The Trials of Being a Chinese Reporter

As if being a reporter in China weren’t hard enough already, the government is planning to enforce more stringent requirements to ensure that journalists “learn socialist and Marxist theories of journalism and media ethics.” But even when you do become a reporter, the path is not an easy one. Getting comments or even information at all for stories can be difficult, as evidenced by this recording of a Hong Kong reporter trying to confirm Google’s retreat from China with Chinese government officials.

The recording comes with a hat tip to the Twitter of Jeremy Goldkorn (of Danwei). The recording can also be streamed here. What follows is a rough translation of the phone conversation.


[Note: for obvious reasons, translating spoken speech is harder than translating something written. This is my first time attempting this sort of translation, and while I believe it reflects quite accurately the conversation as it was recorded, I have left a few small parts out and can’t be sure I haven’t made some mistakes.]
Reporter: May I ask, is this the State Council news bureau?
S.C. Worker 1: Yes.
Reporter: Oh, it’s like this, I’d like to ask whether Google is leaving the Chinese market or not.
S.C. Worker 1: Oh, this… […] we still don’t have that…we’re still not very clear on it.
Reporter: Why?
S.C. Worker 1: So you’ll have to ask another department, this office hasn’t received any news.
Reporter: You haven’t recieved any news. But isn’t this the State Council news bureau?
S.C. Worker 1: Yes. But we have many offices.
Reporter: Oh. Then what office should I ask? What office is this?
S.C. Worker 1: This is the news office.
Reporter: The news office, yes?
S.C. Worker 1: Yes.
Reporter: And at the news office you haven’t heard anything relating to [this piece of news]?
S.C. Worker 1: Uh, this, perhaps it is not our office that is responsible for this [piece of news].
Reporter: In that case, what office is responsible for it?
S.C. Worker 1: Uh [long pause] it’s…the propaganda office.
Reporter: Oh, the propaganda office?
S.C. Worker 1: Yes, maybe it’s the propaganda office.
Reporter: But have you heard the news that Google is going to leave China?
S.C. Worker 1: I saw it on the internet, but this office isn’t responsible for it.
Reporter: OK, so can you tell me the phone number for the propaganda office?
S.C. Worker 1: You could send a memo over and I could pass it along to them, how’s that?
Reporter: Oh, that might not be convenient, could you just directly tell me the propaganda office’s number?
S.C. Worker 1: Uh…I don’t have it now, wait a minute, I will ask [pause] OK, call 65226165 and ask.
Reporter: 65226165, and what office is that?
S.C. Worker 1: It’s an office responsible for dealing with reporters
Reporter: Oh, OK. Thank you.
S.C. Worker 1: Bye bye.

[Reporter calls that number]

Reporter: Is this the State Council news bureau office responsible for dealing with questions from reporters?
S.C. Worker 2: Yes, who is this?
Reporter: It’s like this, we saw that Google is going to leave the Mainland and wanted to ask about this news.
S.C. Worker 2: That…is it convenient if…which media outlet are you from?
Reporter: I’m a reporter with Radio Free Asia.
S.C. Worker 2: Oh, why don’t you send a fax, OK, send it to 65226115.
Reporter: 65226115?
S.C. Worker 2: Yes. Write your question on the fax, OK?
Reporter: Is this news real or not?
S.C. Worker 2: Uh, because I’m just the person who answers the phones, personally, I don’t have any way of responding to your question. We prefer to receive faxes.
Reporter: So do you have any information at all [about the news Google is leaving China]?
S.C. Worker 2: If you want to ask me this in detail, because I only answer the phones, I personally…you probably can understand, there are different jobs within an office. How about this, going by the normal system, you should send a fax to the number I just told you
Reporter: And then?
S.C. Worker 2: And write your question and your name and how to get in touch with you on the fax. Then on this end we will deal with it according to the system. We will get in touch with you.


Obviously, this kind of thing happens to reporters everywhere from time to time, but the fact that the government department responsible for dealing with reporters and news couldn’t answer a simple question is sort of concerning even when one doesn’t take into account their rather antiquated “system” of responding to questions (I would love to hear if this reporter ever heard back from them). Why, for that matter, is the person who answers the phones at the office for responding to requests from reporters not capable of answering a simple “is this true or not” question?

0 thoughts on “The Trials of Being a Chinese Reporter”

  1. Is there a handbook somewhere on what the proper “socialist and Marxist theories of” China are? For example, what is journalism, art, literature, marriage, etc? Or do they just make this stuff up as they go along?


  2. Seems to me that it wasn’t so much that they didn’t know anything, rather it was more that they didn’t want to be responsible for disseminating information that hadn’t been “harmonized” yet. To that end, their responses were classic east Asian ways of “doing nothing because I don’t want to get in trouble.”


