In few countries of the world is journalism as professionally intricate, politically risky, and socially challenging as in China. And because of China’s position in the world, in few countries is journalism’s practice as far-reaching in its consequences. In this context, the career of sixty-one-year-old HU SHULI is truly exemplary. HU comes from a distinguished line of journalists: her mother was senior editor of Workers’ Daily in Beijing; her grandfather was an editor of a Shanghai newspaper; and a grand uncle was a publisher and the deputy minister of culture before the Cultural Revolution. While HU’s family fell from grace during the Cultural Revolution, HU stayed in the stream of events. She joined the Red Guards and later the People’s Liberation Army, graduated from Beijing’s People’s University, and started her journalistic career by working for Workers’ Daily.
In 1987, a five-month sojourn as a fellow of the World Press Institute opened HU’s eyes to Western media. Upon her return, she published the first book which introduced Chinese audiences to the operations of professional journalism as practiced in the United States. China Business Times subsequently tapped her to serve as their international editor where she served for six years. In 1998 she established and edited Caijing, a glossy business magazine whose circulation rose to 225,000 because of the quality of its coverage and its groundbreaking investigative reporting. Even among those they investigated, Caijing staff were widely acknowledged for their discipline, thoroughness, and integrity—standards which HU uncompromisingly demanded of herself and her colleagues.
In a media environment where the very idea of “investigative journalism” seems defiant, Caijing’s reporting was cutting-edge journalism. Its well-researched reports included illegal trading practices in the Shanghai Stock Exchange, exposes of the government cover-up of the true extent of the 2003 SARS epidemic, the anomalous privatization of the huge, state-owned Luneng conglomerate, and falsification of the profits of Yinguangxia, one of the largest Chinese companies. These Caijing articles generated wide attention and led to the ousting of high public officials, the prosecution of corporate leaders, reforms in China’s stock market—and to HU SHULI being called “the most dangerous woman in China.” In November 2009, HU and her colleagues left Caijing and formed Caixin Media Group, a Beijing-based media organization with multimedia platforms including four periodicals, online news portals, books, TV/video programs, conferences, and mobile applications. With HU as editor-in-chief, Caixin has carried investigative reports on corporate fraud and government corruption, including the sale-for-adoption of children confiscated by family planning officials in Hunan province.
The significance of HU’s work, however, goes beyond investigative journalism. Through her skill and leadership, she has demonstrated that one can form a world-class, independent media organization in China, which combines commercial success and state-of-the-art technology with professional integrity and independence. As both a practicing journalist and the dean of Sun Yat-Sen University’s School of Communication and Design, HU has launched training programs for journalists and enhanced the professional and ethical standards of Chinese journalism. Admired by colleagues in China and abroad, she has changed China’s media landscape.
HU’s journalistic style is balanced and strongly-researched, does not stir up emotions, and keeps its eye on the issues rather than on personalities. Hers is a journalism that works within the system but preserves the critical distance that is journalism’s strength. HU compares her journalism to the action of the woodpecker, “forever hammering at a tree, trying not to knock it down but to make it grow straighter.” It is a nice analogy, but one too modest to describe the profound impact she has had on journalism in China.
In electing HU SHULI to receive the 2014 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes her unrelenting commitment to truthful, relevant, and unassailable journalism, her fearless promotion of transparency and accountability in business and governance, and her leadership in blazing the way for more professional and independent-minded media practices in China.
It is an amazing honor to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award. I’m both thrilled and humbled. In transitional countries like China, journalists like me face many obstacles to perform our jobs, but some special moments always make all our efforts worthwhile. This is definitely one of such moments.
Lingering in my mind are also those moments filled with ecstasy—filing an exclusive story and seeing readers rush to tell each other about it; those moments followed by change—might be a new regulation, or the failure of a massive business scheme, or even an industry overhaul—and those moments that make you feel you are shedding light to the unseen, lending a voice to the unheard, and illuminating a path where everyone is searching for direction. These moments never come easily. But they would come, as long as you try hard, and never give up.
Several weeks ago, such a moment grasped me. When the Chinese government finally announced the downfall of Zhou Yongkang, a former politburo standing committee member, Caixin immediately published a sixty-thousand-word, five-part piece detailing the Byzantium business and corruption web of Zhou.
A colleague at Caixin, who spent a whole year leading our investigation team to unearth that story, couldn’t help but cry out loud against those who say that journalists can’t do a good job in China.
Who said journalists can’t do a good job in China? That is what I’ve spent my whole professional life to disprove; that’s why I gathered together two hundred excellent journalists at Caixin, and that’s what keeps so many Chinese journalists to continue doing their job, despite the difficulties which stem from everywhere. It’s a blessing to be a journalist in today’s China, where there are endless stories to cover. And Chinese journalists can do a good job. My colleagues and I share this belief, and I’m very honored that you, the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation and our friends across Asia, share this too.