The China I met: A land of contradictions

April 14, 2010

Reuters photographer Nir Elias is pictured while walking with some 1000 other survivors during a 9-hour trek from the village of Qingping to Hanwang in the earthquake-hit Mianzhu, Sichuan Province as he covers the earthquake aftermath May 16, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

When I got the senior photographer job in Shanghai in late 2005, Reinhard Krause, who was China’s chief photographer, well advised me to drop any preconceptions I might have about the place.

Below is an audio slideshow based on my portfolio of work from China, where I discovered a land of contradictions.

Below is a selection of some of the portfolio images. Click here for a full slideshow.

Models display jewelery of Cartier High Jewellery during a private gala dinner in Shanghai January 26, 2007. REUTERS/Nir Elias

Li Renying (R), 70, and her husband Zhang Kunlin, 74, stand in front of a backdrop during a photography session in a studio that caters especially to the elderly, in Shanghai October 20, 2007. REUTERS/Nir Elias

A Chinese worker rests as he paints a newly built crane in the Long Wu port in Shanghai December 14, 2005. REUTERS/Nir Elias

Xiaoqing (L) and a consultant take part in an interview with Reuters at the Time Plastic surgery clinic in Shanghai February 4, 2010. The 21-year-old, who would only give her name as Xiaoqing, is seeking extensive plastic surgery to look like U.S. actress Jessica Alba, mainly because she hopes to win back her boyfriend who she said always wished she looked more like the Hollywood star. The hospital has agreed to do it for free to showcase their surgery skills. REUTERS/Nir Elias

Boys hang on a bar for five minutes as part of a training session at the Gymnastics Hall of the Shanghai University of Sports August 7, 2007. REUTERS/Nir Elias

A staff member of a tanning salon in Shanghai looks out of a tanning cabinet August 1, 2006. REUTERS/Nir Elias


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Mr. Elias,
I suggest you ask yourself if you would have shown more respect and empathy, had you known someone like me would have the courage to call you on it.
Seems like you like to portray the people in all these photos as curiosities rather than human. You cared only that you enjoyed the process. Would you mind if I ask you to think if your subjects would have liked the way you had presented them before you take your next pictures?

Posted by Jos5319 | Report as abusive

[…] Espectacular audio slideshow del apasionante reto de ser (foto)periodista en China By joel albarrán bugié Filed under: Uncategorized […]

Posted by links for 2010-04-15 | | Report as abusive

Wonderful work in the 4 years you were here, Nir! Good luck in your new life and we’ll miss you.


Posted by Photoluc | Report as abusive

Great pictures I look on the quite a lot of times and can do many more times.
I believe this is the index for great photo.

Posted by maayan | Report as abusive

Hey Nir, Thanks for sharing! The photos are brilliant and the contrasts jaw dropping. Can only hope you will continue to share more from your China collection in the near future. We’ll miss you here in Shanghai – but wish you the best for the future. Regards, Darby

Posted by darbycdoll | Report as abusive

I would challenge the first commenter. These images are incredible especially because of how they are presented. They are photojournalistic and honest. In fact, the models showing off jewelry look stunning just as they are, and the children hanging tell a story that is compelling. This actually brings us closer to other cultures because we connect through images like these on a personal basis, rather than through stereotypes. I’ll bet the people in these pictures would love to see us in the same manner. Stuart Meyer – Indianapolis Photographer

Posted by stuart001 | Report as abusive

[…] struggle to restore orderIran says has military might to deter attacks Reuters Photographers Blog The China I met: A land of contradictionsMemory of the presentStreet photography is like falling in love…Less is moreBloodied streets of […]

Posted by » Blog Archive » Reuters Photographers Blog : The China I met: A land of contradictions | Report as abusive

I totally agree with Stuart Meyer. I don’t understand the reasons as why the so called first commenter took offense. I Come from a country which has almost a near population like china. You should see some Indian pictures, and if u were to be an Indian,you would want to shout at those Hollywood movie makers – don’t you have anything else to capture in this country. But when will we learn to respect others freedom of expression.

Posted by gattu | Report as abusive

contradictions are everywhere in the world.

