Idyllic scenes of rural life from a bygone era have turned China’s Xiapu County into a viral tourism hotspot over the past few years.
Travellers have been busy posting images of local farmers in misty clearings, water buffalo on rope leashes and peaceful fishermen across the Chinese internet and Instagram.
However, this mystical peninsula of fishing villages, beaches and rolling hillsides is not what it seems.
It’s all fake.
Well, at least the activities in the photos are. The people in the scenes are not living a simple life working the land; they are actors.
The spot, which has quickly become one of China’s most popular internet check-in points, is a “visual factory”, according to The New York Times.
Residents take their turn wearing costumes and acting out scenes, collecting fees for photos, conducting tours and even burning hey to create fake mist.
Xiapu County is cashing in on the Chinese government’s push for rural tourism and a growing nostalgia for the past in a quickly modernising country.
While most arrive knowing the scenes are staged, Liu Weishun, the manager of one such attraction, told The New York Times that not all tourists are aware its not real.
“When they hear that these are staged, their hearts will drop a little,” he said.
“So sometimes I’ll just say, ‘Oh, it’s not the right season’ just to make them feel better.”
Thanks to the county’s creativity, it now attracts 10 times the number of tourists it did in 2009, which has gone a long way to make up for recent economic hits due to bad harvests.
Tourists generally pay between $3 and $15 to take photos of the scenes, often paying extra for the actors to pose in a certain way.
“They need someone in specific positions, in a way that meets their composition needs,” Liu said.
However, not everyone loves the idea, according to Insider.
Many people have posted criticism of the manufactured scenes on Chinese social media site Weibo.
“This place cannot be more fake. Fake fishermen casting their nets, and fake farmers with sad buffalo posing for pictures,” one visitor said.
“Not sure what’s real or fake anymore.”
Other users have said they were “scammed” into visiting Xiapu.
“This is a scam,” another Weibo user said.
“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.
“Behind one brilliant picture of a rural landscape, I’m guessing there are 10 tripods. It’s so artificial, but people will be willing to pay for it.”
But The New York Times argues there is also some truth to the images, pointing out that real crabbers are not far from the fake fishermen and some of the actors were once farmers and fishermen or still are.
Featured image: Instagram/@zayyarlin84