David Barboza’s investigation of the wealth built by Wen Jiabao’s extended family has dominated China news since its publication by The New York Times early on Friday. While the basic fact that wealth and power go hand in hand may surprise few—China Daily Show joked that anthropologists had discovered one man in a remote Chinese village who was shocked by the revelation—the sheer scale of the family’s business dealings has taken some aback. Besides, as Bloomberg’s Mike Forsythe tweeted, “there is a HUGE difference between ‘knowing’ and DOCUMENTING which NYT did!“
In a short follow-up article at The New York Times, Barboza explained how he had obtained these documents:
Thirty years of economic reform — and government policies aimed at attracting foreign investment — have created a set of government agencies that keep records on private corporations and their major shareholders, including copies of resumes and government-issued identity cards.
It is this system that allows news organizations, including The New York Times, to request and review corporate records. Although ordinary citizens are not allowed access to the records, they can hire a lawyer or consulting firm to request documents for a fee of $100 to $200 per company. The Times used this process in obtaining thousands of pages of corporate documents to review the business networks controlled by the relatives of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
More details on the year-long investigation came from the Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, who revealed that the newspaper had discussed the article with Chinese officials. The warning this provided may have contributed to the unusual speed with which censors pounced in the early hours of Friday morning.
Joseph Kahn, the foreign editor, told me that he knew when the reporting on this story began – about a year ago – that it would be...
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