Posted by happy_member | Report as abusive

Why is the woman pointing the gun at the little child?

Posted by 2pesos | Report as abusive

Each country or civilization has its contradictions. It’s very interesting to observe through your images the daily life of chinese people, but describing it as “fun” it’s not correct. It’s more than take a shot. You can distinguish the economical differences, the suffering of the children, the poverty… as a photographer perhaps your purpose is to show the world a little piece of reality, but, if you speak describing the images, you have to investigate more, to be empathetic, not just say, “it was fun”..

Posted by Denysse | Report as abusive

“it was fun” simply means the photographer had nothing to say. which is completely reasonable, given the assignment to take a snapshot of such an ancient culture.

Posted by jborrow | Report as abusive

Dear Mr. Elias,

I am a chinese and a photographer now studying in the UK. Your works are amazing. Don’t worry about others criticism. They may not agree with your view, but as a photographer we are free to express our ideas. I am surprised by the first post as I do not see any disrespect from your portfolio. Keep up with it and hope to see more of the wonderful works from you.

Posted by ivanhoo | Report as abusive

It is disappointing how Reuters clearly has a negative bias towards China. Reuters needs to step up its responsibilities as a news source. While I understand Reuters will have cultural biases whenever they make articles about other cultures, I think they could work on being less suggestive about how ‘different’ other cultures are compared to ours. Indeed, it makes for a much more captivating article to bash than to applaud. I didn’t think Reuters would continue stooping to that level. In this article for example, the title is named “A land of contradictions.” The word “contradictions” give a negative connotation to the subject. All the article as about was a group of photographs taken in China. There were no contradictions at all. What contradictions then? Is China making contradictions to the reporter? Or is it the reporter seeing contradictions to what s/he believes in versus what s/he thinks s/he sees? If the latter is so, then the wording “Land of …etc etc” is completely irrelevant to the article but completely suggestive that China did something bad. In short, Reuters needs to stop the yellow journalism and implicative propaganda. On a more relevant note, Reuters should be using these photographs as a way of saying China isn’t doing as well as many Americans thinks its doing just because we owe so much to them.

Posted by tacowrap | Report as abusive


Posted by Surgarballs | Report as abusive

Put some in China for 5 years whose mission is to create a propaganda hit piece and what do you expect? In 5 years you could dig up dirt and find scary pictures in any country. I have been in China over 2 years and traveled far and wide. It is surely a success story by Western standards of standard of living and human rights. Before you I am no Christian but the King James Bible says it right. “Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.” Every problem in China has a Western equivalent whether it is human rights, oppression, or media censorship.

Posted by corporatemedia | Report as abusive


You have been in China for 2 years, and you already think you know the country more than other chinese and other foreigners. I, like you, have traveled all over China, but I have also lived in China my entire adult life. There are some equivalents like you say, but they are a a different scale. Obviously, you haven’t seen enough of China. Obviously, as well, you don’t read Chinese news. Reuters typically does a good job covering China, because they have both Chinese and foreigners working for them. Unlike Chinese news, which typically has only Chinese working for them, and those chinese don’t even know English or another foreign language. I know, I have friends in the Chinese news. Also, the Chinese government randomly sends messages to the Chinese media saying “no bad news at this time.” or sometimes they are more specific saying to coverage of a certain event and calling it state secrets. Unfortunately, you are more ignorant than you think you are. Try talking to us foreigners who have been here for a lot longer than you. Even this photographer has been here longer than you.

As for the pictures, they are good. China is a country full of many different kinds of people doing many different things at the same time. Hopefully more people can travel to China with an open mind unlike “corporatemedia” poster who has a chip on his shoulder.

