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Assignment: China - Tremors

In 2008, in honor of hosting the Olympic Games, Beijing pledged to allow a freer atmosphere for the international press, lifting many long-standing restrictions on the movements and activities of foreign correspondents. However, the year also saw several other traumatic events that reshaped the narrative of the China story, thereby reshaping the experience of the foreign press as well. "Tremors" is an account of what it was like to cover the remarkable year of 2008.

September 30, 2015

English | 中文

Assignment: China Homepage

For the Chinese government, the 2008 Olympics in Beijing were designed to be the moment when China took its rightful place on the international stage. Beijing spared no effort or expense to ensure this goal was achieved, spending billions to modernize the face of the capital, building stunning athletic venues, and investing all its prestige to make the Games an affirmation of China's new wealth and power.

In its bid to win the Games, Beijing also pledged to allow a freer atmosphere for the international press, and as the Olympics approached,  long-standing restrictions on the movements and activities of foreign correspondents were lifted.  Reporters for American and other international media suddenly found themselves able to travel freely, conduct interviews, and operate in an atmosphere that was more relaxed and welcoming than many had ever seen.

Yet as the Games approached, two traumatic events reshaped the narrative of the China story. Anti-Chinese riots in Tibet embarrassed the authorities, and widespread public anger in China at the way  American and other western covered the disturbances triggered an ugly wave of hostility towards the foreign media. Soon after came a devastating earthquake in Sichuan, which killed nearly 70,000 people. In sharp contrast to previous disasters, foreign correspondents were allowed immediate and extensive access to the worst-hit areas, and the sympathetic coverage led to an abrupt shift among many Chinese to a more positive view of the international media.

And neither crisis detracted from the extraordinary success of the Olympics themselves, although many foreign corespondents chafed at the restrictions and manipulation they faced while the Games were underway.

"Tremors" is an account of what it was like to  cover the remarkable year of 2008.



This video is also available on the USCI YouTube Channel.


Interviewees featured in this segment:

David Barboza

Tom Brokaw 

Andrew Browne

Melissa Chan

Barbara Demick

Tomas Etzler

Wen-Chun Fan

Peter Ford

Jeremy Goldkorn

Stan Grant

Charles Hutzler

Ian Johnson

Joseph Kahn

Louisa Lim

Ching-Ching Ni

Evan Osnos

Barry Peterson

Edward Wong

Assignment: China is a signature project of the USC U.S.-China Institute. Most Americans continue to learn about China primarily through the media and we feel that it is vital to understand the process by which news about China is gathered and shared. Mike Chinoy, USCI senior fellow, reports the series which is filmed and edited by Craig Stubing. Clayton Dube conceived of the project and oversees it. Many students and volunteers assist with research, transcription, and translation.

Assignment: China is possible only because of the willingness of journalists and others to share their stories, documents, and images with us and through the generous financial support of individual and institutional donors. We are grateful to all those who have helped. Please click here to contact us or here if you would like to contribute.