Editor Of Influential Chinese Magazine Resigns
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
She has been called the most dangerous woman in China, and she wields her power with words. Hu Shuli started the Chinese business magazine Caijing 11 years ago and built it into a formidable institution. It's ran investigative reports that pushed the boundaries of press freedom in China; reports on corporate fraud but also on matters beyond the world of finance and economics. After last year's devastating earthquake, the magazine ran a lengthy expose on shoddy school construction. Earlier, its reporters examined the government cover-up of SARS. Well, yesterday, Hu Shuli announced her resignation from Caijing. Dozens of other staff have left, too, in a power struggle with the magazine's owners. The New Yorker magazine's correspondent in China, Evan Osnos, profiled Hu Shuli earlier this year. He called her an incurable muckraker.
Mr. EVAN OSNOS (China Correspondent, New Yorker Magazine): During the Cultural Revolution, she was a Red Guard and like a lot of young people, she was sent out to the countryside. And for her, she told me that that changed her conception of what was possible in China and she realized a lot of the flaws in the state-run economy. When she came back to Beijing, she studied journalism and steadily emerged as a very influential investigative reporter. And then when China started to open up the economy in the late '80s and '90s, she positioned herself so that she would become basically the chronicler of that experience. She started to get to know a lot of these very prominent and promising young finance officials who eventually became the people who run China's economy today. They run the central bank. They run the stock exchanges. And they were her friends, and so that gave her a very important insight into the way that China operates.
BLOCK: How popular is Caijing, this magazine in China? Who reads it? How widespread?
Mr. OSNOS: Caijing is very influential in an important community in China, and that's essentially the educated class. It has a circulation of about 250,000 but that doesn't really express the impact that it has. If a piece appeared in Caijing magazine, you could be sure that it was being read by people in power. And that gave her a certain amount of power and capital, but it also made her vulnerable if those stories made people angry.
BLOCK: Well, why did Hu Shuli resign from the magazine that she started?
Mr. OSNOS: Over the last few months, Hu Shuli had been coming into greater conflict with the organization she created. She had decided that it was time for Caijing magazine to grow and to become something more international, and to do that she needed money and she needed political space. To get the money, she needed the publisher to support what she was doing and she wanted them to invest more into her magazine. And then she needed them also to protect her when she strayed into sensitive territory. She was encouraging her reporters to do more and more aggressive reporting. And that meant that her publisher needed to spend the kind of political capital to make sure that these stories didn't get censored.
And eventually, her publisher decided that it wasn't worth it for them. In part, it started to fall apart this summer in July during the riots in Xinjiang province, when a Caijing reporter had a run-in with a police officer. And in the end, that incident blew up into a sort of larger conflict between the magazine and its authorities. And she parted ways on Monday.
BLOCK: Have you talked to her since then?
Mr. OSNOS: We've been in email contact.
BLOCK: And what did she tell you?
Mr. OSNOS: Well, she said to a lot of us that she's planning to start a new magazine. At the moment, she is taking a new position as the dean of a journalism school in Guangzhou. And a lot of her senior deputies and most loyal editors as in Beijing beginning the preparation for another publication. So there's a lot of us that'll be watching what that becomes and what it means for the future of Chinese media.
BLOCK: Do you think she'll run up against the same limits that she found with Caijing or does this open up some new horizon for her?
Mr. OSNOS: There is a big question mark now about what Hu Shuli is going to be able to accomplish in her next publication, if there is one. And that's because what she's been able to do over the last 11 years at Caijing is a reflection of two very specific things: one, her own grit and aggressiveness and acumen. But it's also been a function of the fact that she had an influential, well-connected publisher. And that publisher was able to protect her when she got into sensitive territory. In her next publication, we don't yet know if she'll have the same combination of protection and energy. She'll be the same but we really don't know what the circumstances will be.
BLOCK: Evan Osnos, thanks for talking with us.
Mr. OSNOS: Thanks for having me.
BLOCK: Evan Osnos is the New Yorker's China correspondent. We were talking about the Chinese journalist Hu Shuli who resigned yesterday from the influential magazine she founded Caijing.
(Soundbite of music)