The Chinese People News Angle

At The brand Hong Kong, the slogan is Asia's world city.   From the background:

The programme to develop a strategic communications platform for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region was a response to a specific recommendation of the Commission on Strategic Development, a body of senior public and private sector representatives advising the Chief Executive on Hong Kong's long-term development needs and goals.

A summary of the Commission's recommendations in 2000 called for the promotion of a positive image of Hong Kong to external audiences. The report, in part, stated:

"... Hong Kong needs to promote its unique position as one of the most cosmopolitan and vibrant cities in Asia to a wide range of international audiences. A successful external promotion programme can have a significant positive impact on Hong Kong's ability to achieve a number of key economic, social and cultural

According to, here is the definition for 'cosmopolitan':

But if you were to pick up a local Chinese-language newspaper in Hong Kong, you would be surprised how little international news appears.  If a newspaper has a 24-page news section, there may be one international news page and one mainland Chinese news page while the rest goes to local Hong Kong news or advertisements.  How do you become a cosmopolitan city when the citizens have little or no exposure to events around the world?  How could you be 'so sophisticated as to be at home in all parts of the world with many spheres of interest'?

This situation is actually deliberately designed.  The following is an excerpt from a book <Traveling through war-torn lands> (行過烽火大地) by Hong Kong's famous 'war correspondent' Suzanna Cheung Chuiyung (張翠容).

[in translation]

There is so much in international news, but many Hong Kong editors only know how to seek a Chinese people angle (that is, they look for stories that are related to the Chinese people).  Here I am reminded of a very typical example.

In October 1999, I wrote in my Ming Pao column about the Hong Kong visit by East Timor independence movement leader Francisco Kalbuadi.  Due to the fact that he is of Chinese descent (with the Chinese name 黎發芳), a certain Hong Kong weekly magazine reporter expressed interest in conducting an interview.  I recommended that she attend the research forum at which Kalbuadi was the main speaker and then stay behind to interview him afterwards.  But before the forum was over, the reporter and her photographer had vanished.

Afterwards, the weekly magazine reporter explained that she saw Kalbuadi had dark complexion and resembled an Indian more than a Chinese.  So she gave up the idea of an interview.  She emphasized: "You should know that our weekly magazine is only interested in Chinese persons, including looking fully Chinese from outer appearance."

This sort of narrow news attitude is enough to make you wonder if you want to laugh or cry.  Yet, this type of disheartening experiences and encounters are pervasive in my experience.

Back in 1994, a Cuban friend wrote that my request to arrange for an interview with president Fidel Castro can be fulfilled.  In 1991, I had made that request when I visited Cuba.  As the sole remaining first-generation revolutionary leader in the world, the only Communist leader in Latin America and a controversial international figure who has opposed the United States for so long, Castro's thoughts about the changes in Soviet Russia and eastern Europe should be of international news interest.

"That's your interest, but what has that got to do with Chinese people?  Please go and ask the colleagues in the news room and see which one knows who he is?  If there are more than three people, I will let you go to Cuba to interview Castro."  My chief editor told me that, with a sense of inevitability.

In the end, not a single colleague could respond correctly that Fidel Castro is the president of Cuba.  But they were interested in finding out Cuba's geographical position in the atlas.

Later on, I made another proposal to the chief editor to present a very special diary in the weekly magazine.  The year was 1994 and an 11-year-old Bosnian girl Zlata had successfully fled to the United States where she published the diary that she wrote in Sarajevo.  The book was titled <Zlata's diary> and showed a child's view of the world of war, capturing the family, the school, the neighbor's little dog and the soldier uncle.  The details of daily life amidst turbulence showed the terror on top of an innocence.

The chief editor quickly gave the book back to me.  He told me solemnly: "Who is going to know where Sarajevo is?  Will there be any resonance?"

This is probably correct, because the war in Bosnia does not strike any chord with the experiences of the Chinese people.  As the saying goes: if it does not concern me, I won't bother thinking about it.

The Chinese news viewpoint is based upon looking at something based upon the interests of the Chinese people.  Anything that does not pertain to the Chinese people can be ignored.  I think that this kind of view is mainstream, at least within the Hong Kong news industry.  In the international news sections of Taiwan newspapers, there is also the American news angle in additional to the Chinese news angle.

When NATO began bombing Yugoslavia at the end of March 1999, I had the opportunity to go to work in the Balkans.  I enthusiastically proposed to the international news editor at a major newspaper about reporting on the war in diary style.  But that editor responded coolly: "We receive an ocean of new bulletins every day about the related news.  I think that even if you were there in person, you would not do better than foreign news agencies."

A bucket of cold water was poured on me.  For that editor, the Kosovo problem is an European one, and the role of the international news editor is to translate foreign news bulletins.  Why look for trouble by having extra articles and even paying for them!

The <Hong Kong Economic Times> deputy chief editor was sympathetic towards me and comforted me by saying: "If I were the boss, I would definitely used your articles.  This is still possible right now.  If you can find some stories about Chinese people over there, it can be published in the supplement section."

So I finally found the first outlet for my articles in the Hong Kong media and I obtained a reasonable fee.  That was amazing!  In my articles, therefore, there were one after another story about Chinese people.

These Chinese stories exist on the margins of mainstream international news, but they are the impetus by which Hong Kong media understand the world.  That is to say: we may be indifferent to the religious conflicts in the Middle East, but we care about the struggles of the local Chinese people who are caught between the sides.  As a result, we understand more about the society in which those local Chinese people found themselves.  Indonesia is one good example.  If the riots did not occur in May 1998 and Chinese women were raped and killed, we would not be paying a lot of attention to democratic progress in Indonesia.  Unfortunately, when the Hong Kong media and other Chinese-language media found out that the Internet photographs of women being tortured and raped were mostly East Timorese women, they did not turn the focus over to East Timor.

This is the so-called Chinese people news angle!

The angle determines if some story is kept or discarded.  It determines the priority as well as the focus of attention.