Teaching the Lingao fishing song Lilimei to the next generation

By Nicki Johnson / HICN / Updated: 16:49,05-September-2021

On the morning of Aug. 19, at the Wulian Fishing Port in Diaolou Town, Linggao County, Fang Ping, the head of the Fish Family Lilimei Arts Group, was at the shore teaching three children to sing the national level intangible cultural heritage song “Lilimei”. Soon, the children would be singing it at the Hainan Children’s Folk Song Competition, and Fang hoped that Lingao fishing song culture could spread far and wide while the song “Lilimei” would be passed down from generation to generation.

Fang Ping is teaching children to sing “Lilimei”. CHEN WANG 

The Lingao song “Lilimei”is already a thousand years old, and it’s been listed in the national-level intangible cultural heritage directory. The melody is incredibly catchy, making people fall in love with it the first time they hear it, and the song carries a deep cultural meaning as well as a strong local flavor. It’s not only a wonderful piece of folk music, but also China’s most fascinating fishing song.  

The song “Lilimei” can be traced back to the time of the Southern Song Dynasty (1131-1162). At that time, the head of Lingao County placed great importance on the fishing industry, which enjoyed many years of excellent catches. The happy songs of fishing women hawking their wares echoed in the streets at all hours. “Lilimei” was originally a melody used to sell fish, and those involved in the fishing trade would sing it while they worked. Over time, the song was continually improvised on, but the main melody remained the same. Slowly, the classic fishing ballad “Lilimei” took shape.

Speaking of her interest in the song “Lilimei”, Fang said that she had always been a lover of culture and the arts. Ever since she was a young girl, she’d been enamored with the moving melodies of the local fishing songs, and the animated expressions of the young fisher women weaving their nets and the strong, energetic motions of the fishermen pulling in their nets had planted the seeds of love for local fishing culture deep in her young heart. “When I was a little girl, my grandmother would tell me stories about the song “Lilimei”, and that made me even more interested in the music.”

After she grew up, Fang left her hometown to find a job. In 2013, when she came back to Baocai Village in Diaolou Town and saw that the young women enjoyed dancing in the square and the children enjoyed humming the fishing song “Lilimei”, she was very happy. She wanted more people to have the opportunity to learn the song, but since village funds were limited, she bought sound equipment with her own money, and soon the group of dancers in the plaza and the Lilimei Fishing Song Team began to grow.

After the Fish Family Lilimei Arts Group was founded, Fang brought fishing culture to the stage, and every year after the end of the annual fishing moratorium period, she would spend a lot of time holding an evening gala for the local fishing community.

Fang Ping is teaching children to sing “Lilimei”. CHEN WANG 

Now, she had begun teaching 13 of the village children to sing “Lilimei”, and every week she gives them one or two lessons. She not only teaches them how to sing the song well, but also tells them the story of “Lilimei”.

In addition, Fang wants to turn Baocai Village into a Lingao intangible cultural heritage travel destination, promoting Lingao’s local fishing culture through the song “Lilimei” and the culture of Matsu, the goddess of the sea. She wants more people to know about Baocai Village, and come hear the villagers singing “Lilimei” everywhere they go. 

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