A Plucky Freelancer & A Fine New Mag


Li Yuanyuan (Êùé™õ™õ) is a young investigative reporter with Beijing Television, and she does some freelancing on the side. Since last week, a mentor and editor of hers reports, Li has been running scared. On the streets of the capital, brutish-looking men have tailed her car, and over the phone, they have threatened her life. Worried, her editor has kept in contact with a prominent Chinese civil rights lawyer in town, who also knows Li, about how to protect her. They’ve advised her to return to her home, in Shanxi province, to lie low for a while. So far, though, Li has resisted. “She acts very self-important sometimes,” sighs her editor. Exactly who Li’s pursuers are, she isn’t sure. But she’s quite certain they work for angry property managers. Recently, Li Yuanyuan co-authored a 40,000-character expose about their bullying kind, headlined, “An Investigation Into the Truth about Property Management Violence in Beijing” (link).

The story emerged this month in China Review (Êñ∞ÈùíÂπ¥ÊùÉË°°), a new magazine of features and analysis on bread-and-butter socioeconomic issues. It remains curiously obscure. Launched at the start of the year, the high-brow monthly retails for 35 kuai and is not available on newstands. It circulates primarily via subscription and online, at www.quanheng.cn, which carries additional content. Click “About Us” on the Chinese-only site and currently, you go nowhere. But in contrast to its low-key rollout, China Review’s mission statement touts its ambitions to be “China’s version of The Economist”. Which explains the cover design (pictured above).

Past covers have probed the hazardous state of China’s financial system, the state sector’s “grey income”, and government intervention in the 3G market. China Review’s masthead, as listed on its web page on Sohu.com, appears most impressive. The editorial board is a veritable who’s who of reformist economists and legal scholars: Fan Gang, He Weifang, Lin Yifu, Mao Yushi, Sun Liping, Wu Jinglian, Zhang Shuguang, Zhang Weiying and others. A couple big-name veteran journalists moonlight as editors and writers, while columnists include Mao, the Unirule Institute co-founder, and CASS political scientist Liu Junning. The Heilongjiang provincial committee of the Communist Party Youth League, and its New Youth Periodical Publishing Group, are named as the magazine’s host institutions. Its backer, says the editor, is a rich Beijing businessman. “But he has a lot of ideals.”

Read on…

The investigation by Li, along with China Review staffer Guo Yushan, was the first in the magazine’s new “Deep Investigation” series. News portals and real estate industry sites took note. Not that mainland media haven’t already made much hay of the frictions at new developments and retooled subdivisions between tenants and private property managers, notorious for charging too much for too little. Li Yuanyuan had covered the story before on BTV. But the China Review piece, originally filed at 65,000 characters (approx. 35,000 words), offers a more insightful and sweeping look.

Split into eight parts, it covers the shady causes (parts 3-4) of the problem, the ugly consequences (parts 1-2), and the legal challenges to resolving it (parts 5-8). The report was inspired in part by a five-year study of more than 100 residential compounds by researchers at Renmin University, who found that serious disputes between residents and management firms at 80 percent of them. At 37 percent of those, disputes led to physical altercations. Li and Guo lede on one horrific instance:

“Quick! Take out the camera and the camcorder. Get a shot of my wounds!

“Don’t let the doctor stitch me up yet. It’s essential to hold onto proof.

June 11, 2005, Changping District Chinese Medicine Hospital, Tiantongyuan branch:
Seated in the emergency room, Li Youcheng used his hand to cover up the bleeding wound on his head, and wailed on and on. A resident on the scene told the reporter: “At the time, the man was nothing but blood. Besides the blood on his head, Li Youcheng, who’s 61, had a cut on his back that was 13 centimeters long and very deep. He needed 38 stitches.”

“Old Li, do you want the evidence or do you want your life?” the policeman who brought him in asked in a panic.

“The evidence matters most. The evidence matters most.”

Rights-defending tenant Tian Hao said: “The ones who cut him were two 20-something chaps. Luckily he’s tall, otherwise he’d be a goner.” In the hospital, Li Youcheng held out until his wounds were photographed before taking treatment. “By the time they finished shooting and collecting proof, because he had lost too much blood, he was already unconscious.”

As for Li Yuanyuan…As of this writing, her editor reports, “she is still safe.”