Working in China
During the Olympic Games
September 2008

by Jean Chung

China changes every day and so do the requirements for photographers. I've been in China many times before but the security measures during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games were quite intense. Nowadays photographers – both employed by big news organizations or independent – are required to have some sort of journalists' IDs in China. The Beijing Olympics were not an exception.

© Jean Chung
Chinese police stand guard in Tiananmen Square on a hazy day, Beijing, China, Sunday, July 27, 2008.
During the Olympics virtually everyone from volunteers to journalists, engineers to policemen had to wear IDs--that left only tourists and ordinary residents. Just to photograph the atmosphere around the Olympic Games I decided to arm myself with a journalist pass even if it didn't grant entry to the Olympics venues.

There were roughly two kinds of media IDs: one was a BOCOG (Beijing Olympics Committee) ID that was yellow and red; the other one was a BIMC (Beijing International Media Center) ID with white and green. The colors of the straps were also an indicator of the IDs: yellow for BOCOG, and green for BIMC. I was too lazy to apply for the BOCOG ID, which required the approval from the IOC a long time ago, so I applied for the BIMC. A little something was better than nothing, I thought.

When I arrived in Beijing a week before the Opening Ceremony I went to the BIMC compound near the Bird's Nest, the National Olympic Stadium. The office already had my ID ready since I had uploaded my profile picture and other information via online application. With this ID I was not able to go in and out of the sports venues but I could prove that I was a journalist to the Chinese police and civilians.

© Jean Chung/WPN
Chinese security personnel stand guard in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, Friday, Aug. 8, 2008.
On the morning of the opening day, Aug. 8, I went to Tiananmen Square on assignment for Der Spiegel magazine. At around 10 a.m. the sea of policemen suddenly began to clear out the area, pushing away hundreds of spectators who had gathered around the Olympic clock near the square. The police lined up in two parallel rows with their backs across from each other then began to split up and move the crowd. Spectators had no idea why they were being moved from the square because the only thing the police had said was "move, move!" Some plain-clothed policemen were trying to cover my camera lens as I was taking pictures of the scene. No one gave me a clear explanation even when I showed my green-and-white BIMC journalist ID. I assumed it had something to do with security on the Opening Day.

Later that afternoon, I learned that there was a luncheon by international dignitaries in nearby People's Hall and the crowd had to be removed. The need for a security measure had been heightened after the recent series of attacks in China's Xinjiang province.

© Jean Chung/WPN
Chinese security guard blocks the lens as spectators are being moved out of Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, Friday, Aug. 8, 2008.
Throughout the time of the Olympics I felt uptight about all the different types of security guards. But I understood why they had to react certain ways: the authorities did not want any kind of accident to occur during the Olympics. I just wished that they had given the journalists including myself more flexibility especially when they were wearing IDs.

I think not just China but the whole world is changing. It might be an inevitable step for all security to be more cautious and access for photographers, especially freelancers like me, to become more and more difficult after the events of 9/11 and the series of suicide attacks around the world.

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© Jean Chung

Jean Chung is an award-winning photographer who has gained international acclaim for her photographic documentation, especially in Afghanistan. Earlier this month, she was honored with the inaugural Pierre and Alexandra Boulat Association Award at the 2008 Visa pour l'Image photo festival in Perpignan, France, for her project documenting the rape of women in Eastern Congo.

Currently working as a freelance photographer for the New York-based photo agency World Picture News, she is a graduate of the University of Missouri the School of Journalism's Master's Program in May 2003. After moving back to her native Seoul, South Korea, she has worked in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa since 2004. Returning from over a year in Afghanistan, she published the book "A Photographer in Kabul" in South Korea in February 2008, followed by her first solo exhibition in Seoul.

Among her major awards are the Grand Prix Care International du Reportage Humanitaire of Visa pour l'Image Photo Festival in Perpignan for her photo story, "Maternal Mortality in Afghanistan: Qamar's Story" [see her August 2007 dispatch in The Digital Journalist:].

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