Luo Dengping has become famous as the only woman in a group of “spider men” who climb vertical cliffs of up to 100 meters high, without ropes or safety equipment of any kind, for the entertainment of tourists in China’s Guizhou Province.
Men of the Miao people, in Southwest China, have been free-climbing steep cliffs for centuries. They originally developed this skill as part of a burial custom, to lift coffins of relatives up the cliffs and place them in small caves or just hang them on the cliffside, like the Tana Toraja tribe, in Indonesia. This practice fell into obscurity, but the Miao spider men continued climbing the perfectly vertical cliffs of Ziyun, in order to collect rare medicinal plants said to cure asthma and rheumatism. However, as Western medicine started taking precedence over traditional Chinese medicine, spider men found themselves struggling to support their families. Today, only a few members of the Miao people still practice this ancient tradition, and one of them is a woman.