  3. Pay attention to the second phone call. The reporter putted off the first question “who is this” from the State Council worker and when she’s asked the second time, she said with a speed tone “我是香港打来自由亚洲电台记者” (I’m a Free Asia Radio reporter calling from Hong Kong). You should know what kind of news agency FAR is, from wikipedia, “Radio Free Asia (RFA) is a private radio station funded by the United States Congress that broadcasts in nine Asian languages.” I know translating spoken Chinese is hard to you but how can one miss translating such important piece?

    I’m actually surprised the worker politely tell the reporter to fax her questions to the Council and wait for answers. If I was the worker, I wouldn’t tell anything to the RFA reporter, because, given their notorious reputation, there would be a twisted “an unnamed Chinese official said blah blah” propaganda in the next day’s broadcasting in RFA.

    And use this recording to reflect “being a Chinese reporter” is actually an insult to Chinese reporters.


  4. When you don´t want to reply, that´s what people do… Yes, send me a fax, and then I´ll clean my ass with it. Call another office, talk to someone else… just tell me you don´t wanna say anything, it´s more honest.


  5. I’m glad this is getting wide circulation, but it is absolutely banal for any reporter who has worked in China. Every day, every call is mostly like this. When someone actually gives an answer, it is an exception.


  6. @ lxjx: To be honest, I missed that the first time listening because she said it so fast (and because I wasn’t sure how to say “Radio Free Asia” in Chinese). I just added it.

    However, it’s an insult to Chinese reporters? I love how Hong Kong counts as part of China when it’s convenient, and doesn’t count as part of China when it’s inconvenient. Are HK people not Chinese today because RFA has journalists there?

    “Chinese” is an ethnicity and a nationality, not a political viewpoint.


  7. @C. Custer
    I agree with lxjx. I am all for freedom of speech and such, and like Google a lot. But I would definitely not talk to a reporter from RFA. It is the fact that the reporter is from RFA that is the problem, not that the reporter is from Hong Kong.


  8. @ ARWEN: So people who work for RFA aren’t Chinese, then? My point isn’t that these people should talk to the reporter, it’s that suggesting I can’t call her a “Chinese reporter” because she is from HK or because she works for Radio Free Asia is stupid.

    I wouldn’t talk to her, either, were I in their shoes. However, why not just give the old “no comment” rather than the bullshit runaround?


  9. @C.Custer

    Radio Free Asia is not a Hong Kong media. It’s funded by the US government and is a US based agency. From RFA’s website:

    RFA Headquarters and Mailing Address:
    Radio Free Asia
    2025 M Street NW, Suite 300
    Washington, DC 20036 USA

    And RFA has a long history in co-operating with other US agencies like CIA. It’s also a common mistake by foreigners to say “Chinese” is an ethnicity. No, it’s NOT. It’s a cultural and political term and saying Chinese as a race is like saying American as a race. The reporter works for an American news agency (but RFA is hardly a mainstream American media due to its connection to the government and propagandistic nature) so she’s not a “Chinese reporter” or even a “Hong Kong reporter”, and you can’t tell her race or nationality only from her proficiency in mandarin.


  10. Yes, I’m aware she works for RFA and that RFA is an American organization, but that doesn’t make her American. She’s calling from China, she’s speaking fluent and unaccented Mandarin; I think it’s safe to assume she is Chinese until someone offers some sort of proof to the contrary.

    Aside from that, the vast majority of the translated conversation happened before she said she was from RFA anyway, so we can assume that’s the sort of thing that every reporter has to deal with, not just RFA reporters. She’s asking a very simple question, and getting no answer, even though she’s called people who, by all rights, ought to be able to provide that answer.

    And “Chinese” is an ethnicity, although it would be more correct to say “Han Chinese” probably (if you want to go by the government-standard 56 ethnicities bit). It isn’t a race, but “Ethnicity” and “Race” are not the same thing.

    Ethnicity: ethnicity |eθˈnisitē|
    noun ( pl. -ties)
    the fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition


  11. I have a dumb question. Are there any pro-China Western reporters here in the US who agrees with China’s party lines? Where are they?


  12. Thanks for this translation, as an American, it is very interesting for me to see how Chinese propaganda is propagated in respect to unaffiliated news services and reporters. Quite a frightening prospect shown here of complete censorship and a system of central control over all sensitive information. The fact that they actually name the propaganda department by its actual purpose is quite humorous.


  13. Like US doesn’t have a propaganda dept. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year to tell you why China’s communism sucks. Why don’t you google: broadcasting board of governors?


  14. @ Dan: To be fair, the Chinese term for “propaganda” doesn’t have the same connotations as the English one. Businesses conduct “propaganda” activities to raise awareness, etc., and there are other ways to translate the word as well.


  15. It doesn’t matter who the reporter is. There aren’t many organizations in the world (let alone government organizations) where everyone in the office from the janitor up is allowed to talk to the media. Even in an office where they are supposed to handle the media, there’s nothing to say absolutely everyone in that office is familiar with every story they might be asked about.


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