The Chinese town Xiapu that offers fake, staged ‘Rural China’ for photos

The Chinese town Xiapu that offers fake, staged ‘Rural China’ for photos

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Xiapu, a small county in Fujian province of China, has become the world’s latest fascination as several lifestyle images captured by photographers in this little Chinese province has turned out to be a sensation. Several photo enthusiasts and professional photographers from across the globe storm into this small town in Southeast China to capture the lively images of themselves in the scenic beauty of ‘rural China’.

For years, many enthusiasts who watched these lovely images thought that these were real, hoping that people in rural China really lived the way it was depicted in that grandeur. The town of Xianpu feels like it has been lost in time, stuck in China’s past, filled with striking landscapes and a population that appears as though they travelled directly from that era.

An young lady of Xiapu captured by photographers. Image Source: Unusual expedition

Thousands of enthusiasts, nature lovers, thronged to Xiapu to be part of its magnificent landscapes. However, something shocking was waiting for them. As they hit the ground in Xiapu, these travellers, who had admired the Chinese way for a long time, realised that this is just another quintessential Chinese marketing. In simple words, it was all FAKE.

They realised that the entire town was just a setup and the images captured were not real or live events, but these are faked lifestyle photos taken from staged events. The entire town of Xiapu is nothing but a setup developed by the Chinese to make the country the world’s best photography hot spot.

According to Insider, the most popular and breathtaking landscapes and street photos that are doing rounds on social media platforms may have been captured at Xiapu. These fascinating images are entirely manufactured in a town that specialises in creating perfect photo moments for visitors.

The “rural” city of Xiapu is entirely fake, created by several teams of photo crews and actors who disguise themselves as farmers and local villagers to provide tourists with perfect, repeatable photo opportunities.

Here is an image captured from Xiapu that has been shared widely across social media platforms:

Woman driving geese through smoke that serves to give the appearance of mist in photos. Photo by Insider/Weibo.

And now take a look at the behind-the-scenes images revealing the reality of the above shot that was published on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

Image Source: NYT

According to the reports, Xiapu earlier used to be known for its seafood and dining, however, after several years of bad harvests, the local economy deteriorated, and the local government had the idea of “cashing in on rural tourism”. Since then, the town has become a tourist hub, always flocked with people who want to capture the perfect photograph. However, these perfect images come with a huge cost.

New York Times report suggested these “perfect photoshoots” sensation has been driving Xiapu County’s economy ever since the fishing economy collapsed. Hoards of photographers line up in a row and await their chance to capture a staged photo of a model or a local villager dressed in traditional attire who performs several tasks as intended by them.

Below is a “behind-the-scenes” image of several cameramen waiting to click a perfect image as the model rows a boat in the river.

A model was paid $30 to row a boat as amateur photographers wait near a bridge in Xiapu County/ Image Source: NYT

These groups of photographers/clients plan in detail and position themselves around exotic locations in different parts of the county and wait for their turn to get their dream photos.

The fortunes of the local villagers have changed drastically ever since the trend began. The villagers receive at least 500 visitors per day to a particular site, each paying $3 to capture images of models. The organisers of such photoshoots are called “coordinators”, who are eager to help and often direct the models via walkie-talkies to ensure the action happens on queue and the photographers are ready.

A local owner guiding the client  by walkie-talkie to help them to get a perfect shot/ Image Source: NYT

Sometimes, photographers set up artificial sets that include creating fake mists for the action images. Then, the photographers burn small patches of straw and fanning the flame to provide the ideal level of haze in those scenes.

Even though the images captured are visually stunning, many critics have pointed out that the images are fake and do not have a real feel in them. Some have said they were tricked into visiting the city, who had believed the city was a real untouched rural environment.

“Teenagers are getting cheated into making their way down to this hot spot thinking it’s all real. What’s worse is when they find out the farmers are fake and just ‘modelling,’ they still don’t expose it because they’d rather post pretty photos,” one visitor said.

While some lament about this fake rural community, however, many tourists and professional photographers feel that towns like Xiapu offer amazing photo opportunities to capture many images that would otherwise be categorised as impossible.

According to the NYT, the popularity of such staged locations for photographs have increased due to several factors. The country has a growing number of retirees, who are living longer and with more money to spent. The Chinese government is encouraging rural tourism in the name of poverty alleviation. Moreover, there is nostalgia for imagery of rural China of the past, as real rural China is fast disappearing due to rapid modernisation of the country.

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