TIME Behind the Photos

How a Chinese Organization is Helping Photographers Win Awards

Mask Boy Poyi winner
Liyang Yuan At a rental house in a village in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province on Dec. 5, 2014, nine-year-old boy Tan Zhouyu is too cold to fall asleep. This photo won first prize in the News Pictures Story category at Pictures of the Year.

Li Qiang, a veteran Chinese photojournalist, helps his country score the photo industry’s most prestigious awards

Ever since Shaoming Yang became the first Chinese photographer to win a World Press Photo award in 1988, his peers have tried to follow in his footsteps. They have done it so religiously that it has been dubbed the “Photo Olympics” in China.

Winning such awards means a lot: victors have their names announced and praised on China Central Television’s 7 o’clock news and are often awarded additional cash prizes by their state-owned newspapers for bringing good publicity.

During this year’s award season, photojournalist Liyang Yuan received first prize in News Pictures Story category at Pictures of the Year, an international photo award run by the Missouri School of Journalism. Chinese photographers also snatched six prizes at last week’s World Press Photo awards, an unprecedented tally.

Behind some of those winning images is a team called Yihe Media Training Workshop, an organization based in Beijing.

The workshop has helped more than 100 Chinese photographers enter top international photo competitions since its launch last December, founder Qiang Li tells TIME. Before submitting their work, Li and his partner Sunny Yang, a news assistant at USA Today’s Beijing bureau, help photographers select their best images, sometimes out of a pool of hundreds, crop them, write captions and enter them on most contests’ English-only websites. They also work with the Italy-based photo enhancement studio, 10b, for professional toning.

“Most Chinese photographers use online dictionaries to translate their captions,” Li says. “It’s a pity many good photos were [kicked out of contests] just because of their bad captions.”

Besides helping photographers enter competitions, for which the organization charges a small translation fee, Li says the workshops they offer, both online and on-site, also teach Chinese photographers about international photo trends. “The photography industry in China is still an isolated island,” says Li. “We don’t have professional photography museums, we don’t have professional photography foundations. Because of the language barrier, many excellent documentary photographers can’t make their voice heard in the world.”

A veteran photojournalist himself, Li is well aware of the pressure photographers are under in the country. “Almost all journalists in China have a low-base salary,” Li tells TIME. “They are like workers on the assembly lines who have a piece-rate system.”

Plus, since most Chinese photojournalists are employed at government-owned media organizations, where their jobs are more stable, few feel compelled to learn new skills. “The documentary and photojournalism industries in China are at a different stage of development to other countries with a more open media landscape,” says Panos photographer Adam Dean, who taught a workshop on photo editing and freelance photography at Yihe.

“There are so many talented and committed photographers in China who don’t really have an outlet for their work, [where] the state controls and censors much of the media,” says Dean, who is based in Beijing. “The problem for [Chinese photographers] is that there is an understandable element of self-censorship, [therefore] there is little motivation for them to invest time, energy and money in a sensitive story or issue that cannot be published in China and could potentially cause them problems.”

The Yihe Media Training Workshop also emphasizes international media practices and ethics in its lessons, with competing in international contests an integral part of the organization’s teachings. “I think there is a standard for a good photo that is beyond countries and ideologies,” Li says. “The affirmation of the works from the most authoritative organizations in the world could give [Chinese photographers] a reason to [stay] in the industry.”

Qiang Li is a photojournalist based in Beijing who has won many national photo awards in China.

Ye Ming is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

TIME China

Watch China’s Creepy Musical Tribute to Its Online Censors

All together now: "The Internet strengthens the country"

Is this a good song about the glory of online censorship? Or is this the greatest song ever about the glory of online censorship?

The ode, written by Wang Pingjiu, is a rousing choral tribute to the Chinese system of online surveillance and censorship known as the Great Firewall — and the government department behind it. In recent weeks, the wall has been rising as the ruling party cracks down on virtual private networks (VPNs) and online speech.

