Nanjing, Mr. Gong Hongjian

Boats on the Yangtze river


In the remote western area of Hexi, a new urban district in the west of Nanjing, runs a narrow branch of the Changjiang (Yangtze) River. Ships and boats, big or small, are moored alongside the river. On one boat, we see Mr. and Mrs. Yu, who welcome us aboard.


Mr. Yu, 65 years old, has been a fisherman for the last forty years. Compared to the earlier days, he is catching fewer and fewer fish these days. According to him, the heavy contamination in the Yangtze River is to blame for the decrease of fish. With the Qinhuai River, which flows through the downtown area of Nanjing, flowing into the Yangtze a few hundred meters north, the Yangtze river has to receive tons of polluted water each day. Besides, he complains, the newly established residential area, which is half a mile away from the river, has aggravated the situation.



Mr. Gong, a friend of Mr. Yu, is the owner of the boat. He was born in 1958 in Xinyi, a county in the northern area of Jiangsu and moved to Nanjing in the 1970s. His parent’s generation made a living by fishing, whereas he left the fishing business and started work at a chemical plant, which gave him a better job security. After his retirement in 2006, he bought this 24 meters long boat for 30, 000 RMB to pick up fishing again.


The fishing boat is not his home, but his working and leisure place. Usually, Mr. Gong and his fellow fishermen fish in the morning and sell their spoils on the market in the afternoon. He likes to invite his friends to the boat to drink, play cards or to “chew the fat” now and then.



Also according to Mr. Gong, fish catches are not predictable anymore these days. However, fish of big sizes is still not rare. In a large container on the boat next to his, we see a big fish, which is almost one meter in length and weighs around 4 kilograms. Mr. Gong tells that one kilogram is worth at least 160 RMB on the market. He also shows some smaller fish which were caught in the morning. They will earn him 30 RMB per kilo. If they are lucky, they can catch wild carps, which can be sold at 200 RMB per kilo or more.


Apart from the fishing, Mr. Fong is an amateur craftsman who makes ship models from wood. For the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, he spent over two months to make two large models. Unfortunately, he did not finish his work before May and missed the deadline to denote the models to the IOC. Today, one ship is on the display in the hall of Nanjing Sports Bureau; the other is preserved in his private collection at home.



Since the ships were specially designed for the Beijing Olympics, they carried numerous meaningful symbols. They are both 2.08 meters in length, indicating the year of the event. They both have five masts, standing for the five continents that take part in the event. He engraved the Chinese Character “京” on the first mast, the Olympics flag on the second one and the map of China of the third; also the main one. On the roof of the three-story cabin in the middle of each ship, he carved four dragons, the well-known totem of China. On the rear deck, he placed a miniature bird’s nest which was also made by him.


Mr. Gong says he did everything he could do to donate his works. He asked the Nanjing Sports Bureau to negotiate with the IOC for many times, but the IOC declined him in the end. Only official donations rather than folk artworks were accepted after the month of May. Realizing that it was unlikely to donate the models to the IOC, he decided to present one of them to the Nanjing Sports Bureau.



Now, he has a bigger plan: to make a 2.14-meter-long model for the 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympics. He admitted that he was less passionate this time, because making a model in such size consumes both time and money. For example, to make the two models for the Beijing Olympics, he worked more than ten hours each day for two whole months. Since he pursued every detail of his works, he selected premium timber as material, which did cost him nearly 8,000 RMB.


Mr. Gong tells that he once cherished a dream of becoming a real craftsman. However, he soon found the dream to be a fantasy. Right after retirement, he decided to rent a room in the downtown area of Nanjing to sell his ship models. With only a handful of models sold, he quit after one year. He knew that the reason of failure were the high prices. For example, a simple model of 70 cm long was sold at 500 to 600 RMB. Considering time and money he had to spend, he believes such a price was reasonable. He shows us a model with a few decorations on it. “Even such a small model takes me a week,” he says, “I could spend the week fishing, which guarantees an income of at least six hundred. That’s why I now rather fish than making these models.”



Instead, Mr. Gong now takes making wooden ship models only as a hobby. He says he dares not to dream of someone buying his models at a considerable price any longer. That was the reason that he chose to donate, rather sell, his works to Nanjing Sports Bureau. He expected only the official recognition of his efforts. He felt sorry not being able to show us the photo of him and Xu Guoping, who was the managing director of Nanjing Museum and the child of the renowned Chinese painter Xu Beihong. “Now the simple wish of me is to win the recognition of people like him”, he says.


In the end, Mr. Gong says: “In the early years, I loved photographing, but I could not afford a car which could take me everywhere. Such was the same in my childhood; I loved school, but my family could not afford to pay for the tuition fee.”