Jason Lee

Jason Lee

Beijing, China
Sichuan, China
“I am still pursuing my dream – using cameras to document China’s historic changes.”


I usually cover breaking news, politics, and economic and social issues in China.

One Shot

. MIANYANG, China. REUTERS/Jason Lee
Soldiers, rescue workers and survivors evacuate residents from the centre of earthquake-hit Beichuan county, Sichuan province.
“I was taking pictures after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake when someone from the military came over and yelled that the dam on a nearby lake was cracking. Seeing the soldiers around me starting to run, I was very nervous and began to run immediately. After going about 100 meters, I wondered if I would die that day. I thought I should at least take some pictures to let everyone know what it was like before I died.”


My earliest impression of photography came from family photos: portraits of my mum and dad and myself, when I was young. People looked very serious in these pictures, which made me serious as well in front of the camera. That’s the reason I have never liked being photographed.

A friend of my father’s, a portrait photographer, gave him an old camera and he gave it to me on my fourteenth birthday. The camera was very old and difficult to use. I went to a bookstore to buy an instruction book and I managed to shoot some pictures. I was very excited! Using this camera I learnt all the basic skills of photography and became obsessed with it.

Before I graduated from college, I had already started working as an intern for a local newspaper. At the beginning, I didn’t get to shoot good or important news stories. I remember my first assignment was shooting an electricity pole, which was built on the sidewalk. I went there and took the picture, hoping someone would take it seriously and get rid of the pole.

Of all of the assignments I have been given, the 2008 Sichuan earthquake left the biggest mark on me. I was one of the first photojournalists to arrive after the disaster. Having spent nearly a month there, I covered the most intense, miserable and painful images. This experience had a huge influence on me. I still suffer some mental trauma, but on the other hand it also helped me understand more about life, about my career and my family.

In China, the stories that excite me the most are political conferences, which lots of other people find very boring. To me, these dull conferences are actually making the decisions that matter to billions of people’s lives.

I am still pursuing my dream – using cameras to document China’s historic changes, even though it is not an easy job. As everyone knows, China is a country with a long history and many deep and complicated problems socially and politically.

I think my biggest lesson was understanding my lack of in-depth social and political knowledge, which limited my perspective when I tried to reflect reality. Thinking back on some of the stories I did before, I still see space for improvement, and sometimes I really wish I had pushed harder.

There are two photographers whose works I respect the most. The first is the AP’s Nick Ut, who covered the Vietnam War, and took a picture of a naked girl running away when a village was under attack by U.S. forces. The second is by Chinese photographer Xie Hailong and shows a little girl with big eyes. This picture was a key factor in raising people's awareness of poor children. I think these are great images: the photographers used them to change reality, to guide society, and to rewrite people’s fate. That is my ideal too.

Behind the Scenes

Reuters photographer Jason Lee poses with hotel guides in Tiananmen Square during the annual session of China's parliament, the National People's Congress.