Net Scapes

©Michael Yamashita

Tending to their own businesses, oyster farmers in Maluan Bay cultivate private profits. China's pursuit of "market socialism" has spawned similar opportunities in Xiamen, the special economic zone on the horizon, where workers compete for attractive jobs in Taiwanese-owned factories. Xiamen, China.

©Michael Yamashita

Zheng He may have passed nets like these on his way to the South China Sea.

©Michael Yamashita

Aquaculture in China, here in Maluan Bay, was described by Marco Polo in the 13th century.

©Michael Yamashita

The last rays of the day are reflected in oyster beds off Xiamen.

©Michael Yamashita

Women do the dirty work of harvesting the oysters

I’ve just returned from Xiamen, in Fujian Province, China – a coastal city overlooking the Taiwan Strait, a little more than 200 miles from Taipei. I tried Tweeting about my experience as a guest at the China launch of BMW’s Mini Countryman, but unfortunately Twitter was blocked, so I thought I’d make Xiamen the subject of this blog. I’d been looking forward to returning to this bustling seaside city for awhile — Xiamen has mild, spring-like weather in winter, as well as beaches, palm trees, and the feature I appreciated most  — a major aquaculture industry.  China has the longest history of aquaculture in the world, and much of the country’s farmed fish production happens around Xiamen. As I drove into town from the airport, across gleaming bridges, I craned my neck, looking for the photogenic “fields” of nets and posts that look like a plate of Chex cereal laid out on the water that I remembered from my last trip.

On that trip I arrived in Xiamen after days of driving along the Fujian coast, starving for something that would make a good picture. I finally found a worthy subject there — acres of oyster, crab and fish farms.  I spent two days shooting the light reflecting off the water and the graphic lines made by floats, fishing nets and the lattice-like oyster beds.

However, I knew that when my picture editor saw my massive take on oyster beds, her first question would be  – so what does this have to do with our story? In my style of working, if it makes a good picture, I generally shoot first and ask that question later. I can usually build a case for using it in a story. The piece I was working on happened to be about a 15th-century Chinese admiral, so I was trying to evoke a feeling of the past.  Since aquaculture has been practiced in China for over two thousand years, I figured that was justification enough.

On this latest trip, though, I was surprised not to see those graphic patterns of nets and oyster beds.  I later found out that most of the aquaculture production has been moved, to a location where the fish farms will have less environmental impact. But what I did see was a vivid reminder that time moves at warp speed in China, and how, in the course of a year, the face of an entire city can change.

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2 Responses to Net Scapes

  1. AmirAli says:

    Absolutely amazing photos.

  2. Julie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing these amazing photos. I had no idea what oyster production looked like in China until now. Went to Google Earth and searched for Maluan Bay and lo and behold, saw the vast oyster fields from satellite as well! I wonder what becomes of these oysters once they’re matured. The processing facilities probably have a whole look and scale of their own…

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