|August 29, 2006
A Chinese Journalist’s
Journey to the West
By Doug McGill
ROCHESTER, MN -- First: Don’t peek below for the answer! Now take
a look at the following four headlines and guess in which newspaper they
“Strip Poker Champ Bares All After Win”
“Boy Falls Asleep in Class, Sues Teacher”
“Newborn Albino Pygmy Marmoset”
“Jen Hits Fashion Heights”
Are we talking The National Enquirer here? The Star? Any of those tabloids in
the grocery checkout line? The New York Post on a slow news day?
Nope, to all of the above. The correct answer is the China Daily, the state-controlled
English-language newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party.
Hongyong Lu, a reporter at the China Daily, explained to an audience at the Rochester
Public Library the other day that the flood of tabloid-style stories in his and
other Chinese newspapers reflects modern China’s adoption of a brand of
capitalism so bare-knuckled it would make Bill Gates blush.
“The catchword in China today is the economy,” Lu said. “You need
cash to do anything, and sensational stories increase newsstand sales.”
History and Language
Even the official Chinese-language newspaper of the Communist Party, the
which for decades was distributed free as a means of social control, now costs
1 yuan (about 13 cents) at the newsstand. The newspaper’s website carries
ads for Coca Cola next to Communist Party ads.
The 37-year-old Lu, now in the United States on a 16-week program of study
and cultural visits sponsored by the World Press Institute at Macalester College,
said one of his most memorable moments so far was his first night as a home-stay
guest in Ely in northern Minnesota.
“It was the best night’s sleep I have had in a decade,” he
air was so clean and fresh compared to Shanghai, where I live.”
A native of the rural Chinese province of Anhui, Lu’s career choice
traces, oddly enough, to a one-year hospital stay as a young boy, during
which he read
constantly and fell in love with history and language.
Propped up on pillows in his hospital bed, recovering from complications
of appendicitis, he read straight through all four of the great Chinese literary
classics – A Dream of Red Mansions, Journey to the West, The Romance
of Three Kingdoms, and Outlaws of the Marsh.
A Goose for Company
“For a little child the sense of history is strange,” Lu said. “It
gave me my first dose of interest in the liberal arts, and for a while I
thought I would become a novelist.” But he veered towards journalism because
high English exam scores paved the way for scholarships at his county school,
then in his provincial capital city, and finally in the nation’s capital,
Lu says he’s often struck by a surreal sense of the path his life has
taken, compared to how it might have turned out.
“I was born in a peasant village,” he said. “My world was confined
to a limited space, the sun rose on one side and fell on the other, and I
had maybe a goose for company.”
Lu vividly recalls the day he was promoted to the China Daily’s elite “state
affairs” team of journalists who travel with top Chinese officials.
“For a country boy who struggled every day for survival, now to be in an
office sipping coffee and flying around the world with the Prime Minister of
I felt a ‘wow!’ at the changes in my life.”
In his one-hour talk at the Rochester library, Lu cited China statistics
that described a colossus propped on sticks, with multiple overlapping
created by China’s shift from a centrally-controlled to a capitalist
China’s vast and growing rich-poor gap is among the worst results of
that shift, Lu said, not least because China now has the very class-structured
society that Communism tried to abolish.
Joblessness in rural areas is especially
acute, with some 200 million peasants now moving to live in China’s
cities in a rural-to-urban migration of unprecedented scale.
This horde is creating giant urban slums as peasants take the factory jobs
that make the cheap goods Americans buy at Wal-Mart and other retailers.
Education for these workers would offer a gateway out of poverty, Lu said,
but a government policy change is cementing the rich-poor gap instead.
In 1989, China started cutting back on university scholarships the state
had traditionally given to promising students, while at the same time charging
steep fees and tuition. As a result, increasingly only children from wealthy
families can go to college, while promising poor children have no chance.
Only when someone asked about Taiwan did the temperature noticeably rise in
the room. China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and repeatedly warns
it will go to war to “reunify” the territory with mainland China
if provoked by certain conditions, such as if Taiwan, supported by U.S. military
protection, were to formally declare independence from China.
“Will the U.S. and China go to war someday?” Lu said, visibly roused. “The
answer is yes, we will, if the U.S. really means business about the protection
of Taiwan. China has to fulfill the reunification with Taiwan. I would emotionally
support for us to go to war if there is a need.”
Lu ended his remarks by recalling Minnesota’s natural beauty and the
hospitality of his hosts, including Isabel and Ken Huizenga of Rochester, whom
he called his “Host Mommy” and “Host Daddy.”
“My impression of Minnesota is simply paradise,” he said.
Copyright @ 2006 The McGill Report