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Prepared for take off

Huangpu is a district of pigeon fanciers and the skies over Shanghai have seen birds racing back to their coops for the best part of a century. Words and pictures by Jonathan Browning

 

Shanghai is, as far as anyone can ascertain, the birthplace of modern pigeon racing in China. Foreign traders and travellers brought in pigeon breeds in the mid-19th century, but it was not until 1929 that Westerners living in the city created the Shanghai Pigeon Club. Locals began to take an interest in the sport and, in 1935, the pigeon club had its first Shanghainese deputy chairman.

Pigeon racing flourished in Shanghai, managing to weather the ravages of a difficult century, and by the 1960s, the city had four associations. In 1964, they were unified as the Shanghai Racing Pigeon Association, with a membership of 1,500.

Today that number stands at a healthy 9,000 members, who, at last count, owned 370,000 registered and tagged pigeons.

The low-lying roofs and makeshift lean-tos of the old town in Huangpu district make it an attractive place for owners to roost their flocks, tending to them at dawn and dusk, and keeping them out of the jaws of the yellow weasel. It is to these coops that the pigeons race back, owners calling in their identification tag numbers as soon as they arrive.

In addition to district-level races, the association holds 10 municipal races each year. These images were taken during preparations for the association's final competition of 2012, a middle-distance race from Linyi, in Shandong province, back to Shanghai, a distance of more than 500 kilometres. A total of 5,991 pigeons took part and the winner was Wang Qiang, his pigeon having completed the race at an average speed of 1,247 metres per minute, or almost 75km/h.

 

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