As well it should, the song suggests. Here is a translation courtesy of China Economic Review:

在这片天空日月忠诚的守望

The moon and stars guard us loyally

为日出东方使命担当

Undertaking the duty of the sun rising from the East

创新每个日子拥抱着清朗

Creativity, every day clean and fresh

像一束廉洁阳光感动在心上

Like a bundle of honest sunshine that moves the heart

团结万物生长的力量

The power of all things growing in unity

奉献地球村成为最美的风光

Dedication to the global village becomes the most beautiful scene

在这个世界百川忠诚寻归海洋

Every river in this world loyally seeks the sea

担当中华文明的丈量

Undertaking the measurement of Chinese civilization

五千年沉淀点亮创新思想

Five thousand years build up, illuminating creative thought

廉洁就是一个民族清澈荡漾

Honesty is the lifeblood of a people

我们团结在天地中央

We unite at the center of Heaven and Earth

信仰奉献流淌万里黄河长江

Faith and devotion flow immeasurable distance alongside the Yellow and Yangzi rivers

网络强国 网在哪中国界碑在哪

The Internet strengthens the country, wherever it goes there too stretch China’s borders

网络强国 从遥远的宇宙到思念的家

The Internet strengthens the country, from the distant universe to one’s longed-for home

网络强国 告诉世界中国梦在崛起大中华

The Internet strengthens the country, telling the world the Chinese dream is rising in Greater China

网络强国 一个我在世界代表着国家

The Internet strengthens the country, every one of us is representing our country for the world.

There are signs, however that the censors are perhaps a little embarrassed by the attention. As the video began circulating, links to it started going dead — because in China, even the songs about censorship are censored.

With reporting from Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME India

India’s Censorship Board Bleeped Out ‘Bombay’ From a Music Video

The Mumbai central railway station, today named Chhatrapati
Thierry Falise—LightRocket/Getty Images The Mumbai central railway station, today named Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, is formerly known as Victoria Terminus

"I'm not calling it Constantinople or Atlantis or whatever"

Mihir Joshi, an Indian musician recording his first album last year, needed a word to rhyme with today in one of his songs and found one that he thought fit perfectly. But India’s Central Board of Film Certification disagreed, and replaced it with a beep when the music video debuted on TV over the weekend.

The word they had an issue with, much to Joshi’s surprise, was Bombay.

“I started laughing and I said, ‘What are you talking about?’” the 33-year-old singer told the New York Times.

Bombay is the former name of India’s financial capital of over 20 million people, but in 1995 it was changed to Mumbai on the demands of the right-wing party governing the city at the time. The party claimed Bombay was a symbol of British imperialism, and changed it to better represent local culture. Similar renaming initiatives were implemented in other Indian cities like Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), Chennai (formerly Madras) and Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore).

But old habits die hard, and many Mumbai citizens still refer to the city as Bombay. In fact, as the Wall Street Journal points out, there are several private and government institutions that have retained the colonial-era name.

“I have nothing against the word Mumbai,” Joshi added. “I’m not calling it Constantinople or Atlantis or whatever.”

The board’s decision prompted outrage from several Twitter users, whose choice of hashtag ironically made #Bombay the top trend in Mumbai on Monday.

TIME China

See China’s Internet Dilemma in One Screen Grab

Can the country really hope for entrepreneurial innovation while restricting Internet access?

Chinese state media today announced a plan to lure more “entrepreneurial” expatriates to China. The goal is to get people into startups and promote innovation, according to a site-leading story Wednesday on the English-language edition of the China Daily.

Running just below that article, though, was a piece headlined “VPN Providers Must Obey Rules.” VPN (virtual private network) providers are the companies that help people jump over China’s Great Firewall. In recent weeks, the government has targeted several such firms, slowing or stopping their services altogether.

The thing is, the “innovative” foreign entrepreneurs China seeks will almost certainly want unfettered access to the Internet. You know, crazy stuff like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube (all of which are banned in China). What’s a startup-loving Communist Party official to do?

