How to Photograph a Chinese Official

Chinese officials’ sensitivity about appearance has only intensified since sharp-eyed netizens started bringing down officials caught wearing—or even not wearing—luxury watches and other incriminating baubles. Such visible opulence runs the risks of making the government appear out of touch with the people and indicating possible corruption. Accordingly, authorities warned the media to play down gourmet food and luxury clothing at last year’s Two Sessions, while at the later 18th National Party Congress, most attendees embraced a carefully inconspicuous uniform. At Economic Observer, Shen Nianzu explains how these and other political sensitivities affect the work of photographers for state media:

Before being published, all pictures are examined not only by the newspaper’s editors, but also by the local government’s public relations office. Several photographers from Party-affiliated papers told the EO of guidelines they’ve informally learned or been given directly by local governments regarding how they should and shouldn’t photograph leaders. The following is a list of some of those key points and taboos.

[…] Photos in the following cases are banned from public release since they’ve drawn so much negative attention.

  1. Photos showing officials’ belts, watches, high-end glasses and cigarettes are barred. Similarly, photos showing officials drinking liquor or burning incense cannot be released.

  2. Photos that show others holding umbrellas for leaders cannot be released. However, photos showing leaders holding their own umbrellas are encouraged. [Source]

The umbrella rule—meant to ensure that officials do not appear pampered and aloof—was recently illustrated by Xi Jinping himself, appearing at a rainswept dockyard with trousers rolled and umbrella in hand. One important guideline Shen does not mention is to avoid clumsy use of Photoshop.


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