Assignment: China -- USCI series on American reporting on China
Photo by Jim Laurie.
From the barriers of language, culture and politics, to the logistical challenges of war, revolution, isolation, internal upheaval, government restrictions and changing technology, covering China has been one of the most difficult of journalistic assignments. It’s also one of the most important. For over sixty years, what American correspondents have reported about China has profoundly influenced U.S. views of the country, and the policies of successive American governments.
Interviews with these journalists are the core of Assignment: China which is illustrated by archival news footage and other images. This includes previously unseen home videos and other materials. In addition to interviews with those whose work was featured on American front pages and broadcasts, the series includes interviews with Chinese and American officials who sought to manage coverage of China or of specific events, such as Nixon’s historic 1972 trip.
Mike Chinoy, the distinguished former CNN Asia correspondent and USC U.S.-China Institute Senior Fellow, is the writer and reporter for the series. He is assisted by USCI Multimedia Editor Craig Stubing and USCI staff and students, who handle much of the logistics, research, transcription, videography, and editing. Clayton Dube conceived of the project and supervises it.
Assignment: China segments have been screened for universities and organizations across America and China and elsewhere in East Asia. The response from educators, students, officials, and the general public has been enthusiastic and positive. The films are available free of charge at our site and at our YouTube channel. We welcome your comments and hope you’ll invite others to view Assignment: China.
Many individuals and organizations have helped make this series possible. They have given generously of their time and energy, helped us unearth essential materials, guided us to invaluable sources, or provided the financial support necessary to sustain the research, travel, and technical help necessary to produce these compelling films. We thank each of these people and institutions for their help (and we list each in the credits for each segment). We invite you to consider joining them in supporting our efforts (click here to donate, please be sure to designate the U.S.-China Institute's documentaries, or contact us).
Six Assignment: China segments are currently available online. The remaining six episodes should be available in the coming months.
The Chinese Civil War
The Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had originally cooperated in seeking to wrest control of China from landlords and foreign forces. In April 1927, they split and began a decades-long civil war, interrupted only in part by Japan’s invasion. With Japan’s surrender and the failure of the American mediation effort, the two sides resumed their struggle in late 1945. This segment of Assignment: China examines efforts by journalists to report on this final four years of the war and its impact on Chinese society. It features archival photos and interviews as well as interviews with some of those who brought news of this battle for the world’s largest country to Americans via newspapers and magazines, news reels, and radio.
This segment of the USC U.S.-China Institute series on the work of reporters for American news organizations looks at the period 1949-1971, when most Americans could not visit the People's Republic. Though some non-U.S. citizens reporting for American organizations did manage to get into China, most reporters had to watch what was happening in China from Hong Kong.
The Week that Changed the World
President Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip ended more than two decades of Cold War hostility. American and Chinese forces had fought each other in Korea and the United States had refused to formally recognize Beijing’s government and did recognize Taipei’s. From the founding of the People’s Republic until the Nixon trip, American news organizations had virtually no access to the world’s largest and most rapidly changing country. America’s most famous journalists clamored to go with the president, though most had no idea what they might find, telling us “it was like going to the moon.”
The End of an Era
This episode focuses on the period between U.S. President Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to China and the fall of the Gang of Four in October 1976. While the U.S. established a liaison office in Beijing, the lack of formal diplomatic relations meant that American reporters could not be based in China. Most reporting continued to be of the China-watching variety, though each of the major broadcast networks was permitted to shoot a documentary in China and many reporters gained access for short visits. It was a tumultuous period, the last year of which included the death of three of China’s revolutionary giants, a natural disaster which took a quarter of a million lives, and fierce battles over who would run China after the Mao-era.
With the restoration of U.S.-China diplomatic relations in 1979, American news organizations were finally able to base reporters in China, something that even the Nixon trip hadn’t made possible. By this time, of course, China was embarking on stunning economic and social reforms. Private enterprise was being permitted, foreign investment pursued, and controlling births was made a government priority. There were also stirrings of dissent, which the party-state moved to stifle. Though influential, the reporting corps was small. Delighted to be covering such sweeping changes, reporters sometimes chafed at the restrictions imposed on them by the Chinese government and their own editors and by the technological challenges of reporting from a developing country.
The mid-1980s saw a dramatic relaxation of Communist Party control over China’s economic, political, and intellectual life. It was arguably the most liberal period in the history of the People’s Republic, as a new generation of reformers sought to push the country towards a more open and tolerant system. These same trends, however, alarmed Party hardliners, who made repeated attempts to roll back the tide of liberalization. For members of the American press corps in Beijing, it was a period of testing the boundaries, challenging the restrictions on news coverage at the heart of the system, and exploring parts of Chinese society that had long been off-limits. Assignment China: the 1980s tells their story.
For members of the American press corps in Beijing, it was a period of testing the boundaries, challenging the restrictions on news coverage at the heart of the system, and exploring parts of Chinese society that had long been off-limits. Assignment China: the 1980s tells their story. - See more at: http://china.usc.edu/assignment-china-%E2%80%93-1980s#sthash.JUaeOVob.dpuf
In 1989, students marched in cities all over China, but it was the demonstrations in China’s symbolic center, Tiananmen Square, that captured the attention and imagination of people worldwide and especially in the United States.The American press corps in China had grown since the first journalists arrived with the establishment of diplomatic relations, but it was still relatively small compared to today. This segment focuses on the stories of journalists who struggled to understand what was happening in Beijing that spring and to help Americans get a sense of the issues and forces at play. We hear from them about the political, cultural, physical, and technological challenges of covering the demonstrations, how they were being seen by the larger society, and the response of the party-state. We hear how they sought to document the extent of the violence and we learn the story behind the “tank man” image that has come to symbolize the demonstrations and their violent end.
A Tale of Two Chinas
China in the 1990s was a paradox. In the wake of the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square, political repression intensified. At the same time, however, following Deng Xiaoping's "Southern Tour" in 1992, the country's economy took off, triggering dramatic social, economic, and even political changes. For the American press corps, it was a particularly challenging time. The ongoing crackdown in the wake of the Tiananmen Square protests made it difficult to meet people, travel, or get beyond the stifling bureaucratic obstacles. Reporters and their sources faced continuing surveillance and harassment. However, as the economy took off, the climate for journalists began to improve, and by the late 90s, the China beat entered what one American correspondent described as its "golden age."
The New Millennium
Follow the Money
In many decades of western news coverage of China, 2012 was a watershed moment. In the space of just a few months, a Bloomberg News team headed by correspondent Michael Forsythe publishing a sweeping expose of how relatives of China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, has earned vast fortunes in a variety of often disguised business deals. Soon after, David Barboza of the New York Times published his own revelations of the wealth accumulated by the relatives of Chinese premier Wen Jiabao. The behind-the-scenes story of the journalists who conducted the investigations- and faced the dramatic, controversial, and often frightening consequences- is the subject of “Follow the Money.”
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