Dissent in China: For Elite Eyes Only

Global Integrity
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Caijing magazine is one of the few Chinese publications to have earned a high journalist reputation both nationally and internationally, while also remaining relatively untouched by Chinese media censors. But how? Evan Osnos unpacks the reasons in his piece in this week’s New Yorker (July 20) profiling Hu Shuli, Caijing’s founding editor.

Throughout this piece (online summary here, full text for subscibers), Osnos continues to emphasize two elements contributing to Caijing’s success: the magazine’s elite status, and the timing and tone of its reporting

The magazine has a small circulation of only 20,000 but included in that group are the most powerful government officials and business professionals in the nation. To fit that audience: “the writing can be purposefully dense, and even elitist…” Hu brings the magazine a breezy rolodex of government contacts: leaders who respect her for her reputation but would not hesitate to accuse her or her magazine of libel.

So why would government officials allow for these investigative stories to run? Especially in a magazine that they will literally find on their kitchen-table?

Precisely because of that status. High government officials see this magazine as belonging in their home, in the realm of the elite; above the sphere of second-tier newspapers and their typically working-class readership. In addition to this, Caijing’s critiques are aimed not at individual actors but the larger system. Finger-pointing and aggressive advocacy tactics are not part of the Caijing style. As it turns out, Chinese government officials like outside analysis, as long as its critiques leave room for evasion from blame.

Hu and her team also use subtle timing tactics to avoid government censorship and still manage to produce factual investigative pieces. For instance, Caijing reporters continually collect information surrounding corruption in government, using all legal routes to probe. However, once a report is completed, the magazine sits on its findings waiting for the ideal moment to publish. One such moment came last month: “on June 8th, Xinhua issued a one-sentence report saying that the mayor of Shenzhen had been detained in a corruption probe, Caijing posted an in-depth piece twenty-nine minutes later.”

It would go way too far to say Caijing is untouchable, but a fellow journalist spoke to the protection that the magazine’s reputation provides: “Caijing, [Cheng] said, has achieved a stature that put it out of reach of lower-ranking bureaucrats.” Above the fray of competing publications and low-raking officials, Caijing can continue to produce solid analysis with subtle critiques embedded in the reporting. This is exactly the type of journalism that highlighted as a bright-spot in the Global Integrity Report: China.

If you have some free time this weekend, I recommend reading through this piece.

— Norah Mallaney

Global Integrity
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