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February 2, 2019

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Life is rarely black or white for ‘Ms Panda’

LIFE has rarely been black or white for Jin Xuqi — or “Ms Panda” as she’s fondly known in the fraternity of photographic journalism. Jin, chairwoman of Sichuan Province’s female photographers association, is an esteemed snapper in one of the world’s toughest professions — photo journalism. But it wasn’t always this way.

“Going above 2,900 meters to take photos of a panda is a unique experience,” she said.

“I spotted a panda but the moment I took out my camera it shouted at me and caught me off guard.”

This was Jin’s first encounter with a wild panda.

She was on a mission to shoot the living environment of the wild panda, which was later sent to Germany for studies.

“Luck was on my side when I took pictures of wild pandas,” Jin recalled.

Wild pandas are fierce animals. If treated wrongly scientists can put themselves in grave danger. Not to mention they are difficult to spot in the wild. “We followed a wild panda in case it discovered us. But who knows if it sat down and let us get close,” she said. “But I managed to get in front of its face and it didn’t get angry or upset.”

The panda lay down on a stone with its belly facing upward.

Jin’s colleagues waved a tree twig before its face as she clicked her camera. The panda did not respond.

“When that panda saw its reflection in the water, it thought there was another panda competing for water,” said Jin.

“So it drank too much water that it could not move. It stayed stationary for such a long time that it seemed drunk.”

Born in 1933, Jin studied Chinese at Sichuan University but became a photographic journalist after she graduated.

She was the first female photographic journalist for the Chengdu branch of Xinhua News Agency.

Giant pandas are just one of many subjects she has snapped during a six-decade career.

“The chief director of the Chengdu branch was reluctant to recruit female members because he thought females would have more problems and inconvenience,” said Jin.

“My editors hesitated to let me take pictures of pandas because the conditions were rough. But I immediately took up the job and started working while they were still discussing it.”

“The environment could get very demanding. When I was really tired I thought to myself ‘I should have let a guy do this,’ but in fact, I completed the job every time,” Jin added.

Jin’s pictures were eventually used to tell Chinese stories to foreigners.

During the early stages of her career, some foreign countries were hostile to China but also curious. The giant panda was one subject that captured the imagination of overseas readers.

Jin climbed multiple mountains and visited several natural preservation areas to witness panda cubs in their natural habitat — how they ate, rested, and how scientists took care of them. Her photos were reposted and published on foreign media platforms in several countries.

She received honorable mentions from the The sixth Annual Children’s Science Book held by New York Academy of Sciences for her album — “The Giant Panda.”

“Before I started to focus on pandas, I found two problems with my previous work,” said Jin. “One was I didn’t have many things to report on, and the other was that some photos weren’t very interesting. I was restricted to old patterns and neglected soft news.”

Jin eventually put her lens on themes like pandas, Sichuan snacks, bamboos, lantern fairs and temples for nuns. She discovered that the themes with more local flavors were more popular and widely accepted. “I didn’t know what foreign readers would like to see,” she said. “It all gradually came to me as I captured more living moments about local stories.”

Jin describes herself as someone simple-minded. When others suggested she quit the job, when it got too hard, it made her more determined to succeed. “Every job has its sweet and sour moments,” she said.

A recent “sweet” rewarding moment, as a journalist, was when a picture she took 60 years ago was finally published in a newspaper.

“I took photos of writer Li Jieren in his house in 1958, but it was never published because of certain reasons,” she said.

“And I forgot about the photo until I saw the caption in a newspaper on December, 2018. I retired 30 years ago and the photo was taken 60 years ago. I was so excited when I saw it published.”

“I always feel very lucky to work for Xinhua, which gave me a chance to meet so many pandas and people,” the 85-year-old said with a smile.


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