Rocking the boat

Photo raises storm on the internet

Rocking the boat

Bargaining over bodies

Holding Back the Body to Ask for a Price was voted the best news picture in this year’s Golden Lens Award, the leading event in Chinese photojournalism.

In the photo (taken in October last year, see above) the man in the white shirt is a fisherman called Wang Shouhai. He is shown recovering the body of Fang Zhao, a 19 year-old student who had drowned while trying to rescue children from a river in Jingzhou, Hubei Province.

It’s a bleak scene, with Wang holding a rope still hooked around Fang, whose body floats in the water.

But the real story lies further from the lens. Zhang Yi, the photographer, claimed that Wang (and other salvage workers) were demanding Rmb12,000 for removing dead bodies from the river. Otherwise they would leave them in the water, according to Nanfang Weekly.

Zhang said Wang is raising his hand in the photo to signal he would delay delivery of Fang’s body until money was paid.

The outcome was a media storm, although the local Party Propaganda Department accused Li of misinterpretation, reported the Global Times. It said Wang’s hand gesture was being misinterpreted. The worker was actually directing the rescue boat toward the shore, not refusing to give the body back to students waiting on the riverbank.

Wang was also maligned for dragging the corpse behind his boat, rather than pulling it in. Thelocal fishermen fought back on his behalf, saying that they never bring corpses onto their boats. Their boats are their homes, they explained, and bringing a body inside is taboo.

But the photographer stuck to his story, and the Golden Lens judges agreed with him. It conducted an investigation and found that Zhang’s version held up. “The price negotiation did happen and was confirmed by all interviewees,” investigators said in a statement.

The release of a fuller selection of photos was also offered in support. One seems to show the fisherman’s boss counting the money that had been demanded for recovering the body. So perhaps Zhang was right after all.

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