Datang Journal: In China, an Ancient People Watch Their Floating Life Dissolve

The residents of this floating village are members of the Tanka group, an ancient people scattered across southern China who have survived on coastal waterways, and on the margins of society. But Guangdong is a caldron of manufacturing and urban growth. Cities have engulfed once-quiet towns, and the Tanka way of life is disappearing.

A cement plant on the shore opposite the village in Datang discharged fumes into the air. Apartment blocks have risen along the riverfront. The briny, tidal water of the Bei River, the residents’ lifeblood, has been dredged and is polluted, overfished and crowded with ships.

“Many Tanka people who have settled onshore haven’t told their children about their Tanka background,” said Wu Shuitian, a…

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