Photo of antelopes unperturbed by Tibet train exposed as fake

23, Feb 20, 2008

A photograph showing more than 20 Tibetan antelopes roaming calmly under a railway bridge as a high-speed train to Lhasa was passing would have been a perfect propaganda coup for the Chinese government. It would also, no doubt, have beggared credulity. Regarding its value on the propaganda side, China has been saying that these highly endangered animals and others had adapted well to the Qinghai-Tibet railway, thereby justifying the controversial project as environment friendly.

Such a photograph did in fact appear in major Chinese newspapers and the photographer, Mr Liu Weiqiang, 41, went on win recognition for it as one of the 10 most impressive news photos of 2006 at an annual event on Dec 27, 2006 sponsored by CCTV (China Central Television). It has now emerged, however, that the photograph, titled as “Qinghai-Tibet railway opening, green passageway for wild animals”, was a fake. The photo has been admitted to be a paste work done on Photoshop software.

“We sincerely apologize to Chinese Central Television (CCTV), Xinhuanet and other media that published the picture,” the official China Daily Online Feb 19 quoted Liu’s employer Daqing Evening News, based in the oil city of Daqing, Heilongjiang province, as saying. Wang Zhongyi, chief editor of the newspaper, was forced to resign on Feb 17 for ‘failing to supervise Liu properly’, as was Liu himself, reported China’s official Xinhua news agency Feb 18. Five newspapers have terminated contract with Liu and blacklisted him.

Liu was forced to admit to the fakery after a forum-posting on the photography website on Feb 8 pointed to three pieces of evidence that suggested the shot had been fabricated. A red line, when magnified, revealed that two photos had been joined together to fabricate the award winning picture. The calmness of the antelopes despite the passing of a noisy, high-speed train was another. The third was Zoologists’ comments that Tibetan antelopes are easily disturbed by even the slightest sound. In his posting on the same website, Liu, admitting his guilt, has said, “I spent two weeks there waiting for the antelopes and train to appear together, but they never did.”

The question is, why this patently make-believe photo has gone on to win a national award and why the fakery has taken this long to be exposed. The reason can only be that it served an important official propaganda purpose regarding the environment friendliness of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. The openness of the internet, even with the Great Firewall of China, has obviously made it unviable for the lie to be propped up any longer.


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