Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Foreign Resident Correspondents, a Special Group in China

There lives a special group of foreigners in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, who reports events major or minor happened every day in China, to the rest of the world, thus becoming main sources for the world people to get to know China. They are resident correspondents of foreign news agencies and press institutions in China.


There lives a special group of foreigners in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, who reports events major or minor happened every day in China, to the rest of the world, thus becoming main sources for the world people to get to know China. They are resident correspondents of foreign news agencies and press institutions in China.

By now, more than 210 press institutions from 39 countries have set up their resident offices in China with nearly 350 resident correspondents and most of them living in Beijing. Among them, over 80 correspondents from 36 organizations are from the USA, and the UK-based Reuters has the biggest resident office with 17-members living in Beijing and Shanghai.

Busy daily work
Most news agencies demand a clear number of reports every day from their correspondents, while other press organizations only require their staff not to miss important news. For common reports the journalists can decide by themselves. For in-depth ones, proposed either by editors or journalists, especially those need a tour to other places, the journalists have to report to their headquarters and apply for a fund.

Most correspondents come to the office at 9 am, and the first thing is to log in the Internet and search English-language news on China. They read China Daily or get latest local news from their Chinese assistants.

Correspondents working for a news agency, due to diversified subscribers and tastes, usually pick out and edit articles they think would interest their readers and dispatch them together with comments and analyses of their own. While those working for newspapers and magazines are only interested in major events and articles. They search for interesting points from various news pieces, work out their reporting plans, gather related information and sometimes go out for interviews.

While press photographers are always chasing big events for first-hand pictures. After the "embassy intrusion" incident AP photographer rushed to the gate of the ROK embassy to China and made a photo showing strengthened patrolling by Chinese policeman and a safety gate being installed by a young man. A Reuters picture was published after Beijing closed all its Internet cafes because a fire broke out in one of them killed 25 people, showing a cafe owner sitting all alone before a row of computers unoccupied.

Of course, they also pay attention to daily life and customs in China. CNN matched a July 2 report on severe AIDS condition in China with a photo showing a pair of teenage lovers kissing and embracing each other in public. They also run after strange things and load their papers with pictures telling how the Chinese people eat tortoise and turtle.

Since more than half of foreign correspondents in China doesn't speak Chinese, they inevitably rely on their Chinese secretaries. Experienced secretaries can not only pick out articles from a sea of news that may interest foreign correspondents, but can also translate and edit them into drafts for them to polish. A few of them in perfect collaboration with their foreign colleagues may work for a press organization as long as over ten years.

Diversified news sources
It's far from enough for these correspondents to make copy and paste, and they must always be eagle-eyed and pull a long ear. They have to go out with their colleagues while at the same time keep their own secrets.

They have long established links with diplomatic officials in China, for the latter are informative and usually provide deep thoughts on certain questions, which are often quoted as smart remarks from "experts on Chinese issues".

They are by no means in short of official channels. On every Saturday and Thursday news briefings are held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to release news and answer questions from foreign correspondents. Press conferences focusing on a certain question are also opened irregularly by the Information Office of the State Council, which serves as an important source for in-depth reports since related Chinese officials are invited to the spot to give speeches and answer questions.

Besides, all ministries have established a spokesman system to deal with newsmen and information offices or offices for foreign affairs of provincial governments are available to help the press understand local conditions.

News briefings are also held on important diplomatic activities. For example, not long ago the US Embassy to China held a press conference, announcing that the US government had decided to donate 300,000 dollars to the Red Cross Association of China to help people in flood-hit areas.

Another major task is to cover foreign leaders' China visit. Usually the number of reporters from China and the visitor's sides are less limited, and those from other countries could only form a team around ten people and share the text, photo, video materials gained. Correspondents are permitted to stay only five minutes at leaders' meeting, just a short while enough for taking down photos and greetings between important figures, then they must leave before the talks to begin.

Bitterness and sweetness
Foreign resident correspondents, like other people, have both bitterness and sweetness in their work. For them the happiest thing is the exclusive interview with Chinese leaders which, in a degree, serves as a recognition of their capability and therefore can be held as a pride for their whole life. The other excitements are grabbing exclusive news or being the first to report big events.

In 1976, a Chinese-speaking English reporter, when dining in a restaurant, overheard a few Chinese talking that Jiang Qing might fall into trouble. Then he gathered news from all sides and first predicted the downfall of the "Gang of Four", thus drawing wide attention from world countries. In such cases, it's of no question to get promoted or salary raised.

Meanwhile they also face many headaches. Fierce competition among big agencies and newspapers, especially that among the same departments, force reporters to make all efforts to avoid missing major events. If failed, they may get criticized or even fired.

It is a common view among foreign reporters that making interviews in China is difficult, especially that for disasters and incidents, for no one responsible is available. It is also not easy for street interviews, for most Chinese people would smile shyly and leave. Of course, for most reporters the biggest difficulty lies in language, and it is neither practical nor convenient to make interviews under the help of Chinese secretaries.

Like diplomats, foreign correspondents are also in rotation. But some attach themselves to China by setting up business or writing books on China after leaving office. Unfortunately, most of the books they write display a negative view on China.

Spies, but not journalists
Most foreign journalists abide by Chinese laws and busy themselves with interviewing and reporting. But there are also a few of them stealing news from illegal channels, or even engage in spying activities, which pose threats to China's national security.

Why so many negative reports
Many foreign resident correspondents in China are from the western world, and they hold more or less prejudice against China due to differences in political system and social ideology. The result is biased reports that are very much in common.

For example, when Chinese officials say that this year's economic growth rate would be above 7 percent, they argue in their reports that the statistics are fabricated, or China's economic situation is not optimistic due to problems in financial fields. China's family planning, or one-child policy helped successfully to control population expansion yet they exaggerated reports of forced abortion and heavy fines, and won't come to halt until a piece of good news being turned into a bad one.

Editors are also playing a big role. Most western press institutions are profit-seeking ones run in a way like enterprises, in which the chairman (publisher) acts as boss and the editor-in-chief (equivalent to general manager, or called general manager or COO) is in charge of editing and publishing. Below editor-in-chief are powerful layout editors, who can give correspondent a topic according to his own values, or make big revisions on reports send back. Some editors, who don't know China, or even never been to China, assume that resident correspondents may speak in favor of China so they delete those positive contents.

A US-based influential paper, once during the same time, carried an article on China's positive rule in south Asia financial crisis (written by journalists in China) and published an editorial spreading "China threat" theory, because editors of the two different pages held different views about China. However, sometimes this may serve an excuse for correspondents to avoid questions and doubts from Chinese interviewed.

More distorted reports are from non-resident correspondents, researchers and politicians. They don't work and live in China so they have nothing to care about. Some journalists and researchers come to China under the identity of tourists so they can gather seamy-side materials and interview persons of different views with the government. Some politicians, in order to reap political capital, can even afford a deliberate slander on China, while the press pays more attention to their remarks because of their political status.

By PD Online Staff Member Li Heng

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