Xi Jinping, who began his rise in the Zhejiang regional government two decades ago, was an active newspaper columnist, describes Richard McGregor, Financial Times China correspondent, in “Xi Jinping: The Backlash” (Penguin, 2019).
It still is, in a way. He regularly publishes in Qiushi, the Chinese PC’s bimonthly theory magazine. In January, he wrote the article “Working together to build a community of shared destiny for humanity”, with great repercussions, with proposals of an international order.
But in 2013, shortly after taking office as national leader, a censorship episode in the Guangzhou weekend newspaper Nanfang Zhoumo showed that more independent journalism would not have it easy under columnist Xi. . Linked to the daily Nanfang Ribao, Nanfang Zhoumo is historically the most energetic in the country, with revelations on different levels of government.
“In areas known to be corrupt, authorities feared visiting Nanfang journalists,” said Katsuji Nakazawa, Japanese Nikkei correspondent in China. “With frontline coverage, it resonated with people across the country and flew off the shelves of Beijing newsstands.”
In 2013, Guangzhou censors edited an article, journalists reacted to Sina Weibo and were suspended from the platform, some went on strike – and there was a protest outside the newspaper building.
The episode faded, but left what is known as the chill effect, in which reporters start to take more control of themselves, the same thing that is now being felt in newsrooms in Hong Kong with the closure of the Apple Daily.
In the synthesis of the American journalist Bill Bishop, who produces in Washington the influential newsletter Sinocism, which undermines the main vehicles of the country, in Chinese, Nanfang was “neutralized”. Beijing daily Xin Jing Bao, created by the Nanfang team, went through a similar process.
Brazilian journalist Talita Fernandes, settled in the Chinese capital for a year, from where she started editing the Shumian newsletter, confirms that the famous Canton newspaper “was much more independent”.
With a short period in power, Xi may not have had any direct involvement, but three years later he visited major newsrooms of agencies institutionally linked to the government, such as the CCTV network, and the party. , like Diário do Povo, and set the record straight. : “The media run by the party and the government” must speak for themselves, more precisely, for their “authority and unity”.
In Xi’s nearly a decade, the go-to vehicle has grown to be the Global Times or Huanqiu, a nationalist tabloid with both English and Chinese versions.
“It’s part of the People’s Daily Group, it’s a useful windmill for the direction policies will take,” Bishop said, highlighting the prominent role of Hu Xijing, its editor, who works on platforms. like Sina Weibo and Twitter: “Hu has become a celebrity, even more in China than abroad.”
In the West, he has been profiled by the New York Times and others, seeking to understand how a Tiananmen Square protester in 1989 became the loudest reporter in response to the governments of Donald Trump and now Joe Biden, calling especially China to expand its nuclear arsenal. .
He is not the only celebrity in Chinese journalism. Hu Shuli founded, was an editor and is now an editor of Caixin, Beijing. Originally a magazine, it has grown into a comprehensive economic analysis and coverage operation that includes, among other products, Chinese and English websites and financial ratios.
She, too, has been profiled by The New Yorker and others interested in the terror she is spreading in Chinese authorities and businesses and her apparent childhood friendship with Xi Jinping.
In “The Party” (HarperCollins, 2010), a reference work on the Chinese PC, Richard McGregor describes a dinner attended by Hu and the chairman of one of the largest Chinese public banks, a member of the party. The hosts assured that the conversation would be confidential, but the executive reacted with irony: “I’m worried about the scandalous over there.”
Caixin, among other recent cases, interviewed a Wuhan doctor who tried to warn of the coronavirus and was threatened by a local PC member – and would soon die of Covid-19.
Bishop describes Hu as “a reporter within the system, but who allows herself to push the boundaries of the system, sometimes more aggressively.” Talita Fernandes describes Caixin as an “island of journalism, not least because it has this economic footprint”.
Other high-impact Chinese titles, including overseas, are gaining more attention from their owners, billionaires born out of the country’s booming tech sector.
This is the case of Eric X. Li’s Guancha in Shanghai, whom Bishop describes as “a successful ‘capitalist enterprise’ which presents the world with a cosmopolitan and sophisticated image” but produces a “populist vehicle”. It was Guancha who interviewed Lula about the PC two weeks ago.
This is also the case with the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, acquired in 2015 by Jack Ma from Alibaba. For Bishop, “Ma probably regretted it, it just seems to bring political headaches.”