Posted by blahhhhhh | Report as abusive


You are yet another ignorant poster. How is this negatively biased. Most of what the photographer said is the exact same things I hear from Chinese themselves. You are the biased one thinking that become Reuters is not chinese, it must have a negative bias. News is news. It covers what people need to know. That is in the west anyway. However, Chinese news is more negatively biased about the west than any news in the west is biased about China. Have you been reading the Chinese news lately? Every story is something bad about the US or the EU. If you didn’t understand the photographers “contradictions” remark, maybe you should think about China a little more deeply. There are contradictions here. Just ask the average Chinese person on the street and they will tell you. You are definately not the average chinese person, judging from this comment and other comments you have made. Everything you say is about western media, but yet you fail to realize that western media portrays China has bests as it can. They are restricted in many places in China. However, they do have chinese working for them who help them understand. Unlike Chinese media, which is controlled by the government, has no English speaking chinese people working for them, and also has no foreigners working for them with the exception of Chinadaily or CCTV9. The only reason some people like you think western media is biased is because you don’t think western media should report on China at all. but yet, your media is allowed to report even fake news about the west, and it is ok with you.

You are in fact the negatively biased one here.

Posted by blahhhhhh | Report as abusive

yes, this is the truth.

however, it is important that you should reevaluate these truths.

but, common-sense would be needed.

consider just this, China is the world’s largest, most populous country. the world’s population is 6.7 billion, China’s population consists of 20% of that number.

without doubt, Nir Elias is skilled, there is no technicality in his methods. Elias’ photographs are not images – they are truthful, and his kind of truth is even more undeniable because there is beauty from them to be transcended into any emotional eye.

but ask these questions, and keep on asking.

how much of China’s truths have been accounted for?
how many, of those truths have been revealed?

is it moral, that a specialized field of expertise shoudl be used in mass public engagement?

is engagement of the sort by shocking, using aesthetics, an effective mean of creating public awareness?

is truth still balanced when it has been extracted in a fleeting moment and reflected by methods of professional photography?

then, when we at least have sympathetic questioning and understanding about the problem, can we, as exterior observers take effective activism to solve the problem that reels our hearts.

Posted by alalple | Report as abusive

Mr. Elias – well done, sir.

I’m not sure those on here with negative perspectives actually took the time to look through either your entire presentation or for that matter have carefully considered Reuters’ coverage of other countries, but your work (as an Israeli, for some of my respected fellow posters have clearly overlooked that fact) seemed an honest and refreshing view. Personally, I fail to see how your depiction of the friendly couple chatting at the roller rink or that respectively of the stock broker, tourists or earthquake survivors qualify as “implicative propaganda.”

My own family has had the privilege of traveling to dozens of countries on multiple continents, including throughout China repeatedly, and the simple fact remains that each culture projects their own views onto another while at the same time (especially in this wired age) receiving perhaps contradicting signals from various in-country sources and obliquely from their neighbors, detractors, and friends. Russia, India, USA, South Africa, UAE, France, Brazil – take your pick – each nation is sufficiently diverse and complex to warrant the use of the term ‘contradictory’ when applied to a new arrival’s attempts to come to grips with what they’re experiencing. One undergoing the quantum changes China has seen of late atop her > complex 5,000 year history certainly is no exception.

Having the freedom to travel about and document what you see over the course of time is a privilege, and I thank you for sharing this view.

Posted by johannesg | Report as abusive

I agree that CHINA is a superb land of contrast. The image they portray internationally is as Great as the Wall in much difference. I guess China is just fooling itself, but not the rest of the world. Have you imagine 1 billion people going hungry? If rich countries allow China to go bust, you just started WWIII. Think, gosh.

Posted by japman1la | Report as abusive

extraordinary images displayed with honest about the culture of a country. senua no one in this world dare to display such honesty in these photos. I’m sure if we honestly want to see a country cultures, surely this world will be peaceful.

Posted by choirhuda | Report as abusive

2pesos, my question exactly. The least he could do is to explain that one

Posted by STORYBURNcom_0 | Report as abusive

[…] China: A land of contradictions – Reuters […]

Posted by Monday Morning « the news links | Report as abusive

ummm take a look at the pic.. its not a mother pointing a gun at her child,, its another child with a toy gun geeeshh pple

Posted by mpavich | Report as abusive

How the chiniese athlets are hunting medals in olympics,the finest shot to know the hard training for childrens…….Nice capture…

Posted by Kirkuk | Report as abusive

Great pictures! Amazing!

Post #1 is obviously came from someone who don’t understand Freedom of Speech. So we get ignored it.

Posted by klp888 | Report as abusive