TIME China

Agent Carter, Empire Gone From Chinese Streaming Sites

Kelsey McNeal/ABC Atwell as Peggy Carter in Agent Carter.

A crackdown on foreign media appears to have taken its toll

More U.S. television shows were removed from Chinese streaming services in what appears to be the latest consequences of the state censor’s crackdown on foreign series.

Shows like Agent Carter, Empire, and Shameless disappeared from multiple streaming portals this week, the L.A. Times reports.

Amid a campaign by the government of President Xi Jinping to sanitize the Internet in China, the country’s state censor, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, said last year that foreign shows — which have soared in popularity in China — would require government approval for the entire series before episodes aired online. Foreign series, the regulator also said, could only account for one third of programming on the online streaming sites, according to the Times.

Since then, shows like The Big Bang Theory have been pulled from streaming sites, typically without explanation.

Despite the rancor on social media after the latest purge, it remained unclear why the specific shows were removed, according to the Times.

[LA Times]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 9

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Low oil prices change the math on the Keystone XL pipeline, but politics are still controlling the debate.

By Michael A. Levi at the Council on Foreign Relations

2. Terrorists are despicable, but they aren’t irrational. The Charlie Hebdo attackers were demanding censorship. The world shouldn’t give in.

By Stephen L. Carter in Bloomberg View

3. ‘Uber for freelance work’ could have a huge impact on careers for the next generation.

By the Economist

4. Making community college free could trigger a new wave of economic growth and help improve access to education.

By Josh Wyner in Time

5. People who learn skills two or three at a time are much better at multitasking than people combining skills on the fly.

By Walter Frick in Harvard Business Review

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

Blasphemy Is at the Front Lines of Free Speech Today

French police officers and forensic experts examine the car used by armed gunmen who stormed the Paris offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7, 2015 in Paris.
Domique Faget—AFP/Getty Images French police officers and forensic experts examine the car used by armed gunmen who stormed the Paris offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7, 2015 in Paris.

Walter Olson is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies.

There is no middle ground, no soft compromise available to keep everyone happy

If you defend freedom of speech today, realize that “blasphemy” is its front line, in Paris and the world.

There is no middle ground, no soft compromise available to keep everyone happy–not after the murders at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Either we resolve to defend the liberty of all who write, draw, type, and think–not just even when they deny the truth of a religion or poke fun at it, but especially then–or that liberty will endure only at the sufferance of fanatical Islamists in our midst. And this dark moment for the cause of intellectual freedom will be followed by many more.

Can anyone who has paid attention truly say they were surprised by the Paris attack? The French satirical magazine had long been high on a list of presumed Islamist targets. In 2011—to world outrage that was transient, at best—fanatics firebombed its offices over its printing of cartoons. Nor was that anything new. In 2006, the Danish cartoonists of Jyllands-Posten had to go into hiding for the same category of offense, as had author Salman Rushdie before them.

In a new book entitled The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on the Future of Free Speech, journalist Flemming Rose, who was at the center of the Danish cartoon controversy, traces its grim aftermath in the self-silencing of Western opinion. Most of the prestige Western press dodged the running of the cartoons, and beneath the talk of sensitivity was often simple fear. As journalist Josh Barro noted today on Twitter, “Islamists have by and large succeeded in intimidating western media out of publishing images of Muhammad.”

That fear has been felt in the United States as well. Yale’s university press, in publishing a book on the Muhammad cartoons controversy, chose to omit printing the cartoons themselves, on the grounds that doing so “ran a serious risk of instigating violence.” (The late Christopher Hitchens brilliantly assailed the press for its lack of courage.)

As for elected leaders, they were hardly better. The French government repeatedly pressured Charlie Hebdo not to go so far in giving offense. The government of Jacques Chirac stood by at, or by some accounts even encouraged, a court action aimed at fining the magazine for having offended some Muslims. Then-British foreign minister Jack Straw, representing the nation that gave the world John Milton and John Stuart Mill, blasted re-publication of the cartoons as “insensitive” and “disrespectful.” And if you imagine the leaders of the United States did much better, here’s another Christopher Hitchens column on how mealy-mouthed they were at the time in the cause of the intellectual liberty that is supposed to be among America’s proudest guarantees.

