They’re pictures of what seems to be a bygone era in rural China: farmers strolling the idyllic landscape, water buffalo in tow, as beams of sunlight cut through the mist surrounding majestic trees.

The pictures circulating on Weibo of Xiapu County, a rural spot in the Chinese province of Fujian, have sent more and more tourists flocking to the site, making it one of the country’s most viral destinations.

The thing is, it’s fake.

While Xiapu County is a real place, these bucolic scenes are not, with actors in costumes — some of them locals — pretending to be farmers and fishermen to stage photos for tourists who are willing to pay.

Some tourists don’t realise it’s fake but many do, and are still happy to travel to Xiapu to capture social media-worthy photos that capture something that no longer exists.

Xiapu County, a peninsula of fishing villages, was once known for seafood but years of bad harvest caused its economy to suffer, The New York Times reports. But it’s benefited from a tourism boom driven by the Chinese government’s push for rural travel, and a sense of nostalgia “for a disappearing way of life, in a country modernising at mind-boggling speed”.

Xiapu now attracts 10 times the tourists it did in 2009 and is keen to keep cashing in while there’s interest.

The Times spoke to Liu Weishun, who manages a local attraction where photos are staged with unused nets to recreate rural fishing scenes on the water.

He said he gets as many as 500 visitors a day who arrive by tour bus and pay $3 each to line up and take photos.

Sometimes they’ll pay more for extra props. Many of the animals are trained.

“The photographers have expectations for their work,” Mr Liu said.

“They need someone in specific positions, in a way that meets their composition needs.”

But not all tourists know it’s all fake.

“When they hear that these are staged, their hearts will drop a little,” he said.

“So sometimes I’ll just say, ‘Oh, it’s not the right season,’, just to make them feel better.”

But the fake scenes have sparked anger on Weibo, China’s social media platform, with some people saying were “cheated” in a “scam”.

“First of all, the so-called rural people in the social-media photos are all actors, and the county itself is pretty much like a staging area for a photo shoot,” one reviewer wrote on Weibo, according to Insider.

“In reality, without the filters, the place is extremely ordinary. The beach is dirty, and the seafood restaurants are famous for ripping people off.”

“This is a scam,” another said.

“Teenagers are getting cheated into making their way down to this hot spot thinking it’s all real.

“What’s worse is when they find out the farmers are fake and just ‘modelling,’ they still don’t expose it because they’d rather post pretty photos.”