The World of Chinese
BY THE SEA
Summer is here, and with travel abroad still curtailed due to the pandemic, domestic tourists are flocking to China’s 18,000 kilometers of coastline. But the seaside isn’t just a place to catch some waves and snooze on the sand—it’s also home to about 20 percent of China’s population, many of whom depend on the sea for their livelihoods. Photographer Xin Ting, from the seaside city of Shantou, explores his fascination with the sea and all the ways that people live, work, socialize, and dream by the coastline.
When Shantou-based photographer Xin Ting recently finished watching the 1983 Taiwan coming-of-age film The Boys from Fengkuei, his first thought was to go spend a few days by the ocean. “There is too much sea here. The sea is everywhere. Sometimes it threatened to swallow up the sky,” screenwriter Chu Tien-wen had described the horizon of the small fishing village where the film is set, where the sea provides a constant backdrop to the bickering, brawling, and small-town boredom of its three young male protagonists.
While the seaside has become a favorite holiday destination for urbanites in summer, it is also where around 20 percent of China’s population lives and works—along an 18,000-kilometer shore from Liaoning in the Northeast to the South China Sea, an estimated 260 million people call coastal cities and prefectures home. From fishermen steering their boats through channels of container ships, to residents out for a seaside stroll (or just staring aimlessly out into the deep blue) in the evening, activity by the coast is always varied. Compared to the vacation photos of tourists, those more mundane seaside scenes may not always be remarkable or pretty, yet the vast expanses of water and sky nevertheless lend even the most humdrum happenings a poetic air.
Xin Ting certainly thought so: Between 2014 and 2021, he took various pictures around the scenic coastline of southeastern China—guangdong and Hainan provinces—focusing particularly on Shantou and Chaozhou (Teochew), cities with long histories of seafaring and sending migrants to Southeast Asia and beyond. From working to playing, toiling to enjoying, here are all the ways China is sustained by the sea.