The Lives and Times of Chinese Media Workers

So I went down to the large bookstore in Wanchai (Hong Kong) with all those books imported from China.  I headed to the media section and basically picked up every book about Chinese media workers.  The final stack is about 9 inches tall, and it'll take me some time to go through them.  

For me, this is actually what is called belated or panic tutoring, since I really don't know much.  You need to understand that I have little or no knowledge about Greater China until I moved back to Hong Kong in 2003.  Since my field of interest is media, I am now going through a phase of auto-didacticism.  So please bear with me if I sometimes make huge and transparent mistakes.  I hope I have contributions to make, precisely because I don't have the historical baggage.

My first impression is the brilliant personalities of individual media workers.  Here, I will translate the account of Li Jing (李菁) at Lifeweek magazine.

After arriving at Lifeweek, I heard that the society section reporters often have to travel into the field.  I was secretly delighted.  When I was young, I copied into my little book a number of famous sayings and my favorite out is about: "read 10,000 books and travel 10,000 miles."  Later on, I appended, "know 10,000 people."  So I imagine that I would be like the famous writer San Mao who traveled all over the world with a backpack.  When I grew up, I would realize that an ordinary person like me can only live a plain life.  But I would be able to use my work-related travels to fulfill my private dream of 'traveling 10,000 miles.'

Very quickly, I realized how pathetic my idea was.  My first 'collapse' would occur half a year after I joined Lifeweek on a field trip.  It was right before the Spring Festival of 2002 when I was sent out to Sichuan to gather news on a major case involving the drug 'ice.'

'Field trip' -- the moment I got on an airplane and left Beijing, it meant to a large degree that I "must succeed and cannot fail."  Later on, I was asked more than once about "in case" I could get any information.  I do not know how to explain that the pressure on us was always about trying our best that "in case" does not occur.

The damp coldness of the southern winter was uncomfortable for a northerner like myself.  On one hand, I was cursing how the small-town hotel did not have a heated room.  On the other hand, I kept a smiling face to deal softly as well as roughly with the police who said that this case was too "sensitive" for any interviewing.  Soon it was noon on Friday, and I was trying my best to conceal my inner frustrations and pretend that I am a gentle lady with the police captain.  Meanwhile, Li Honggu was calling and he told me that our deadline has just been moved up -- I'll have to submit my draft early on Sunday morning.

I raced to the Internet bar, which was dark and enveloped by cigarette smoke, and I started to pound the following words on the sticky-and-filthy keyboard.  The title of the email was "Letter of Warning."  In it, I wrote: "I am warning you!  Do not pressure me anymore!  Or else I am going to start an insurrection!"  I sent that off to Li Honggu.  Then I rushed out of the Internet bar to continue my tussle with the police.  Perhaps I had a look of despair in my eyes, or perhaps my indefatigable spirit moved them.  On the last night, somebody finally sat down across from me and started to narrate the story.

The next day, I hurried to catch the airplane back to Beijing.  When I arrived, it was dark and the car that I rode had a small accident on the expressway.  We rammed into the roadside barrier.  Fortunately, although the front of the car was wrecked, the driver and I suffered nothing except for a big scare.  Later on, when I thought back about the moment of impact, I thought without malice that if I really got into an accident, Sir Li and the editor-in-chief would have regretted missing those few pages of the report rather than me.

I went back into the office that night.  I did not imagine that it was even busier than usual.  Lei Jing had been working on the story of people smuggling, and he had just come back from Fujian and he was prepared to work all night.  In the past, Lei Jing said very little and he was as quiet as a little girl.  But on this night, he was impatient.  Often, he stood in front of the window and watched the distant sky become bright and the traffic on the Third Ring Road increase.  He kept saying, "I don't want to live!  I can't deal with living like this!"  Thus began the days when Lei Jing thought he had to jump out of the window.  When Lu Jing returned to Wuhan for the New Year, he refused to return to be with us in Beijing no matter what Li Honggu had to say.

At the time, my worst fear was to hear Sir Li sigh sadly after reading my report: "There is nothing in here!"  I often felt that I have done my utmost to get the material, and yet he still slights them.  At that moment, I was in total despair and I wanted to rush up to confront him.  But as time went by, I can understand Sir Li's dilemma.  In the articles from the society section, the editor-in-chief supports the Li Honggu line firmly.  Later on, I can often find the kind of change such as "So-and-so felt very happy" being changed by the editor to "So-and-so said (to the reporter) that he felt very happy."

I have been at Lifeweek for several years, and one of the results is that I have a large group of "informants."  There are moments when I rue that I have been successful, but I have no time to chat with my friends.  But if I should need some informants for a story, I would look them up even if I have not spoken to them within the last ten years.  In the end, the several informants whom I pester regularly would take off their false smile when they pick up the telephone: "What is the matter?  Please say."  After a while, I don't put on an act anymore either and I would get into the main subject as soon as I get through on the telephone.

I told Sir Li that our job are like those of special agents.  We are often "parachuted" into a place in which we have no connections whatsoever.  Within a few days, we are expected to complete our mission.  Sir Li interrupted me coldly: "You are making yourself look too good!"  Later on, I actually had to interview a person whose status is like a "special agent."  After a few days, he joked to say: "You people are almost ready to enter our profession."

When I first arrived at Lifeweek, I thought that this job was "high-pressured" and impossible to stay too long.  Three years.  At most three years!  There was the limit that I set for myself.  Time flew, and I have gone past this three-year limit by six months already.  I have thought about giving up innumerable times already, but I stayed in the end -- perhaps it is the idea that I can never expect where I will be tomorrow, or what thing I can come into, or what type of person I will have to deal with is what made me stay.  It is this wonderful feeling that really kept me attracted!