’s origins are not quite clear, it’s evident that they have preserved many of their unique traditions and aspects of their culture that are not found in mainstream Han Chinese culture. This makes them a truly unique and fascinating people worth getting to know better. They are friendly and hospitable. They are known for their generosity and for their love of parties and celebrations.
Though their numbers have dwindled in recent years, the Tankas are an interesting and unique ethnic group that is worth getting to know. What are your thoughts on the Tanka boat people?