- Reporting for China: How Chinese Correspondents Work with the World by Pal Nyiri
Pal Nyiri’s Reporting for China is the first analysis of the workings of China’s foreign correspondents across global contexts, from Africa to Europe to the United States. Challenging the top down depictions of China’s international media operations as a dull mouthpiece of the party, Nyiri delves into the agency of Chinese foreign correspondents. The book uncovers both the increasingly cosmopolitan lifestyles and dispositions of Chinese journalists and their persisting adherence to the national interests in their writing, with international reporting generally framed around China’s priorities or the “China peg.”
Journalists navigate the blurry lines between professionalism and national priorities. This translates into some negotiation of political boundaries when reporting the world to China, but largely a conscious (and perhaps at times a subconscious) allegiance to the party’s interests. This allegiance in turn is not so much a product of ardent support for the Chinese Communist Party but more of a patriotic and at times a nationalistic sentiment that is likely rooted in Chinese education and the propaganda system more broadly. Like China’s domestic media practitioners, foreign correspondents are also depicted here as pragmatic actors who prefer to self-censor in order to scope out some space within the system as opposed to radically objecting to it in public.
The strength of the book is in its rich documentation of the diversity of China’s foreign correspondents. Nyiri highlights the distinctions between journalists at commercialized versus state media, with the former striving for more in-depth and at times even critical reporting of foreign events but struggling with commercial pressures from news agencies. He further illuminates different Chinese media practices across regional contexts. Working at a small one-man bureau, for instance, can be more liberating than being part of a large regional bureau under the direct oversight of the bureau chief (lingdao). The lifestyles of Chinese foreign correspondents also alternate across news outlets, with Xinhua being more guarded and CCTV relatively more open, resembling international bureaus of other major global media like BBC or CNN. Most importantly, the political views vary across interviewees within the same media organizations—from cynical to pragmatic to apathetic to idealistic and patriotic—Nyiri’s interviewees offer multifaceted perspectives on the meaning of their work and their professional aspirations. Even individual interviewees express contradictory views, mixing critique of Chinese media with patriotic rhetoric about China, [End Page 180] especially when it comes to what many deem as “misrepresentations” of China by Western media.
The lively writing style, echoing long-form journalism, makes for an engaging read or an “imagined” encounter with the interviewees. Some of the descriptions are intimate portraits of the journalists, their journey through the profession, as well as their personal lives. In reading the narratives one can picture and engage with the disappointments and struggles but also the pragmatic choices that these journalists make in working for Chinese media.
The wide breadth of this book at times, however, comes at the expense of a deeper exploration of a number of dynamics only alluded to in the writing. For instance, throughout the book it is evident that the operations of Chinese media in Africa are rather distinct from those in other regions—there is more experimentation happening there that in turn may be exported to other contexts. The cross-regional differences are only noted to in passing, with no in-depth reflection on variation offered in the text. The collection of cross-regional interviews is conducive to the “translocalism” analytical approach to globalization of communication, as advocated by Kraidy and Murphy,1 but this would require a closer interrogation of contextual differences. It is also important to engage with the implications of including some regions but not others into the analysis of the “global.”
Further, while the author brings in some of the professional and habitual context into the discussion of the interviews, the reader is still left with...