The New York-based photographer’s wife, Xu Xiaoli, on that day had tweeted a letter to the world in which she told readers that she had not heard from her husband since 3 November, when he was visiting politically restless Xinjiang Province. International media outlets have since taken on the missing person’s case and with Lu’s background in the documenting of many a politically and socially sensitive Chinese issue, question marks are now rife.
Censorship VS Twitter
China’s online BBS.HUPU community did make brief mention of Lu’s disappearance when the news broke in the early hours of 27 November. The snippet was taken down soon after.
“He has been missing for more than 20 days and as his closest family member, I have not received any notice of his arrest,” Xu writes in the statement she posted on Twitter. “I have repeatedly contacted Xinjiang police, but thus far have been unable to get through.”
Environmental And Societal Issues
Lu is a three-time World Press Photo award winner who focuses on environmental and societal issues in China. Lu’s polluted water survey, in particular, proved cause for outrage. Curator and Art Director Jean Loh, for one, wrote an excellent piece on this documentation undertaking of his. A snippet:
“Over the years, Lu Guang’s works have inspired other young Chinese photojournalists to take up the issue of pollution, but he remains one of the few showing the human face of the consequences of pollution, with poignant portraits of cancer victims and children with birth defects caused by contaminated water. Unlike other come-and-go photographers, Lu Guang’s compassionate nature often wins him the trust of farmers and fishermen, enough to inspire them to guide him to the sources of pollution, to witness the blatant violation of regulations by the local industries. He would often stay in their homes for some time, writing down their stories, even taking them to the hospital for treatment should the need arise.”
AIDS And Awards
His coverage of HIV and the AIDS villages in China’s Henan Province, too, was cause for both international crowning and Chinese frowning.
Poor peasants in the province in the mid-90s had sold their blood for 50 yuan a pint, just enough to buy two bags of fertilizer. As a result of unsafe procedures, a large number of them were infected with the HIV virus. In some villages up to 40 percent of inhabitants carry the virus, but for a long time have been isolated from help given the existence of AIDS in China was not officially acknowledged.
“His work on the Aids villages won First Prize in the Contemporary Issues category in the 2004 World Press Photo contest. His picture story on drug addicts in southern Yunnan was exhibited at Visa pour l’Image that same year,” World Press Photo writes in Lu’s bio, “In 2005, he became the first photographer from China to be invited by the U.S. Department of State as a visiting scholar. In 2008, Lu Guang won the Henri Nannan Prize in Photography in Germany; in 2009 he was a recipient of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund, and in 2010 he won a National Geographic Photography Grant.”
Lu, 57, was invited to attend a photography event in Xinjiang to “exchange ideas” and on 23 October had arrived in the province’s capital of Urumqi.
Lu had originally planned to fly from Urumqi down to China’s southern Sichuan Province on 5 November, where he would meet up with another friend (only known to the public as “Mr. Chen”) for a charity event.
Nevertheless, when Mr. Chen arrived in Sichuan, he was unable to locate Lu and contacted his to inquire about the photographer’s whereabouts. Xu had lost touch with her husband on the evening of 3 November, and she soon after learned from contacts at the event that he had been taken away by local national security agents.
“Xinjiang, in far western China, has become notorious for its tight security controls and heavy surveillance and police presence,” BBC News writes. “The government is also sensitive to criticism and has detained reporters before who were investigating negative stories about China.”
Lu and Xu were supposed to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary upon his return home. Xu has stated that she currently saw no direct cause for China’s government to take her husband into custody.
Featured Image: Water Survey #2717, Hebei Province. Photography by Lu Guang.
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