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April 11, 2016

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There’s an ugly side to China’s identity cards

CHINESE people use their ID cards for everything from travel and banking to marriage registration. But for many, the document also displays their least flattering photo.

Authorities around the country have started catering to image-conscious citizens by helping them take ID photos worthy of the social media age.

In late March, the public security department of north China’s Hebei Province announced on Weibo that residents who apply for or renew their ID cards can take their own pictures.

In the past, the photos were taken by police officers. The new system allows people to sit in front of a screen, press a remote control button, review the pictures and choose a favorite. If they are not satisfied, they can try again.

Hebei is not the only place in China to tackle the ugly photo problem. Shenzhen police have authorized professional photo studios to take ID pictures for residents, and police in northeast China’s Jilin Province worked with a software company to develop a photo editing program for IDs.

He Peng, deputy director with Jilin’s Exit and Entry Administration, said the new software can tailor the photos to meet requirements for ID cards, passports, and other official documents.

“Police officers can help people shoot an attractive and approved photo in three minutes or less,” He said.

China has been issuing its second-generation ID cards, featuring computer chips and digital encryption, since 2005. The cards have validity periods ranging from 10 years for people aged between 16 and 25 to 20 years for people aged 26 to 45, and even longer for older people. In other words, a bad photo can stick around for decades.

According to a Chinese Internet joke, if you want to know whether a person is really beautiful, you should check his or her ID or passport photo.

“My new photo looks much better than the old one,” said Zhang Nan, a Jilin University student who recently renewed a second-generation ID card.

Authorities have strict requirements for ID photos: the full face and ears must be visible, hair must not fall over the eyes, dark clothes should be worn, and no heavy makeup is allowed.

“Due to the strict requirements and my fear of poker-faced police officers, the photo on my ID card is the ugliest one I have ever taken. It is good news that I now have the final say,” said one Weibo user.

Hassle at hotels

An online survey showed that more than 71 percent of 419 respondents thought the photos on their ID cards, student cards and passports were ugly, and 45 percent admitted that the photos had led to hassle when flying, checking in to hotels or taking exams.

“A teacher even refused to let me into class for an English exam because he thought it was not me after checking my ID card,” said one microblogger.

In order to get a good photo, one college student from Jilin’s Yanji City repeatedly visited her local police station claiming to have lost her ID.

“It is strange for a person to always lose an ID card. The girl finally told us that she thought her photos were too ugly and just wanted to take new ones,” said a police officer.

Song Wanlai, a Jilin-based police officer, said it is reasonable for people to ask for attractive ID photos.

“As long as the photos meet the requirements, we are willing to help people show a prettier face by updating our photo equipment and training ourselves,” Song said.


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