The danger is not that there will be too little outpouring of solidarity, grief, and outrage in coming days. Of course there will be that. Demonstrations are already underway across France. The danger comes afterward, once the story passes and intellectuals and those who discuss and distribute their work decide how and whether to adjust themselves to a more intense climate of fear. At media outlets, among conference planners, at universities, there will be certain lawyers and risk managers and compliance experts and insurance buyers ready to advise the safer course, the course of silence.

And then there are the lawmakers. After years in which blasphemy laws were assumed to be a relic of the past, laws accomplishing much of the same effect are once again on the march in Europe, banning “defamation of religion,” insult to religious beliefs, or overly vigorous criticism of other people’s religions when defined as “hate speech.” This must go no further. One way we can honor Charb, Cabu, Wolinski, Tignous, and the others who were killed Wednesday is by lifting legal constraints on what their successors tomorrow can draw and write.

Walter Olson is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME China

Shanghai Authorities Try to Stifle Criticism After New Year’s Eve Stampede

Policemen stand in formation as they guard on the bund where people were killed in a stampede incident during a new year's celebration, in Shanghai
China Stringer Network/Reuters Policemen stand in formation as they guard on the bund where people were killed in a stampede incident during a new year's celebration, in Shanghai on Jan. 3, 2015.

Critics are being interrogated and families harassed

Shanghai authorities are seeking to control discussion of the New Year’s Eve stampede that caused the deaths of 36 people and raised questions about the ability of police to manage large-scale events in the world’s most populous nation.

Relatives of those asphyxiated and trampled to death during Dec. 31 celebrations say they are being closely monitored by authorities for what they say, and to whom, about the disaster, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports.

Family members of the victims also say that authorities are preventing them from taking home the bodies of their loved ones.

Local reporters have been barred from speaking with family members of the deceased, as well as from running non-government-approved photos, especially photos that depict people grieving, the Financial Times (FT) reports.

Chinese censors are also going after online commentators who blame the Shanghai government and police for the disaster, deleting the posts, tracking down the writers and summoning them for interrogation.

The crackdown comes as the public seeks answers into what went wrong on what was supposed to be a night of merrymaking at the Bund, the historic riverfront area that looks across the water to the city’s financial district.

As Chinese President Xi Jinping on New Year’s Day called for an investigation into the disaster, state-run media also carried stinging criticism of Shanghai authorities for the holiday tragedy, whose victims included one 12-year-old boy but were mostly women in their early 20s.

The President demanded that lessons be learned before the city staged some of the nation’s largest celebrations during Lunar New Year festivities next month.

“It was a lack of vigilance from the government, a sloppiness,” said state news agency Xinhua, in an editorial (according to a Reuters translation). The news agency continued to say in an English-language editorial that the tragedy was a “wake-up call,” underscoring China’s status as “a developing country which has fragile social management.”

But despite the central government’s pledges of an investigation — as well as the state-run media’s flagellation of Shanghai authorities — locals say they are encountering intimidation from local officials as they seek answers to the many questions the stampede raised: Why, if the annual laser-light show at the Bund was canceled for safety reasons this New Year’s Eve, were hundreds of thousands of revelers allowed to show up regardless? And, could police have done more before and at the critical moment, around 11:30 p.m., when congestion turned lethal on a set of stairs?

The SCMP, citing an unnamed officer, reports that dozens of people who discussed those questions and others online have been interrogated by Shanghai authorities. The officer described the interrogations as “a warning to those unfriendly Internet users.”

Local media have also been barred from interviewing relatives of the victims or the attendees of memorial services, and have been instructed to downplay the disaster, the FT reports. The homepage for Xinhua’s English website carried no mention of the Shanghai disaster by Monday afternoon local time.

The FT adds that Chinese news outlets have been told remove from their own coverage “all information about attacking the party and government and attacking the social system of our country.”

