Huangshan (literally ‘Yellow Mountain’) in Anhui province is one of China’s most iconic national monuments. A range of mountains with 72 granite peaks and covering nearly 300 sq.km, the ‘Mount Huangshan Scenic Area’ is a UNESCO World Heritage Site providing habitats for rare and threatened species. One of China’s top tourist destinations, its iconic beauty ranks with the Yangtze River and the Great Wall as a potent cultural and spiritual symbol. A ‘sister’ national park of Yosemite in the US, Huangshan has inspired centuries of painters, poets and scholars becoming known to the Chinese as ‘the number one mountain under heaven’. It is particularly renowned for the gossamer threads of ethereal mist that drape the mountains and for the regular phenomenon by which those mists dramatically converge into dense ‘seas’ of cloud which surge and billow between the peaks.
The entire Mount Huangshan Scenic Area is owned and managed by the ‘Huangshan Tourism & Development Company Ltd’ and is listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange. China’s decades of rapid economic reforms and the unwillingness of central government to allocate money and resources to such areas has led to this process of privatisation. It’s a model that is being widely replicated for other iconic spiritual and historic sites, from Shaolin temples to sections of the Great Wall.
In this series of photographs, Huangshan’s seas of cloud become an allegory for the process of privatization of an iconic landscape. The mist builds, converging into a sea of cloud that blankets the peaks, and finally disperses. Photographed in a style resonant of traditional Chinese ink drawings, the clouds denote the growing rift between a nation and a landscape once revered as the inspiration for the Chinese collective national identity.