The Ancient Art of Bamboo Drifting

Written by Emma Marler

The art of bamboo drifting is breathtakingly beautiful and original. It is typical of the Guizhou region in South-Western China and it is extremely unique. Before a video of this magical dance was posted by Great Big Story, an account that has 5 million subscribers on Youtube (hyperlink the video), it was an unknown art.

So what is bamboo drifting? Let’s find out!

It originated during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) as a means of transport. In fact, the city of Zunyi in Guizhou was renowned for its production of a very precious and expensive wood and it was greatly demanded by the emperors in the North of China. The problem was that in Guizhou they didn’t have big enough boats to carry the logs, so they rewarded citizens to stand and sail on one log each in order to transport them to the first destination that had adequate boats to continue the journey.

As time passed, riders became more experienced and competitive, challenging each other in balancing games and acrobatic movements. Even when in later years transporting the logs on the river was no longer a necessity, Guizhou residents never gave up their hobby. During the Qing dynasty, wood was then substituted by bamboo due to its cheaper costs and bamboo drifting competitions became extremely popular. During the Dragon Boat Festival, communities from all over Guizhou reunite to assist to different competitions, including bamboo drifting.

The biggest challenge with bamboo drifting is that the surface of the water is in constant movement so keeping your body balanced requires double the effort. For every movement you make your body shakes so you have to be able to control it, otherwise you’ll fall in the river!

Bamboo drifting started as an individual practice, one person only stood on the log to transport it. Nowadays there is not just single bamboo drifting but couple drifting as well. The Zunyi Bamboo Drifting Association started a new performance called ‘Ballet on Water’. Two dancers share one single piece of bamboo, it’s  double the difficulty!

Bamboo drifting was listed in the National Traditional Games of Ethnic Minorities, an event which takes place every four years and showcases traditional games of every one of the 56 ethnic minorities in China.

Guizhou is the most multicultural region in China, therefore bamboo drifting is not typical of just one ethnic group. The Miao Hmong people are one of the minorities that have taken part in this tradition for a long time and love to wear their silver jewelry when performing!

Since at Interact China we are very passionate about keeping traditions alive, we really hope that the amazing art of bamboo drifting does not disappear. The women that manage the Zunyi Bamboo Drifting Association and train newcomers are now over 70. If young people lose interest, there is a chance that this beautiful and unique performance art will stop being practiced. Let’s spread the word and keep bamboo drifting going!

About Interact China

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.

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Nuo Drama the Living fossil of Chinese Drama (II)

At one time, Nuo drama was very popular in every part of China. With social development, however, it faded out in most parts, remaining popular only in southwest China, in areas such as Guizhou, in eastern Yunnan, southern Sichuan and Chongqing, in southwestern Hubei and western Hunan, and in northern Guangxi.

Nuo Dramas vary considerably, from one area to another.


Guizhou Nuo Drama

Ground Opera

Guizhou is the center of Nuo Drama in southwestern China, while Dejiang in northeast and Anshun in southwest Guizhou province are centers for Nuo Drama.

In Tunbu around Anshun, Nuo Drama is the primary entertainment activity. Nuo Drama here is a branch of the ancient Military Nuo. Musical instruments include one gong and one drum. The drummer is very important during a performance. A patch of land serves as a stage. As a result, Nuo Drama is also called Dixi, meaning ground drama in Chinese.


Yunnan Nuo Drama


Ground Opera

Leopard Nuo Drama in Chuxiong, Yunnan province, differentiates itself by the fact that all dancers are painted with a leopard pattern on their nude bodies.

The ferocious and agile leopard is regarded as the most qualified to drive away devils. Leopards are played by twelve boys about 10 years old with the leopard pattern painted on their backs, hands, feet, and belly in black, white, red, and yellow colors. At the climax of the dance, leopards run after young girls watching the show until the girls take them home where snacks have been prepared. This devil-dispelling activity is performed in the rooms, kitchens and stalls of one family after another; the leopards dispel devils for all the villagers.