Access for nonmainland media reporting on the disaster has also been hampered. One SCMP reporter was interrupted several times while trying to conduct interviews with victims’ families by people who identified themselves as hospital volunteers, the Hong Kong–based newspaper says.

One father whose daughter was killed in the stampede, and who rebuked police for poor crowd control, declined to give his name to the Associated Press, citing a “fear of offending the authorities,” as the news agency puts it.

Meanwhile, families of the victims held protests on Sunday outside a municipal building in Shanghai, demanding to take home the bodies of their relatives. It was unclear why the bodies of the 34 Chinese citizens killed in the pandemonium are being held, even after the remains of the two foreigners killed in the disaster, a Malaysian and a Taiwanese, were returned to their home countries.

Under the close scrutiny of police, people laid flowers at the scene of the stampede over the weekend and waited for news on the condition of the 49 people injured in the chaos. Xinhua reports that 24 people have been discharged from the hospital, while 25 are still under medical observation, including seven people with serious injuries and one in critical condition.

TIME China

It Looks Like Gmail Has Been Totally Blocked in China

You're going to need a VPN if you want to access it

Google’s Gmail service is virtually inaccessible in mainland China, the search giant’s own data shows, in what appears to be the latest step in a steady ousting of its services from the nation.

Google’s Transparency Report charts show traffic began to fall in China late on Christmas Day and hit zero before midday on Dec. 26. Internet-analytics group Dyn Research also said Sunday on Twitter that there had been an IP-level block of Gmail access on the Chinese mainland.

Google says in an emailed comment to TIME that “we’ve checked and there’s nothing wrong on our end.”

The stoppage effectively removes the last means of accessing Gmail from behind China’s Great Firewall without recourse to a virtual private network or VPN.

Chinese authorities had blocked access to numerous Google services — including Gmail, but also everything from Google Drive to Google Hangouts — just ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown this June. Since then, Gmail had been accessible in mainland China mainly just through email protocols, including IMAP and POP3, which allow Gmail access through applications like Microsoft Outlook and Apple Mail on iPhone.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters on Monday that she had no information about Gmail disappearing, Reuters reports.

“China has consistently had a welcoming and supportive attitude towards foreign investors doing legitimate business here,” she said. “We will, as always, provide an open, transparent and good environment for foreign companies in China.”

Beijing is well known for carefully curating what its citizens and visitors can and can’t see on the web. As of Monday, Chinese web-censorship watchdog GreatFire.org listed 599 Google sites as blocked in mainland China, and 13,558 out of the 13,612 Google search terms of interest as blocked, including the English phrase waging nonviolence.

TIME Qatar

At Egypt’s Request, Qatar Suspends Al-Jazeera Affiliate in Cairo

Mideast Qatar Egypt Al Jazeera
Kamran Jebreili—AP In this Wednesday Nov. 1, 2006 file photo, A Qatari employee of Al Jazeera Arabic language TV news channel passes by the logo of Al Jazeera in Doha, Qatar.

The channel has been alone domestically in covering the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's beleaguered political party

In a concession to Egyptian authorities, Qatar will stop broadcasting an Al-Jazeera affiliate in Cairo that has criticized Egypt’s military-led government.

In agreeing to the suspension, Qatar is seeking closer ties with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government, which had urged the tiny gulf state to cease its long-time support for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood — the political party of the ousted president whom Sisi displaced, Mohamed Morsi, Reuters reports. Qatar owns Al-Jazeera, though the international news channel is yet largely seen a free voice in a region severely wanting for free media voices.

The local station, Al Jazeera Live Egypt, was the last major news outlet in Egypt that was willing to cover the Brotherhood.

Two journalists for Al Jazeera —Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy — began serving seven-year sentences last December on charges of conspiring with the Brotherhood against the Egyptian state, while a third, Baher Mohamed, received a ten-year sentence. All three vehemently deny the charges, which have been condemned by human-rights groups.

[Reuters]

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