China Beat Archive



Date of this Version


Document Type



February 13, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright February 13, 2008. Used by permission.


This week, The China Beat interviews Catherine Sampson, former BBC journalist and The Times correspondent, as well as the author of four mystery novels (see below). You can learn a lot more about her on her website, which also includes an exciting blog.

NB: What was the most intriguing, amusing, inspiring, or eye-opening story that you covered in China?

CS: I worked as a journalist in Beijing for The Times of London between 1988 and 1993. Both the most inspiring and then the most awful was 1989. The student demonstrations went on for 6 weeks and drew in all sorts of other people. It was an exhilarating time, a gutsy, good-natured, hopeful, time. It all came to a horrible end on June 4th, and the next few years in China were bleak ones. I haven’t worked as a journalist here since 1994, and it’s June 4th that stays with me, the political intrigue that surrounded it, and the myriad stories of bravery and tragedy. I think we’re wrong if we believe people have forgotten about 1989 in the excitement of economic activity that has swept the country.

NB: How has your “previous” life as a journalist impacted your work as a novelist?

CS: My ‘previous life’ as a journalist reminded me to keep my sentences short, my storyline clear, and to deliver on deadline. I think it also made me a good editor of my own writing. But starting to write as a novelist I also had to learn how to leave journalism behind, and to shift stylistic gear entirely. My ‘previous life’ as a journalist in China also taught me a lot about the country, so that when I started writing about it in fiction, it felt like a natural step.