China Beat Archive


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October 27, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright October 27, 2008 Geremie R. Barme. Used by permission.


The 69th Morrison Lecture, “Reporting the Olympic Year,” was presented by Jane Macartney, The Times’ correspondent in Beijing, on October 22, 2008. The Morrison Lecture is an annual event in the academic calendar and public program of The Australian National University in Canberra. As 2008 was a major year for China, and Beijing in particular (something that will be marked by an upcoming publication by the editors of China Beat, China 2008: A Year of Great Significance), the Morrison Lecture Committee invited Jane to make this year’s presentation. As Jane noted in her précis of the Lecture, “The Olympics were always going to be a pivotal moment for China’s leaders: a moment in the international spotlight for sporting might and communist efficiency. But an almost trivial incident revealed another scenario. With just a year to go, police detained foreign reporters at a news conference by Reporters Without Borders. The response was revelatory. The Olympics would see no such nonsense. Behind the spectacle, China would revive the 1980s when lemons were unobtainable and State Security stealthily photographed affairs between Chinese and foreigners. While Beijing raced to complete its spectacular stadiums, more intangible aspects of life were retreating to a more authoritarian age.”

Jane presented a richly illustrated and fascinating on-the-ground view of reporting the Olympic Year from Beijing (the text of her Lecture will be posted shortly online). As the Beijing reporter for The Times she has a direct link to the journalistic career of George E. Morrison (1862-1920), after whom the lecture series is named. Morrison’s accounts of the Beijing Siege during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 made him famous (and controversial). Jane herself has her own history with China, one that reaches back to the advent of her ancestor Lord Macartney at the court of the Qianlong Emperor as the representative of His Brittanic Majesty George III in 1793. Jane now lives not far from Wangfu Jing in Central Beijing, a street known throughout much of the Republican era by its English name, Morrison Street (Molixun Jie). It was named after the famous Anglo-Australian writer and journalist who lived on it (for an account of the demolition of the remnants of Morrison’s house, and the site of his famous library, see Claire Roberts, “George E. Morrison’s Studio and Library“).