28 October 2016
Jimmi Ho's award-winning picture of a university dormitory building has sparked intense discussion in online forums on the mainland. Photo:
Jimmi Ho's award-winning picture of a university dormitory building has sparked intense discussion in online forums on the mainland. Photo:

HK student faces criticism in China over award-winning photo

A Hong Kong student’s award-winning snapshot of a university dormitory building in Guangzhou has sparked heated discussions in online forums, with mainland citizens taking offense at the picture’s original caption.

Jimmi Ho Wing-ka’s photo, titled Silenced, was captured last year at South China Normal University, showing a highly dense dormitory with clothes hanging outside the rooms.

The picture won the second place in the city categories in the 2016 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest.

Following the contest results earlier this month, the stunning photo was widely circulated by mainland media and in online forums, including WeChat Moments.

But netizens noted that Ho had altered the caption on the photo before entering the contest.

They pointed out that in the original message attached to the photo, Ho had written that “students work like slaves or more like prisoners” at universities on the mainland due to “serious academic corruption, dry and irrelevant curriculum, and rote memorization teaching methods”.

The educational system will turn the students into “soulless zombies”, he wrote, without naming any particular institution.

As the comments were circulated online, Ho drew a backlash from mainlanders, who accused the Hong Kong student of bias and making ill-judged remarks. 

Ho told Apple Daily that the original caption had been a passing thought and that he never intended to be judgmental on mainland universities. 

He also denied that the photo was meant to target any particular institution.

Ho, through an online community discussion section, apologized for the original description, and also pointed out that he had amended the caption before submitting the photo for the contest.

Despite his move, the photo is still being circulated online with the “prison” hashtag, drawing more fire from mainland netizens.

Commentators said Ho was wrong in passing a judgment on China’s education system just by looking at a university dormitory.

But some people were sympathetic toward Ho, pointing out that the facilities in some universities were indeed outdated and in need of revamp.

Meanwhile, according to some reports, the Guangzhou university dormitory that was pictured by Ho is seeing some improvement works, including the installation of air-conditioning.

It is not the first time that Ho has won a top-notch photography contest.

In March, he bagged first prize in the Hong Kong section of the 2016 Sony World Photography Awards with his work “Childhood”.

That photo was taken at Choi Hung Estate, one of the oldest public housing estates in Hong Kong.

Ho says he would like to be a photographer or journalist after graduation.

He said the controversy surrounding the Guangzhou dormitory picture won’t stop him from photography or working on China-related issues.

The student says the next topic that he would like to focus on in his photography work is “urban villages”.

Translation by Chloe Chow

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