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In China, explore the source of nature (creator talk)

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Wildlife photos taken in Qinghai.

Wildlife photos taken in Qinghai.

Documentary "South of the Clouds" poster.

In October 2021, the first phase of the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity was successfully held in Kunming. The results of the meeting and the subsequent efforts of the international community have made our relationship with nature more harmonious.

In the 1980s, a British director of humanities and nature documentaries went to China's Yunnan and Qinghai to explore the topic of "why every link in the biological chain is vital to ecology". Over the past 40 years, with the help of many microscopic and touching stories, he told the world that "China is absorbing wisdom from traditional culture and establishing a new relationship between human beings and nature. The wonderful imagination of Chinese children also contains such ideas, which inspire We see nature in a new light."

On an autumn day more than 50 years ago, the northernmost Shetland Islands in the United Kingdom blew a strong wind. A small bird with a green back and yellow waist passed through layers of mist and appeared in front of my eyes. I held the handful of feathers it left behind in my hand, as if feeling the warmth of the bird and the beating of its tiny heart. According to the information, it is called the Yellow Waisted Willow Warbler, and it came all the way from Yunnan, China.


Many questions popped up in my mind: How did such a delicate bird survive the Siberian wind? How did it complete the journey of more than 10,000 kilometers? The mysteries of nature are not in the book, but in the hands of a 16-year-old boy, slowly laid out through a lively little life. I can't help thinking, what does its hometown, China on the other side of the world, look like?

Connect with China in the "South of the Cloud"

In the 1980s, China was still somewhat of a mystery to most foreigners. At that time, I often thought, is the China I read about in Western books and newspapers the true appearance of this vast land? When traveling to China to explore fascinating natural issues, I try to understand the country, especially its people. Thus, my first Chinese documentary "South of the Clouds" gradually took shape. In my opinion, to understand a rapidly developing China, perhaps one can start with the antique bluestone roads and tile-roofed buildings, and these stories can only be told by local people, and I cannot replace them.


But how and which region of China should I show? Telling a story requires visual impact, and images play the most important role, and text can be added after shooting. From this, I want to guide the audience on a visual journey, so that they feel as if they are in the wet cobblestone streets and quaint wooden houses, and they can turn around and embrace the new atmosphere of the modern town outside.

By chance, I discovered Lijiang in northwest Yunnan. Someone told me that this is a small town inhabited by the Naxi people. The ancient city is an apt example of traditional China, where architecture and customs were influenced by immigrants from the eastern seaboard during the Ming Dynasty, and the locals quickly absorbed these "immigrants" and their way of life. Next, I need to find those people who have stories to tell this story about Lijiang and China through their daily life, which took me another two years. I will never forget the excitement of waking up in Lijiang Old Town for the first time. Day after day, my heart is getting closer and closer not only to the new neighbors in the ancient city, but also to this vivid and real China.

From planning to editing, this nearly 7-hour documentary took 5 years. In the film, I chose to tell about the daily affairs of ordinary people: a respected old doctor, a beautiful mother and her sick daughter… In order to truthfully show the lives of ordinary people in Lijiang and their joys, sorrows and joys, I tried my best to make myself The lens is delicate and restrained enough. When shooting, the camera is rarely carried on the shoulders. Instead, it is like holding a baby in the arms, allowing the low camera position to catch people's eyes, and also allows my protagonists to express more naturally. I am gratified to know that many British audiences who have bid farewell to traditional residential areas and moved into high-rise buildings or suburbs have recalled the simple, warm and clear relationship between people, and thus fell in love with Lijiang, a distant city. A beautiful ancient city in the East. When it aired in the UK in 1994, the documentary was an unexpected success, even surpassing the television series aired at the same time.


However, the topic of this article is not that unforgettable time in the ancient city. Let us go back to the question I asked when I met that little bird: What does nature mean to human beings?

Starting from the "little spoon" to protect the road

In the documentary "China – Between Clouds and Dreams" aired in 2016, I asked this question to elementary school students across China. I went to many classrooms and saw the students raised their little hands one after another, eagerly telling me about the melodious singing of birds, the gorgeous colors of nature, and all kinds of knowledge they have learned from wild animals. From such a young age, they have a deep understanding of the world around them, and the enthusiasm they expressed is something I will never forget. This shooting experience taught me to be humble and to see the world through the eyes of children, allowing me to see a wider world.


