Evan Osnos, Letter from China, “The Forbidden Zone”

Evan Osnos writes the following profile of Hu Shuli:

Hu Shuli, the founding editor of the biweekly magazine Caijing, has made her name divining the boundaries of free expression in China. In the decade since she had founded Caijing, she sharply defied the image of China’s somnambulant press. Hu had endured as editor long after other tenacious Chinese journalists had been imprisoned or silenced. Describes an investigative report Caijing published on an earthquake in Sichuan that leveled several schools. Hu, who is fifty-six years old, was once suspended from a reporting job in 1989 because of her sympathy for the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, yet she has cultivated first-name familiarity with some of China’s most powerful Party leaders. Since 1998, when she established Caijing, she has guided the magazine with near-perfect pitch for how much candor and provocation the regime will tolerate. Caijing has the glossy feel and design of Fortune. In recent years, it’s begun to expand its reach, through a pair of Web sites, in Chinese and English. In 1992, as the international editor at China Business Times, Hu began covering the work of a small number of Chinese who had trained in Western finance. Many of them were the children of powerful Chinese leaders, and the group called itself the Stock Exchange Executive Council (SEEC). Mentions Gao Xiqing, Wang Boming, Wang Qishan, and Zhou Xiaochuan. Of China’s two thousand newspapers and eight thousand magazines, only Caijing and several business newspapers have independent voices and private funding. The Chinese leadership has been especially wary of press reform ever since Tiananmen Square. The Central Propaganda Department issues directives to editors and publishers that outline the latest recommendations of dos and don’ts. On her mother’s side, Hu comes from a line of Communist Party journalists and intellectuals. In 1978, she secured a coveted seat at People’s University in Beijing. After college, she joined Workers’ Daily, and, in 1987, she won a fellowship to spend five months in America. After her return, she wrote “Behind the Scenes at American Newspapers.” She founded Caijing in 1998, with Wang Boming. The defining moment in Caijing’s emergence, however, came in 2003, when the magazine produced a series on the SARS virus in China. In 2007, the Nieman Foundation, at Harvard, gave Hu an award for “conscience and integrity.” Mentions Cheng Yizhong. The strategy of acknowledging the authority of the system and then fighting prudently to improve it defines Caijing’s brilliance and its limitations.

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