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Wild China [DVD]
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With splendour, scale and romance, Wild China lifts the veil on the world's most enigmatic and magnificent country, delving into its vibrant habitats to reveal a land of unbelievable natural complexity. Journey across China from the glittering peaks of the Himalayas to the barren steppe, the sub-Arctic to the tropical islands, through deserts both searingly hot and mind-numbingly cold and see, in pioneering images, a dazzling array of mysterious, beautiful, wild and rare creatures.Contains the following episodes: Heart of the Dragon The improbable egg-carton hills of Southern China seem to float in a sea of glistening rice paddies. This is a landscape full of surprises. Next to peasants ploughing with buffaloes are rivers concealing dwarf alligators and giant salamanders, trained cormorants that catch fish for their masters, bats with unusual tastes and monkeys that hide in caves. But this isn't a nature park. Almost 300 million people live here, with a tradition of eating wildlife. So what forces have shaped this remarkable landscape and how do farmers and wild creatures manage to coexist among the rocks and the rice fields? Programme 2: Shangri-La Hidden beneath billowing clouds, in China's remote south west, are perhaps the richest natural treasures in all China. Immense rivers carve their way south below towering peaks. The wind-swept slopes are home to the highest-living primates in the world and hidden in the valleys below are jungles with a diversity of wildlife comparable to those around the Amazon. Jewel-coloured birds and ancient tribes share forests where wild elephants still roam. The mystery is that Yunnan's remote forests stretch into northern territories where deserts would normally be found. How can these northern forests exist? The rugged landscape holds the key. Programme 3: Tibet The Tibetan plateau covers a quarter of China – an area the size of Western Europe. This vast, windswept wilderness is one of the world's most remote places, defined by the glacier-strewn Himalayas. It's also home to some incredible wildlife such as the rare chiru, brown bears, wild yaks and the highest-living predators on Earth. There are more large creatures here than anywhere else in China. Defined by over a thousand years of Buddhism, Tibet has a unique culture that has nurtured remarkable beliefs. The programme discovers why this landscape and ancient culture is the life support system for much of the planet. Beyond the Great Wall China's emperors built the Great Wall to keep their kingdom safe from the hostile barbarians to the north. This is a land of warrior tribes, bizarre wildlife and extreme weather, but also of vast and breathtaking evergreen forests, grassy plains and sweeping desert dunes, rich with history. The legendary Silk Road drew traders and their camels across the deserts in search of fabulous wealth, and fierce Mongolian horsemen conquered the known world. Today, nomadic tribesmen still race horses and hunt with golden eagles, while tiny hamsters and Asia's last wild horses struggle to survive in the world's most northerly desert. Land of the Panda China's heartland with its Han people is the centre of a 5,000-year-old civilization. This land contains the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, and Beijing's Olympic Stadium and is home to some of China's most charismatic creatures such as the giant panda, golden snub-nosed monkey, and golden takin. China has undergone significant development in the past 50 years, bringing many environmental problems. The programme explores the deep, complex and often extraordinary relationship between the Chinese peoples, their environment and its creatures, and finds out what it means for the future of China. Programme 6: Tides of Change From the eastern end of the Great Wall, China's coast spans 14,500km and more than 5,000 years of history. This is a place of huge contrasts: futuristic modern cities jostling with traditional seaweed-thatched villages, ancient tea terraces and wild wetlands where rare animals still survive. Here Chinese white dolphins, red-crowned cranes, deadly vipers, giant sturgeon and sabre-wielding monkeys struggle to eke out a living faced by competition from 700 million people, widespread pollution and over-fishing. How China is managing such conflicting pressures has lessons for us all.
