Filmmaker Zhou Fang is well-known in China for her underwater exploits. Since 2016, the series Dive the World has taken Chinese audiences to the depths of the world’s oceans.
Now, she’s trained her camera closer to home. Her six-part mini-series Underwater China, which is streaming exclusively on iQiyi, is the first Chinese-made documentary about marine life in the deepest depths of Chinese waters.
An encounter in the North Pole in 2016 prompted her to make the series.
“I was ice-diving there,” Zhou says, “and a Russian diving instructor asked me whether I knew about Fuxian Lake [in Yunnan Province]. I knew the lake, but I had never dived there.”
The instructor then told her about his experience diving 100 meters into the lake and discovering the marine life there.
“I felt people abroad knew more about China’s underwater world than we did.”
“As I ventured more overseas, I felt people abroad knew more about China’s underwater world than we did,” Zhou says, “so I wanted to come back home and learn more about the waters of my country.”
While underwater documentaries often have conservation messages, Zhou says her main focus is to help audiences gain a better understanding of China’s marine life first.
Some of the featured creatures include the white-skinned blind fish and shrimp that live in the pitch-dark caves of Guangxi; ancient dwellings submerged beneath the waters of Thousand Island Lake in Zhejiang Province; colorful corals in Hong Kong waters; and a wooden vessel that sank off Orchid Island in Taiwan on its way to Singapore and became a marine paradise teeming with fish and greenery.
Zhou, who’s from landlocked Hunan Province, says the production team for Underwater China was recruited globally through PADI, the world’s largest recreational diver training organization.
“We need lots of people with expertise in marine flora and fauna, geology, and freshwater and seawater diving,” she says. “There are people from various places, including the United States, France, and Hong Kong on our team.”
That’s because underwater filmmaking is still relatively new in China. Zhou says there are only two million divers in all of China, compared to 30 million in the United States, but she hopes her series can open up more viewers to the world underneath.
So far, the response has been overwhelming, so much so that Zhou says she plans to make a second season of Underwater China.
“The majority of rivers in China run toward the Pacific Ocean,” she says. “The only lake in China that runs to the Arctic Ocean is Kanas Lake [in northwestern Xinjiang]. I want to capture the lake.”
Another place she hopes to cover in the future is Tibet.
“We originally had set a theme on Tibetan glaciers for the first season,” she admits. “But we couldn’t find people with the ability to dive in high-altitude areas.”
Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.