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Surrounded all but fish all the year round, covering with wrinkles all over the faces, and mastering few interpersonal communication skills with people living on land, these are exactly the impressions the Tiandiao residents living in the east Dongting Lake have left on me. Away from the lake center which is no longer "water sufficient", they have been struggling all the way to the other side of the lake in the hope of seeking better waters in the Dongting Lake. They finally settle down in the Houhu Lake of the Junshan Isle, Yueyang city, but only to find that the riverbed has been dried up. It is, perhaps, time to land since there is no more water to retreat.
In the Houhu Lake of the Junshan Isle, the once "Tiandiao residents" are beginning to land, heading for their relocation houses in Lujiao to spend the long winter. According to the statistics from the Yueyang Fishery Supervision and Administration Bureau, there are 158 Tiandiao households (526 people) in the east Dongting Lake.
On Nov. 27 of 2009, the Dongting Lake was dried up, stranding big boats, while the small ones need "overwater tractor"(a kind of small steel-hulled trawler with toothed gear below to stir silt) to draw them. Standing on the Nanyuepo Dock, the once biggest fish market of Yueyang city, we were informed that it would take us "five or six hours" to board the nearest big boat of those Diandiao residents in the lake in which even a complete one-meter deep water channel could not be found yet in the east Dongting Lake.
The 22-year-old fisherman Wang Yuanjian is rowing the boat in the dry lake.
1.Households above Water
We drove to Wulongwei near the Junshan Isle to look for the Lianjia Boat on Nov. 27. In the shallow water, three or four meters off shore, we only saw ten or so Lianjia Boats aground there, with nobody seen. Two days later, we revisited that place and met with a 22-year-old man Wang Yuanjian who came from Anhui province of China.

Wang's Lianjia Boat moved to Wulongwei when the water receded. Wang was very pleased to lead us to his boat. As the water was shallow, the short distance consumed us more than a dozen minutes to get there. On that heavy Lianjia Boat of 60 tons,it was filled with fishing tools in the cabin, ducks raised in the prow, and spring onion kept in the pots at the stern. The main chamber of the boat is divided into three rooms, two of which are used for leisure and cooking respectively, while another is a jubilant bridal room.
Wang Yuanjian and his families
At the prow of the Lianjia Boat, a pot of spring onion is eligible enough to be called "bonsai plant", which might be reaped as seasonings anytime.
The sitting room
The Wangs hospitably invited us to have lunch on the boat. The wild catfish cooked in mere oil and salt was said to be their routine foods, while the drinking water was purified from the lake water with white alum, thus tasting slightly salty. The wind-driven generator at the prow of the boat provided electricity to the whole family's illumination, TV-watching and mobile phone charging.

The Tiandiao Families, starting from the Huayang Lake in Anhui province, migrated to the Liangzi Lake in Hubei province, then the Dongting Lake in Hunan province, and/or further to the Boston Lake in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Wang Guohui, the 55-year-old father, born in Susong, Anhui, had moved from the Huayang Lake to the Liangzi Lake, and has not left the Dongting Lake since he arrived there in 1993, while his four brothers "migrated to Xinjiang's Boston Lake in 2005". The gross income of Family Wang is about forty or fifty thousand yuan a year, which is "barely enough for making a living" in their words. Wang Yuanjian and his younger brother have never had any schooling but they are born industrious, honest, shy and sincere.
2."We sit idle for eight months and everything is used up."
We met with the Tiandiao resident Wu Tinglan and her family in the Nanyuepo Dock on Nov. 27, when the expecting mother Wu went to the bank to deliver her baby. The boat was covered with plastic awning cloth. As the wind was too strong, the whole family was wrapped in the quilts. In Wu's mother-in-law Yang Cuizhen's memory, though "only several houses and a bare dock were there" in the Nanyuepo Dock that very year, they could fish for 7 months in a year. Now 40 plus years have gone by, and they are allowed to fish for only 4 months. As for the remaining eight months, they sit idle and everything will be used up. At the end of the year, they will turn to the fishmongers to borrow money. In the interview, almost all fishermen were plain with us that they had been fined in the closed fishing season (i.e., from April 1 to July 1).
When they do not go out fishing, the families may gather together from time to time to play mahjong.
3.Settle down on Land
The life of the Tiandiao residents is changing with the variation of the lake, and quite some people move to the land for settlement. In the Poverty-Relieving Work Report for the Fishermen in the Yueyang County's East Dongting Lake Area to Settle down on Land, it reads that the 158 households of Tiandiao residents (526 people in all) in the east Dongting Lake have all conducted the residential registration, and 366 houseless households have settled down on the land, among which 115 households are of other provincial origins. They resided at Lujiao Town, Zhongzhou, Chunfeng, Chengguang, the Yueyang Tower District and the Junshan District of Yueyang city respectively.
At the dusk of Nov. 25, Fishermen New Village, Lujiao, Yueyang County Here locates 36 new sets of relocation buildings.
In the Houhu Lake of Junshan Isle, the once "Tiandiao" fishermen were riding by abovewater tractor to the shore.
Wang Jinyan and her grandmother Chen Yuying are together in their house in the Fishermen New Village.
In this winter, an increasing number of fishermen settled down on land. We met with four teams of settling families in Wulongwei on Nov. 29 who were moving in their tractor-driven wooden boats full of fishermen and articles for daily use such as quilts. What a never seen scene! There were no fishes in the lake now, so they could set their mind at rest to spend the winter on land.

But anyhow dwelling house does not equal home. The Tiandiao fishermen have their own worries. They know nothing more than fishing, so what else could they do on the land? Now most of them are still living a fisherman's life, and their pursued dream is"a home set up on land and a lake filled with fishes".
Tiandiao Residents
Lianjia Boat
The Tiandiao Residents (Tian: opportunity; Diao: hang) refers to those fishermen long living on the lakes. They have no house on land, nor registered permanent residence or valid identification, not to mention pieces of land. They live in the boat and make a living by fish-hunting.
Lianjia Boat (Lian: connecting; Jia: home), also called Zuojia Boat (Zuo: sit; Jia: home), literally means that the boat is not only a working place but also the home of the boat-owner. It refers to the boat which fishermen always resides in, usually weighing 30 to 60 tons.