Photographers' Blog

Pearl of the orient; 15 years after the Handover

By Bobby Yip

Hong Kong celebrates its 15th anniversary since the handover to Chinese sovereignty from British rule on July 1, 2012. In the city’s King George V Memorial Park, a plaque from the colonial era is hidden behind the roots of a banyan tree. I found this to be a good symbol of the fading former colonial links to the territory’s past.

Bearing the romanticized phrase “Pearl of the Orient”, Hong Kong attracts visitors from around the world. Due to a fast growing economy, a flood of mainland Chinese visitors in recent years (including many big spenders) have boosted the city’s retail sales. In 2011, nearly 42 million visitors came to Hong Kong, about 64 percent of them from the mainland.

SLIDESHOW: HONG KONG 15 YEARS LATER

The “Forever Blooming Bauhinia” sculpture outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, a gift from the Chinese government in 1997, is one of the most popular tourist spots for mainlanders. To me, they enjoy a freedom of expression here without fear of political correctness. Under an immigration scheme, a few of might eventually settle in Hong Kong. With a good judicial system, low crime rate and a wide range of personal freedom, just to mention a few, becoming a Hong Kong citizen is a dream for many on the other side of the border.

The late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, architect of “one-country, two-systems”, said Hong Kong “will remain unchanged for 50 years”. In reality, various educational and cultural programs are conducted to try to strengthen the locals national identity and to make them become more patriotic. Flag-raising at schools and national studies are increasingly popular.

Yet, a lot of people still consider themselves as “Hong Kongers” rather than “Chinese people”, recent local polls showed.

Extreme healthcare after freak accident

The accident happened in Shuangxi, Fujian province, when the steel bars accidentally broke
and popped out from a machine, piercing through the worker’s body at around 3pm on
June 11.

The worker was sent to a hospital in Hangzhou, where the picture was taken, as the operation
could not be done at a local hospital. The surgery started around nine hours after the
accident happened and was a success after more than five hours.

The photo was taken during the first phase of the operation, to shorten the steel bars, as the
firefighter advised on how to dissect them. The co-workers helped to hold the bars with pliers
and used a steel carving machine under supervision by the doctors.

The dissident’s residence

By David Gray

Blind Chinese lawyer Chen Guangcheng grabbed the world’s attention in April when he refused to leave the U.S. embassy in Beijing after escaping from his village where he was under home detention. The end result was that he and his wife were put on a plane to New York. Over the next few weeks, the Chen family that still lived in the family home were subjected to beatings and house raids by local plainclothes security personnel. During one of these raids, Chen’s nephew tried to stop the invaders, and as a result is in detention for attempted murder – a crime that carries the death penalty in China.

Just three weeks ago I photographed Guangcheng’s elder brother, Chen Guangfu, who had managed to slip out of the same village as his brother in an attempt to obtain a good lawyer for his son’s case. As I was photographing Guangfu he recounted the beating he had suffered as retaliation for his brother’s escape. He said he no longer has any feeling in his left hand. When the interview finished I thought I would probably never see this brave man again but when we received word it might be possible to visit his village, we headed straight there.

Myself, Royston Chan of Reuters Television, and text correspondent Sui-Lee Wee, boarded planes and flew to Shinyi in Shandong Province, some 600 kilometers (372 miles) southwest of Beijing. A driver was waiting for us when we landed; a good contact as a result of Royston’s previous attempts to visit the village. We drove the 70 kilometers (43 miles) or so to Dongshigu village. As we approached the turn-off, we had our cameras ready and drove past to determine what we would do next.

An Austrian clone, made in China

By Tyrone Siu

An elegant black swan sliding silently on the lake, cutting into the reflection of European style wooden houses and church clock tower in the water – the rare image radiated a moment of peacefulness in my mind until it was disrupted by a loud thundering sound of a truck passing by. It was not until then that I paid a closer look to the bird and found it to be a dark duck – another small replica, as part of a massive copycat project from China.

The $940-million-dollar project, conceived by a Chinese mining tycoon, is to clone Austria’s most picturesque village, Hallstatt. Even though it’s in the largest replica-industry county in the world, it still keeps people wondering how such an extensive scale of copying can be done, and whether it is even possible for the SIM city to be materialized into a dream village. I soon find out my answer.

SLIDESHOW: CHINA COPIES AN AUSTRIAN VILLAGE

Like the black duck I saw, other parts of the village gave me a similar kind of awkwardness. The structures and facilities look almost the same as the Austrian village I saw in photographs, but the spirit and taste of the complex is so typically Chinese. The supposedly peaceful atmosphere with relaxing background music is spoiled by the frequent shuttling of trucks carrying materials, bringing up dust and releasing the smell of gas. Rubbish and bags can be seen piling along the artificial lake, while the village is surrounded by construction work. You can occasionally see Chinese builders carrying bamboo sticks and wooden ladders across the little European town that would only be used by the East. The images are hilarious.

Gay and out in China

By Aly Song

As society in China modernizes, its gay community is less mysterious and increasingly part of the country’s fabric, pursuing dreams and happiness like other citizens.

Before setting out to document this story, I had a somewhat stereotypical image of gay Chinese – that they lived colorful and comfortable lives, with prominent members often active in the fashion and entertainment industries, that they wore exquisite clothes and were in top physical shape. I imagined two men sitting in a bar smoking cigars and drinking wine, possibly discussing fashion trends or gossiping about showbiz stars.

But working on this story for more than three months changed my view. The reality was less romanticized, and reflected many people’s search for love anywhere, same sex or otherwise. In China, when seeking same-sex companionship, one way is to spend 20 yuan (3 U.S. dollars) for entrance to a gay bathhouse to find others sharing the same desire. Or you can pay 7 yuan (a little more than $1) to get into a gay dance club to find someone you like.

