The Tanka People

city facts

Along Machong’s western riverbank, a group of people called Tankas, or boat people, had lived on boats and pursued a livelihood of fishing along the Shizi Channel for hundreds of years. Each family occupied a small boat as their home and a working tool. For years, they had developed their own culture, dialect, dressing and more specifically, the “salty water songs,” which are call-and-response love songs for them to pass the time when they were resting or fixing fish nets. In the old times, they were considered the lower class and banned to go on shore. After the establishment of PRC, they ended up abandoning the boat life and started to grow crops like everybody else. Now Tanka culture is extinct, only a handful seniors can still sing the songs. In 2011, a museum opened in Machong dedicated to show some of the lost elements, such as the traditional clothes, customs, weaving goods and tools. Tanka is not unique to Dongguan. They were widely spread along the coastal areas in Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian, Hainan and Zhejiang, as well as Hong Kong and Macau. Tanka origins can be traced back to the native ethnic minorities of southern China who may have taken refuge on the sea.

Category City Facts