Date of this Version
August 6, 2008 in The China Beat http://www.thechinabeat.org/
I’ve just finished reading China Ink: The Changing Face of Chinese Journalism by Judy Polumbaum with Xiong Lei. Given the plentiful recent discussion of the Chinese media and censorship during the lead up to the 2008 Olympic games, this book makes for fascinating and very timely reading. It consists of a short introduction by Judy Polumbaum, Professor of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Iowa, and the transcripts of interviews that she and Xiong Lei, who has worked as a reporter in Beijing for twenty-five years, conducted from late 2005 until late 2006 with journalists currently working in the Chinese capital.
The twenty young journalists whose words appear in this volume work for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations in Beijing (the volume says little about the Internet, a key site of journalistic activity in China today, for as Polumbaum notes in her Introduction, that subject deserves a book unto itself). The journalists presented in China Ink are a very dedicated group—animated by a desire to serve society, to convey truth to readers, and to uphold professional standards for themselves and others who work in the same field. They speak quite freely about both the frustrations and joys of their work. Most of them touch on the topics of censorship of and propaganda in the Chinese media. The picture they cumulatively paint on those subjects is complicated and nuanced, though virtually every one who talks about censorship states clearly that it happens and that it is a bad thing. Xiong Lei is preparing a slightly modified Chinese version of the book, which will be identical to the English edition save for the removal of background information that appears in the English edition but is not be necessary for Chinese readers; what this suggests is that public discussion of censorship as a phenomenon in China is not off limits. It is off limits to talk about some subjects in the press, in other words, but not to talk about the fact of censorship itself. That, to me, is a hopeful sign, and evidence of just how much things are changing in the journalistic realm in China today.