Photojournalists were allowed extraordinary access to China in 2008 as the country prepared to host the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. They documented an evolving landscape of ambition that often valued achievement of the country above the needs of its countrymen. Images of the construction of innovative buildings, such as the Bird’s Nest, were often in contrast to a darker reality facing the Chinese people.
In May, a deadly 7.9-magnitude earthquake in the southwestern province of Sichuan that killed more than 69,000 and caused another 5 million Chinese to become homeless. In remote rural communities, photography communicated to the world the enormity of the natural disaster. Perhaps none were so emotionally unnerving as the images of schools that had collapsed while classes were in session, burying 19,000 children in a grave of rubble. July saw the last township along the banks of the Yangtze River to be relocated to make way for rising waters and the completion of the Three Gorges Dam—the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. Since displacement began in 2004, more than 1.4 million Chinese have been moved from their homes.
Sorrow gave way to glory when the Olympic Games kicked off in August. More than 11,000 athletes competed in 302 events that were marked with athletic artistry and world records, including eight gold medals by U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps.