Wang’s CV echoes the development China’s mainstream media: from life as a propagandist to a role as a watchdog – albeit one on a sturdy chain. He started his career as an official in western Gansu province in the mid-80s – “a very easy shortcut to wealth and status”, he observed, in an interview conducted before the vaccines controversy.
He recalled the propaganda stories he used to churn out – “like accountants working under the leadership of the Communist party with a red heart” – and how he cobbled together articles for local media for a bit of extra cash. But as residents sought him out with their problems, he found his conscience stirring. “They enthusiastically welcomed me into their homes, told me their stories and looked at me with high expectations. As a 20-year-old it was the first time I was paid so much attention and I felt a great responsibility. I had to tell their story.”
By 2001 he was “China’s most expensive reporter”: not a reference to his salary or lifestyle – he still works from a small, dingy room in his paper’s nondescript offices in outer Beijing – but to the mammoth price put on his head for exposing illegal dealings in local financial markets. Soon afterwards another report enraged local officials and cost him his job.
“I had problems with black society [gangs], and problems with red society [officials],” Wang said. “I heard there was a special investigation team, [with the target of] sending me to prison.”
Read more about Wang Keqin via CDT.