Directed by: Phil Chapman, Kathryn Jeffs, Gavin Maxwell, George Chan, Charlotte Scott | 300 minutes | documentary | Original voice cast: Bernard Hill
China is one of the most fascinating countries in the world. The country is the largest in population, and the fourth largest country on our globe in area. With a great diversity of landscapes, a great cultural heritage and countless special animals, it is not surprising that the BBC has long wanted to make an in-depth documentary about the beautiful country. Previously, the people of the BBC’s Natural History Unit have already made the six-part ‘Wild Africa’ (2001), ‘Wild Down Under’ (2003), the four-part ‘Europe: A Natural History’ (2005). and the also four-volume ‘Wild Caribbean’ (2007). However, filming in China was made difficult by all kinds of rules and restrictions, but fortunately the Olympic Games in 2008 and the desire of the Chinese government to promote the country among tourists changed that and the large-scale project could start. The cooperation with China Central Television paid off. “Wild China” is hardly inferior to the much more famous “Planet Earth”. The images are perhaps a little less often of the caliber “breathtaking”, but the makers often succeed in making the viewer fall steeply back from the gigantic splendor that they manage to conjure up on the screen.
As in “Planet Earth”, the viewer is often witnessed to firsts: how about the mating ritual of giant pandas, a bat catching a fish in flight and images of Chiru antelopes in Tibet’s Chang Tang Reserve in thirty degrees below zero. are bickering? Six episodes take a closer look at various areas in the immense China. Bernard Hill, known as King Theoden from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, provides the voice-over in a calm, engaging and engaging way. Although he speaks a lot, that is by no means bothersome: his commentary is nowhere superfluous and always interesting. The facts are even flying around your ears and there is a chance that you will want to see “Wild China” several times, to be able to absorb everything properly. The series was filmed entirely in High Definition and sometimes the same camera techniques as in “Planet Earth” were used to get the unique images. Above all, it becomes clear what effort the Chinese take to live together with nature.
The first part, “Heart of the Dragon”, is about the south of China, where we witness, among other things, bamboo boats sailing on the river Li. The fishermen practice a special form of fishing and have been doing so for more than 1300 years (although nowadays only for tourists); with the help of trained cormorants, whose necks they have almost tied up, they land their catch. This episode also offers an enchanting view of the alternating terraces with rice plantations, understandably a recurring motif in paintings. From the hand-dug rice terraces we go to the beautiful Karst mountains, sandstone formations that make a big impression. The world’s largest amphibian, a Chinese giant salamander, also makes an appearance in this episode. The animal is called baby fish because the sounds it makes sound like a crying baby. Just as special are the statues of Chinese alligators hatching from an egg. The animals are in a reserve, where they are protected from extinction.
“Shangri-La” is about southwestern China, Yunnan province, where the Dai enjoy themselves at the water festival and the Jino are busy with their rubber plantations. We see some rare animal species, such as the brown snub-nosed monkey, elephants and the red panda. In this part of the country no fewer than eighteen thousand plants are found, three thousand of which are nowhere else to be found. We learn that bamboo can sometimes grow up to a meter a day and we see the consequences of the advancing urbanization in the country. The third part takes a closer look at Tibet, and that is the title. The Tibetan plateau covers a quarter of China and is home to 2.5 million people. They are mainly Buddhists and their traditions and customs are extensively discussed, especially their respect for nature (“Everything that lives has a soul”). The real Great Wall of China is formed naturally by the Himalayas and we see the influence on the climate. Tibet is therefore subject to extreme cold, in winter there is only one motto: survive. The political issue is not discussed further, but that is not the aim of this documentary.
“Land of the Panda” is the next part and this again deals with the changing relationship between man and nature. The Han Chinese living in central China are the largest ethnic group in the world. Thanks to political developments.
The importance of the harmonious coexistence of man and nature was under threat. Fortunately, space is now being made for nature again, as evidenced by the images of the crested ibis and the Chinese alligators. Traditional Chinese medicine is also briefly discussed and it is funny to see how bird owners cycle to a central point with their caged pet, to give the animals the opportunity to talk to each other. Furthermore, the Qinling Mountains are home to some rare animal species, such as the golden takin (“the only real owner of the golden fleece, from Greek mythology”), the golden snub-nosed monkey and, last but not least, the giant panda. Although these images are not as extensive as you would like, it is a great achievement that the makers have managed to capture this. The shots of the lake in which an algae-covered forest has grown underwater are breathtakingly beautiful. Also fascinating are the images of the owl sanctuary.
“Beyond the Great Wall” is actually the fourth part, but is mentioned fifth on the Dutch edition. It takes a closer look at the area north of the Great Wall of China, built by Chinese rulers to keep their empire safe from invaders. A special image is that of a Chinese cycling on the ice of the Black Dragon River. Due to the penetrating cold, the Hezhe have found an innovative way to fish. The wild boars also have a hard time, in their search for food, finding a walnut, a delicacy for the animals, leads to a fight. Yet these animals live comfortably next to each other, so that they can warn each other when danger threatens. This danger may well come from the Siberian tiger, although only a dozen or so remain in the wild. Most Siberian tigers are found in captivity, where they can reproduce successfully. We also see beautiful images of Xanadu, once the summer capital of China, and see the impressive Jiayuguan Fort, which is said to have been built with such precision some six hundred years ago that, according to legend, of the 100,000 pre-ordered bricks, there were only one would be unused. At the end of the Great Wall of China we find the Taklamakan Desert. The meaning “Go in but never come out” says enough about the dangers of this largest sandy desert in China, where the mercury can reach 80 ° Celsius. Yet this impregnable fortress had enormous appeal, due to one of China’s most sought-after exports: silk. West of the Taklamakan desert, East meets West in Kashgar, making the city a melting pot of non-Chinese. The ways of life of different peoples are also shown in “Beyond the Great Wall”, such as Mongols and some Kazakh nomads. The episode closes with some beautiful images from a famous international ice sculpture festival in Harbin.
The last episode is entitled “Tides of Change” and shows in a clever way how the contrast between modern and conservative China is along the coast and how it is attempted to live in harmony despite this becoming increasingly difficult. We see how people work in a seaweed farm and see fantastic images of various birds, such as cranes and swans. Your jaw drops at the scene in which a little bird narrowly escapes the jaws of a snake, a shot made possible thanks to modern techniques (it was filmed with a high-speed camera and slowed up to eighty times). A kingfisher is less fortunate and we witness how a snake devours the animal in a smooth movement. We also gain insight into growing and processing tea. Images of white dolphins and a whale shark complete this episode, which concludes with macaques dropping from trees for a refreshing swim in… a pool located in an amusement park. For the time being, nature and modernization still go hand in hand in this beautiful country, although the documentary also briefly shows that people sometimes do not know where the border lies.
Wild China is definitely worth a visit for lovers of nature documentaries such as Planet Earth and other BBC productions. The cinematography is mouth-watering and the series is not only educational, but also very entertaining. For people interested in the beautiful Asian country, the documentary series is not only a must-see but also a must-have.