Beautifully filmed and soothingly narrated by Bernard Hill (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), Wild China takes an expansive look at the fourth largest country in the world. Over a period of more than six hours, the miniseries--which was co-produced by the BBC and China's CTV--lets viewers into a world that is straddling the line between modern-day efficiency and old world traditions. Fans accustomed to travelogues with personable hosts such as quirky Anthony Bourdain or perky Samantha Brown leading them through far away places may get a little bored with the hands-off approach here. But the beauty of this production is in the country and the people, and the way the filmmakers present them in crisply edited vignettes. We see the jumping spiders atop Mount Everest, the winding grace of the Great Wall, and of course some shy pandas that many people equate with China. But some of the best moments are the simple ones--children in a classroom, fishermen working the waters, and monks meditating in monasteries. As did the Planet Earth series, Wild China makes viewers wish they were there. The film doesn't touch heavily on the politics of China, but it isn't lacking because of the omission. As it is, Wild China ends all too soon, leaving viewers longing for more for a country that once didn't welcome foreigners in. --Jae-Ha Kim
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The first episode "Heart of the Dragon" focuses on the expansive rice fields of South China - in particular the stunning terraced paddy fields of Yuanyang County which plunge 2000 metres down steep hillsides, and are among the oldest man-made structures in China. Almost unbelievably, at Zhongdong an entire community - including a school - lives within a large cave! And, the peculiar techniques used by the Li River cormorant fishermen are truly incredible, although sadly they now only practice their skills for tourists.
Next, "Shangri-La" covers south-western Yunnan province. The imposing fruiting trees attract bear macaques and black giant squirrels, whilst only 250 wild Asian elephants survive. The "land-that-time-forgot" people of Yunnan - the Dai, Hani and Jino tribes - each regard the forests as sacred and harvest them sustainably. However, modern reality brings new threats such as large rubber plantations and increased tourism.
"Tibet" covers one quarter of China’s land area, but just 2.5 million people live there - so maybe this is the wildest part of China. The plateau is a high altitude desert battered by freezing winds, but is also home to China’s biggest selection of large animals. Windswept Argali sheep precariously descend hillsides to their winter grazing sites. And in the Changtang, chiru are filmed congregating in the rutting season, and wild yaks are rarely seen as they live in the most remotest areas. Other rare animals include the elusive snow leopard and the Tibetan fox.
"Beyond the Great Wall" focuses on the lands north of China’s Great Wall. In the old province of Manchuria, the last Hezhe fishermen still cast their nets under the solid ice of the frozen Black Dragon River. The Taklamakan Desert is the world’s largest shifting sand desert, and contains ruined towns and sand-sculpted rock formation, a legacy of the fabled Silk Road. And, the sculptures created during the modern-day Harbin Ice Festival are truly incredible.
"Land of the Panda" is probably the best episode of all. Who cannot fall in love with these incredible soft "teddy bear" creatures? Set in central China - home to the Han Chinese - many rare creatures are shown, including the Chinese alligator and crested ibis. These two species were saved from extinction by direct intervention and conservation initiatives. Best of all, giant panda courtship and mating in the wild is shown - maybe for the first time on film.
Finally, "Tides of Change" features China’s 14,500 km coastline, home to over 700 million people. Despite years of rapid urban development, it is still a vital migration route for birds. Endangered red-crowned cranes leave their northern breeding grounds to overwinter at Yancheng salt marsh, the largest coastal wetland in China. But there are many environmental problems, including the Yangtze estuary, where the migrations of creatures such as Yangtze sturgeon and mitten crabs are being affected by upstream dams
The extras is a very interesting addition, going behind the scenes to show how difficult and dangerous some of the filming was. The most alarming was when the crew traversed a gorge with a zip wire - flying people and expensive equipment perilously over. And, the producers said they were surprised how friendly and hospitable local people were, and how safe they felt in China. A nice way to end the series.
My only thought was it would have been nice to see some of the crew in front of the camera during the series, or bring in a presenter to speak "live" in front of the camera. This may have added a personal touch and a sense of being on a journey and an adventure through China.
Overall, this is a quality production from the BBC which will stand the test of time. It really does show a different side to the well-known super-cities that has made China so rich: Wild China - Beautiful China.
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