Nuo Drama in Other Places


Ground Opera

Nuo Drama is popular among many ethnic groups in Hunan where both facial painting and masks are used.

Ground Opera

Guichi Nuo Drama from Anhui province, is special because it is performed on a clan basis not by a troupe as in other places.

Ground Opera

“Seizing the Yellow Devil” is a Nuo dance drama from Wu’an County in Handan, Hebei Province. The people of Guyi village in Wu’an perform the dance drama during the Lantern Festival (the 15th day of the first lunar month each year).

Ground Opera Ground Opera

In addition, Nanpu Nuo Drama from Zhangzhou, Fujian province, and Nanfeng Nuo Drama from Nanfeng, Jiangxi province, are representative of local dramas.

Though much like the Japanese classical drama Noh, not enough importance is attached to Nuo Drama in China. It is still a folk art with a strong religious color. This, on one hand, preserves the authentic flavor of Nuo Drama, but on the other hand, Nuo Drama faces great difficulties in developing successors and in financing. Making Nuo Drama masks provides more income than does performing. Young people are no longer interested in the art; the youngest actors of Nuo Drama in many places are at least 40 years old.

by Xiao Xiao @

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Nuo Drama the Living fossil of Chinese Drama (I)

Nuo, also called the Nuo sacrifice, or Nuo ceremony, was originally a type of sacrificial and magic ritual, which was held to expel evil spirits and pestilence during the last month of the Chinese lunar year. Later, Nuo evolved into a dance drama.



Ground Opera

Its name is derived from one such ritual, where people shouted “Nuo!, Nuo!”, to drive away the devil. The nuo ritual procedure includes inviting, welcoming, and thanking spirits. Following the solemn ritual, nuo drama is performed to entertain the spirits. Masked performers, with whips, dance to the sound of different, mysterious tunes — some wearing black, white, or red masks, each with expressions varying from the amiable, to the frightening, and ferocious. Ground Opera However, with the passing of time and increasing popularization of science, the primitive, superstitious ritual has now been transformed into a theatrical performance for entertainment purposes.




The Nuo ritual has been practiced in China for thousands of years, starting from primitive society, when early men performed sacrifices and conducted ceremonial services to pay tribute to ancestors, gods, and goddesses, while exorcising demons.

During ancient times, the nuo dance was originally performed to drive away evil spirits at sacrificial rituals. The ceremony was first recorded on bones and tortoise shells during the Shang Dynasty (16th-17th century BC), and flourished in the Zhou Dynasty (11th century-256BC). As the number of its participants increased from 100 to 1,000, the ceremony became more and more magnificent. At the same time as the grand nuo ceremony began to be held by the royal court, the folk nuo ceremony also began to appear in the countryside.

With the development of science and technology, the dance gradually declined, and in the Central Plains in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, it disappeared completely after the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Today, the dance can only be seen during the Spring Festival in remote mountainous areas, such as Guizhou, Hunan, Yunnan, Sichuan and Anhui provinces, inhabited mostly by minority ethnic groups.

The nuo dance gradually developed into a dance drama and became more of a recreation than a ritual during and after the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It is a masked drama enacted by a priest performing an exorcism, also known as “theater with a presentational aspect, a festival, and the idea of gatherings to establish ties and norms”. The rituals have been incorporated into people’s lives and are seen as commentaries on Chinese life.


Living Fossil of Chinese Drama


Nuo drama is the most direct and important expressive form of nuo culture. It covers primitive religion, folklore and art, and integrates literature, music, dance, drama, painting, calligraphy, sculpture, and paper-cut. The nuo drama has great artistic value and is called a living fossil of drama.

Nuo cultural studies have become a hot topic for academics. But experts say there is still much work to be done.

Qu Liuyi, director of the China Nuo Drama Research Association, said that the crux of the issue is how to protect the original state of the opera, including its costumes, masks, and, more importantly, the cultural environment where the opera developed.

Professor Koichiro Inahata from the prestigious Waseda University in Japan, acknowledged that some old nuo ritual masks have been lost or have sunk into oblivion over the long history.

by Xiao Xiao @

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