72 hours in Shanghai

By Carlos Barria

Occasionally, along with covering the news stories like the economy, politics, sports and social trends, we (Reuters photographers) have time to do something really fun.

Weeks ago, over a couple of beers, a friend from the BBC had the idea of putting a camera on the hood of a car and shooting a time-lapse sequence for a story he was working on. I’d never done a time-lapse project myself, so when I was asked to come up with an idea for Earth Hour on March 31— when cities across the world switch off their lights at 8:30 pm— my colleague Aly Song and I thought we’d give it a try. We decided to shoot sequences during the three days leading up to Earth Hour, ending with the dimming of the lights in Shanghai’s city center.

(View a full screen version here)

It was also a good opportunity to buy some new toys at Chinese prices, such as suction cup camera holders used to secure the camera on top of a car or any other surface.

Diving, not a sport for wimps

By Stefan Wermuth

I had the opportunity to cover a training session of Britain’s future Olympic diving hopefuls at the Crystal Palace Diving Club in London.

When I arrived the session had already started in a dry diving gym.  It was a room full of trampolines, diving boards, mats and mostly young girls performing somersaults or other flips. “Quicker, quicker” shouted one of the three Chinese coaches.

China’s divers are currently dominating the sport.  They won all the gold medals at last year’s world championships. The British diving club decided to recruit Chinese coaches seven years ago when London won the bid to stage the 2012 Olympics.  Now, 15 of the approximately 460 children in the program are in the top England talent squad.

The long and the short of it

By David Gray

The Safedom condom company’s factory is located in the town of Zhaoyuan, located 100 kilometers south of the city of Yantai, Shandong Province, China. Safedom turned its back on the low-margin, guaranteed-business sales to the Chinese government’s family planning program 11 months ago, and decided to shift to where the money is: the higher end of the general public market. Claiming to be the fourth-largest condom maker in China by revenue, after three foreign brands, they are hoping to sell one billion condoms this year with the launch of its “Take Me” condom, aimed at women consumers, and partnerships with French, Italian, German and UK condom makers.

I was led into a rather unassuming building and greeted by the company’s executives. Here they told me during a brief introduction, that I was to ‘behave’ when touring the production floor, and not disclose any company ‘secrets’. This made me chuckle, though I certainly didn’t show it, as I thought this was how you may talk to a child – the very thing their product was aiming to prevent.

We were then given the appropriate disinfected clothing for ‘protection’, including mesh to cover the ‘rubber’ on the soles of my shoes. Then we were put into a room which blew strong air over us to remove any unwanted dust. From here, I was led into the first area of the production line, which involved a belt containing thousands of phallic-shaped metal rods with condoms placed over them traveling at a hefty pace around the factory floor. Now when you first see the size of these rods, you have to ask the obvious question – Who are they making these condoms for? Dirk Diggler? However, it was explained to me that the rods help stretch the condom to see if they will break.

The dragon’s year

By David Gray

Xin nian kuai le!! To get around China, it helps to have a basic knowledge at least of the Chinese language. No question. And these four words will help you greatly at this time of year. What does it mean? I hear those not so knowledgeable about Chinese customs ask. Well, it’s Chinese new year. And wishing someone a Happy New Year will aid you in many ways. But saying it this year is an even bigger bonus, because this year is not just any year – it’s the year of the dragon. What exactly does this mean to Chinese? Well, for one, apparently, it’s the year to have a baby. I have heard this only whispered by my Chinese colleagues over the past few months. Why? Well, apparently, a dragon year is a seriously good year to be born. The Chinese horoscope says that Chinese Dragons (you could call them Dragon babies I suppose) lead a complicated life, but have beneath their stubborn exterior, a soft heart, and are born leaders. Good attributes you would have to say, especially when you consider other animals included on the list are a pig (full disclosure, that’s my year so I am not being nasty when saying this), a rat, an ox, monkey, snake and even a sheep. So, even though its the only fictitious animal on that list, you would have to say, a dragon is pretty cool. I mean, it breathes fire…..cmon, that’s cool!!

So, back to my big tip, especially useful upon your arrival in say Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, or even Chengdu, when you jump in that taxi after enduring more than an hour of being jostled by boisterous fellow travelers, lean over to the driver and yell with zealous – Xin nian kuai le – and he will return your friendly gesture with a speedy ride to your place of abode. It will make your trip all the more pleasant and hopefully one to remember, in the Year of the Dragon.

Lipstick security

By David Gray

When I was told about this assignment late last Friday in Beijing, the brief was simple – a group of young female Chinese college graduates training to be bodyguards; sounded interesting. Little did I know how interesting it would actually be.

Myself and a Reuters television crew were met in a shopping mall car park by two obviously former military-trained men wearing army fatigues and dark sunglasses. This for starters was an unusual scene in China; a foreigner being driven by what looked like army personnel as shoppers did ‘double-takes’ as we drove away. Thinking we would be driving to a distant, secret location I settled in for the long ride. Five minutes later, we pulled into a driveway. In front of us were soccer fields, complete with mini-goalposts. What were we doing here?

Sitting at the side of one of the small fields was a group of women eating lunch. As we got closer, I could see they weren’t your usual group of young Chinese girls. Looking like catwalk models but dressed in army fatigues, one of our two male escorts barked an order at them. They quickly finished their food and stood up in formation. From a small hut out walked the head instructor. He was short, but noticeably fit and strong. Almost instantly, he had the girls running laps around the soccer field, yelling at them constantly with words of encouragement, but mostly abuse. After a few laps, the girls formed a line again, and one girl was asked why she wasn’t wearing any gloves. I couldn’t make out what her reply was but the next moment she was on the ground doing push-ups. This was going to be an interesting afternoon.

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