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Now they whistle for the sake of art

Bird whistling, a 100-year-old hunting skill in Nanhui's Shuyuan Village by Hangzhou Bay, has been turned into a popular art form with the help of the government.

The skill was invented by local fishermen and was used to catch birds in the bay a century ago. A good whistler can imitate the songs of up to 30 of the various bird species flying over the beach on the East China Sea.

In the late 1980s when bird hunting and catching were strictly forbidden by the local government, the ancient tradition was pushed to the edge of extinction. Today in the village, fewer than 10 people can whistle and most of them are over 60 years old.

"Though it was once used for killing birds, it has its own cultural and historical value, and reflects the life that beach people led in the old days," said Ni Cuiping, the deputy governor of Luchaogang Town. "It would be a pity to see this interesting folk practice die."

In 2005, the town launched measures to preserve the tradition and bird whistling has been revived as an art form among locals.

A research team of historians was established in 2006 to prepare a catalogue on bird whistling, listing the exact number of whistlers, how the bamboo whistles are made, their origin and distribution.

In 2006, some of the old whistlers performed on local television and then at various theaters throughout the town. They also appeared in a short documentary film showing more than 20 different bird whistles and the techniques of the masters.

Today, the whistlers tour and give regular performances in the town's parks, communities and neighborhoods. They gather once a month to practice and compose new bird songs. During holidays and festivals, the whistlers are often invited as special guests.

Eight of the whistlers have each been given a 1,000 yuan (US$147) annual grant. In order to encourage them to pass this folk practice on to young people, a 300,000-yuan fund was established in 2006.

A cultural center is being built to help display this folk custom. The center is scheduled to be completed next year.


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