Travel

How Chinese villagers fake scenes for tourists desperate for photographs of a rural paradise

China is known for its unashamed production of fake goods – for instance, pictures have emerged of ‘Rolexe’ watches and ‘WiWi consoles’ – but it turns out that the fakery even extends to the country’s rural image.

It has recently been revealed that locals in one particular pastoral county – Xiapu in Fujian province – are embellishing facets of their genuinely rural life so that tourists come away with picture-perfect photo albums from their trip.

Locals in the region stage quaint scenes for hoards of holidaymakers, even using special effects and props to paint a romanticised image of life there.

Melinda Chan visited Xiapu, which has an East China Sea coastline, and photographed swarms of tourists snapping fishermen (above). Speaking to MailOnline Travel, she said: ‘Some of the fishermen were directed and posed. Though some were really doing their own work’

In some cases, according to The New York Times tourists hand over cash in exchange for villagers-turned-models posing to order, with instructions issued via walkie-talkie. At some scenic spots, there are billboards in place to show tourists how to compose the perfect snapshot.

Melinda Chan visited Xiapu, which has an East China Sea coastline, and photographed swarms of tourists snapping fishermen.

Speaking to MailOnline Travel, she said: ‘Some of the fishermen were directed and posed. Though some were really doing their own work.’

Xiapu County is home to the largest mudflat in the country, encompassing over 260 square miles

Xiapu County is home to the largest mudflat in the country, encompassing over 260 square miles

Photographer Nicolas Monnot, who photographed the Xiapu region in November of last year, said a guide led him to a staged photoshoot on a beach. 

He wrote on Flickr: ‘This area is famous in China for its fishing activities, with a lot of nets in the sea that made the place very iconic.

‘My guide took me to attend a sunrise and I found myself in the middle of a huge group of Chinese photographers taking millions of photos of six local fishermen staging their activities.’

Describing another striking staged photograph he took during his time in Xiapu, Monnot added that the villagers’ real lives are ‘actually very far from being as glamorous as suggested in this photo’.

Tourists in Xiapu County sometimes hand over cash in exchange for villagers-turned-models posing to order, with instructions issued via walkie-talkie

Tourists in Xiapu County sometimes hand over cash in exchange for villagers-turned-models posing to order, with instructions issued via walkie-talkie

China is known for its production of fake goods, such as a games console - named the WiWi - posing as a fake Wii

Pictures have emerged of 'Rolexe watches' - a counterfeit alternative to the uber-luxe Rolex

China is known for its production of fake goods, such as a games console – named the WiWi – posing as a fake Wii. China also makes Rolexe watches

Photographer Alex Berger has also shared a picture of a staged scene in Xiapu, a beautifully lit photograph of a woman sifting through fishing nets.

He revealed that the set-up was ‘carefully constructed’.

His Flickr caption for the picture reads: ‘While photos like this are often passed off as organic and natural, the reality is that these, including this particular series, are a staged/commissioned portrait session.

 I do find it distasteful when many photographers try and pass these artificial moments off as authentic

‘It takes place in a real fishing village but is a carefully constructed scene in an old warehouse with wonderful natural light. It’s also why the net is so clean and perfectly laid out like a sea of water.’

A popular rural inland scene is that of farmers in traditional hats moving buffalo through a misty woodland. But the buffalo haven’t been used for farming for years and the ‘mist’ is created for snap-happy tourists by the fanning of burning straw.

According to The New York Times, the driving force behind the phoney scenes is a combination of the government encouraging rural tourism and nostalgia for a vanishing way of life.

Berger’s issue with the phoney pictures is that they’re ending up in the real world under misleading pretences.

He added: ‘I personally don’t think it [the construction] detracts from the photo. But I do find it distasteful when many photographers try and pass these artificial moments off as authentic.’

While this fascinating phenomenon is one reason to visit Xiapu County – it has another intriguing claim to fame. It’s home to the largest mudflat in the country, encompassing over 260 square miles.

To visit Xiapu, travel to the nearby cities of Fuzhou, Xiamen or Wenzhou first, and then transfer by train to Xiapu Railway Station. 


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