My Last Assignment

In at least two interviews, I was asked about my retirement plans.  What retirement plans?  I thought I have already retired.  In any case, the question might be about how long do I intend to continue with this blog.  Well, things have been progressing in leaps and bounds, and no attractive alternatives are in view.

But there is one thing that I would like to before I 'retire' the EastSouthWestNorth blog.  That would be to translate the entire book "The Story of Freezing Point" by Li Datong.

You know that I have a distinct preference for the long reportage stories that come out of Freezing Point (the supplement section in China Youth Daily), Nanfang Weekend, Lifeweek, and so on.  This is the book by the founding editor of Freezing Point.  This book not only recounts some of the more famous stories, but also the background of how they came into being.  I can only tell you that I sat down and cried as I read it.  And that is why I feel that I must bring it all out to you before I am done.

Li Datong started off a reporter for China Youth Daily based in Inner Mongolia.  Eventually, he was transferred to work as an editor in Beijing, and began to move up the hierarchy.  As Li described it, a sudden political storm in 1989 had him removed from the journalist frontline and transferred to work as a 'researcher.'  Li does not detail what exactly that storm was, but one can presume that it had to do with what happened in May 1989 when the Chinese news workers petitioned for freedom of press.  Thereafter, he spent about five years as a 'researcher' for China Youth Daily.  He read as much as he could and despaired if he will ever do journalistic work again. The opportunity came when China Youth Daily decided to go through a re-design and he was designated to become the editor for a new supplement (for whatever he wanted to do there).  This would become the most famous and beloved newspaper supplement in all of China.  There are people who would buy China Youth Daily only on the one day of week when Freezing Point is published.

What was in there?  It was really neither news nor commentary per se.  So the only way to describe it is to show examples.  Here is one story.

(translated in very brief summary)  

In front of the CCTV office in Beijing, there are usually two queues of people.  One group consists of common people from all over China to tell the "Focus Interview" program about their situations.  The other group consists of the various cadres from localities all over China, and their job is to do "public relations" with "Focus Interview" -- as in, "Please don't broadcast any programs that are criticial of us."

Let us start off with the second queue.  They are just as anxious and nervous as those in the first queue.  They represent organizational units.  If "Focus Interview" has recorded something that could be bad about a certain place, a huge team consisting of village, county, district and provincial party secretaries could come to Beijing on behalf of the organizations.  Luxurious accomodations and banquets are therefore paid for by the government in the name of public service for the people.

As for the folks in the first queue, they are more likely to hold petition letters with the red hand prints of dozens or even hundreds of citizens.  In terms of reliability, the government organizations are definitely more persuasive than just a few people.  Besides, reporters do not like to be involved in lawsuits.  As such, they are obliged to use the information provided irrespective of whether it is true or false.  So they end up showing clips with the comments "Secretary XX and mayor YY personally attended to the problem ... " and then the leaders are heard to say "it is so hard to maintain a situation of stability and unity."

The article also noted that there is an auxiliary industry of 'fixers' -- that is, free-lancers who claim that they can fix "Focus Interview" reports for a fee.

But all this seems like hearsay that fits what people want to hear.  Where is the proof?  Where is the independent verification?  So Li Datong called up the "Focus Interview" producer and asked: "Are your program segments frequently subjected to 'PR'?"  The answer was that 70% of the segments were.  Sometimes, the PR team is in Beijing already even before the reporter has finished the filming and the CCTV headquarters does not even know what had been filmed.  So this Freezing Point article went into print and caused a national stir.  There are dozens and dozens more of these examples.

How long before I complete this assignment of translating this book and retire this website?  The book has 398 pages, so it'll probably take about a week or so.  

I am joking, of course ...

P.S.  Previously, I have translated a famous Letter by Li Datong.  If you enter the name "Li Datong" in English-language Google, my blog post is the top ranked page for this person at this time.