The Hezhe (also known at the Nanai) are small ethnic minority living in Heilongjiang province in northeastern China. They live in the Sanjiang Plain, in the Amur-Heilong and Ussuri-Wusuli river basins along the border with Siberia, and they’re traditional economy is based on hunting and fishing. The Hezhe people create the traditional clothing out of fish skin, mainly salmon, though there are currently only a few people left who know how to create these garments.
There are several reasons that could account for the disappearance of the fish-skin clothing from the every day lives of the Hezhe. During the Japanese occupation of Manchuria—the historic name of this area of China—between 1931 and 1945, the Hezhe were resettled or put in forced labour and their numbers whittled away to about 300 people. With the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 came relief to help the Hezhe rebuild their communities—recent census numbers puts their population at about 4,600 people. Despite the rebound in population, overfishing and water pollution have caused fish stocks to dwindle in the rivers and many Hezhe turned to farming as a way to make a living. Better access to the modern world meant the Hezhe were able to better access textiles like cotton and silk to create their clothing and many young Hezhe moved away for their education and work, leaving fewer people to fish and learn the traditional crafts.