Children also care about environmental protection issues. In a coastal city in Jiangsu, a group of children in their teens actively participated in environmental protection work. Some of them once ran to save a little bird. It is the beautiful Spoon-billed Sandpiper, one of the rarest birds in the world, born in the Arctic, moulting in the Yellow Sea wetlands in Yancheng, and then migrating to the warmer south. Because of the spoon-shaped mouth, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper is affectionately called "Little Spoon" by children. Soon, this coastal wetland will be included in the World Natural Heritage List, and the "Little Spoon" will be protected from generation to generation. Although people always say that we are out of touch with nature now, these children are passionate about exploring and protecting the nature around them. It was the same when I was a child, and their knowledge was richer, and their exploration was encouraged and supported by teachers and teachers.

In October 2021, the first phase of the fifteenth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity was successfully held in Kunming. This meeting is related to the well-being of future generations of mankind. The outcome of the meeting and the efforts of the international community since then have made our relationship with nature more harmonious. There is no better time to host this conference in China. It is crucial that "green development" becomes the key to addressing environmental challenges, and China is one of the countries with the richest biodiversity on earth, and has been carrying out related conservation work. China took the lead in proposing and implementing the ecological protection red line system in the world. The area of the ecological protection red line preliminarily delineated is no less than 25% of the land area of the land area, covering the key areas of the national biodiversity distribution, and protecting the vast majority of rare and endangered species. and its habitat.

At present, China has officially established the first batch of five large-scale national parks, including Sanjiangyuan, Giant Panda, Siberian Tiger and Leopard, Hainan Tropical Rainforest, and Wuyi Mountain, and the second batch of national parks is also under construction. People's understanding of nature is gradually expanding. The existence of giant pandas and snow leopards is regarded as an important indicator of the health of the natural environment and an integral part of the ecosystem. The fresh water we depend on, fresh air, medicines, fertile soil to grow our food, and carbon storage to fight climate change all depend on this ecosystem. People have realized that the protection of biodiversity is closely related to the protection of future generations.


Enrich creation with "flash points"

I feel very lucky to be able to return to China to continue filming the documentary "The Source of Nature" and discover the vivid and special stories of characters in the natural environment. I set my sights on the hinterland of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau – Sanjiangyuan. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is one of the most important and fragile ecological regions in the world. Climate change and human activities once affected the health of the ecosystem here, but miraculously restored the ecological balance with the help of manpower. This is undoubtedly the biggest highlight of documentary story creation.

One day in December 2021, I woke up to the sound of making tea, and the freezing cold left a layer of ice on my sleeping bag. Making tea is Wang Dajun, a field biologist. His team has been tracking wild animals in Qinghai, Sichuan and other places for a long time, and is carrying out a snow leopard monitoring project. This became a good clue for me to "break the question".


What awaited me that morning was another "dream moment" about China that I will forever engrave in my heart. Here she is, a very beautiful female snow leopard, already 4 years old, and the mother of two cubs. At the moment when I write these words, she must be somewhere in the wild, wandering in the magnificent mountains.

By wearing a satellite collar to the snow leopard, Da Jun and his team will follow her on the ground for the next two years. Based on the returned positioning information, we can fully understand her living habits and the role of snow leopards in the ecosystem. Through observation, scientists can better study how humans live in harmony with nature and how to jointly protect biodiversity.

During the filming of "The Source of Nature", I learned that Sanjiangyuan National Park employs 17,000 local herdsmen, covering almost all local herdsmen families. They became the "watchmen" of Sanjiangyuan. Their mobile phones were filled with videos and photos of grassland landscapes and wild animals, and their patrol diaries were detailed and substantial. While protecting the natural environment, they also actively participate in the development of green industries and jointly create their own future. At present, the sequel of "The Source of Nature" is already under planning. I will focus on the Giant Panda National Park and tell about the "umbrella effect" inspired by the protection of giant pandas, thereby protecting the entire habitat, as well as other giant pandas. The story of companion creatures. And I, a director of humanities and nature documentaries, will continue to focus on the topic of "why every link in the biological chain is important to ecology" in my future works, and explore the interactive relationship between man and nature with the help of microscopic and touching stories .


(The author is a British documentary director. He has won the British Academy Film Award and the American Emmy Award. He has directed works such as "Fragile Earth", "South of the Clouds", "Chinese National Park" and "The Source of Nature". This article is written by Chen Huimin and Huang Fan translation)

All images courtesy of Phil Agland

"People's Daily" (version 17, November 22, 2022)


(Editors in charge: Hu Yongqiu, Yuan Bo)

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