A television documentary crew uncovered a fishy tale about Chinese fishermen netting four times as much money by posing as models for tourists instead of catching fish.
The otherworldly landscape of the 40 square kilometres of the mudflats on the vast Xiapu delta in south-east China has provided a living for its people for thousands of years but now the these days the focus is on the fishermen and not the fish.
A major new three-part television series, Llanw (Tide), made by television company Cwmni Da, shows how 400 of them now make their living as models for the thousands of photographers who flock to the delta each year.
Clad in their straw hats and waders and carrying their bamboo-frame square nets which have been used on the delta for centuries they strike poses to order for hordes of camera-wielding tourists.
Their story is told in the second part of the £600,000 series about the ocean’s tides which has been filmed on four continents, taking in 10 countries and the Arctic.
The project marks the first ever collaboration between Celtic television channels, S4C, TG4 in the Republic of Ireland, BBC Northern Ireland and MG Alba in Scotland as well as LIC, the largest independent television production company in China.
The story will be featured in the second programme in the three-part series which will be shown on S4C at 8pm on Sunday, June 9. The series started last night (Sunday June 2).
The ancient style of fishing on the delta has been dying out which meant photography there lacked the vital element of human life until local photographers like Zheng Ge hit on the idea of hiring fishermen to act as models.
Many of those who now model on the delta have never fished but that’s not true of 70-year-old Jiang Lianshui who now earns four times as much striking poses than he ever did netting fish.
He said: “We earn more money than those who catch things like clams and conches.
“I make 100 yuan an hour – about £11 – it would take a fisherman three or four hours to earn that much.
“I will tell the photographers what time they should come. I choose the time when the sun has come out and the tide hasn’t ebbed away completely for the reflection of the sunlight on the water surface.”
Zheng Ge, who has been photographing life on the mudflats since he was a child, organises photography tours for tourists and communicates with models like Jiang by mobile phone to direct the shoots.
He said: “The fishermen are important. If there are only some bamboo rafts or some water surface there is a lack of one element.
“The appearance of the fishing model will bring out a whole interest point and a certain spirituality. The feeling of the picture will be active. It will not be a boring picture.
“The models have an advantage that when there’s light or some part is beautiful or they can fully match the position we want at some point they can be in place.
“It’s more convenient. Most of the pictures are perfect and can be captured.”
Director Huw Erddyn, who works Cwmni Da, in Caernarfon, North Wales, spent three weeks in China filming the story of the fishermen models as well as other subjects for the series ranging from the Silver Dragon, the world’s biggest tidal bore on the Qiantang River to seaweed farming.
He said: “It was quite an experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it even if it was quite challenging and language was one major issue.
“There were nine of us in the crew and apart from a translator, only one spoke English and I was the only one who didn’t speak Mandarin so even basic things became quite complex.
“The first couple of days were very slow because everything was being done through a translator, all the instructions to the cameramen, who were very good, but as time went on I managed to work out a system of sign language and I bought a small camera so I could take a still picture to show how I wanted the shot framed.
“It was a bit of a learning curve but the crew out there were quite brilliant and it was great to work with them.”
The first programme in the three-part series called Llanw (Tide) was broadcast on S4C last night.
The Welsh, Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic and English versions of the series have been edited at Cwmni Da’s state-of-the-art production centre where the voice overs were also done.
The series is being distributed in Greater China, Hong Kong and Macau and Taiwan by LIC and it’s hoped it can also be sold to other broadcasters world-wide.
Dylan Huws, the managing director of Cwmni Da, said: “Cwmni Da was the driving force of the project in many ways and we sent teams as far afield as China, Canada and Korea along with various locations in Wales and across the UK. In all we filmed on four different continents, including 10 countries and the Arctic.
“The production was epic in scale and content because we witnessed the world’s strongest and highest tides and experienced raging whirlpools and tidal bores in some of the most stunning locations on the planet.
“The highest tides are in the Bay of Fundy in Canada where they reach 70 feet, with a massive tidal range of 56 feet, the height of a five-storey building, between high and low tide.
“The largest tidal bore is in Hangzhou Bay in China and that was amazing. There were 100,000 people on the banks of the river celebrating the annual Harvest Moon festival and witnessing the arrival of the tidal bore called the Silver Dragon which travels at 20 mph and is a bit like a tsunami coming up river.
“We filmed the world’s strongest tide in Norway in a fjord which squeezes the water in the outgoing tide through a 130 metre gap to the open sea and has claimed the lives of 60 people over the years.
“We have focused on human stories, so that you get a slice of people’s lives as well. For example, we looked at the way that people in China produce seaweed and at the work of the mussel fishermen in the Menai Straits.
“One of the most remarkable things we filmed was an amazing horse race which happens in Omey Bay in Ireland.
“They set up a horse racing track when the tide goes out and it only happens on one day a year.
“All the partners are proud of the fact that we have worked together because the television budgets for minority indigenous languages are challenging.
“This collaboration means we have all got more bang for our buck and created a great television series in the process.”