Leading business editor pushes China to the limit
Hu Shuli, Caijing business editor, says that her publication challenges boundaries of Chinese censorship but does not cross the line
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Hu Shuli, the most powerful business editor in China, used to write propaganda for Workers' Daily, the Communist Party's publication. Now Hu pushes an aggressive staff of 50 young journalists to investigate government corruption and lift the veil on corporate fraud in China.
Since 1998, Hu, 52, has been the driving force behind Caijing magazine, a thriving business journal published twice a month that is now a must-read in the capital.
At a time when the state still holds tight control over the media, regularly censoring articles and closing down errant publications, Caijing (which means "finance and economy") has artfully pushed the envelope on what is journalistically permissible, writing exposes on the government's reaction to SARS, stock market manipulation and corruption at some of the nation's biggest state-owned banks.
"I know how to measure the boundary lines," Hu said. "We go up to the line -- and we might even push it. But we never cross it."
"[Caijing has] picked the perfect niche -- business -- which gives them the maximum latitude to do investigative work in China."
Caijing's aggressiveness, which has earned Hu the title of "most dangerous woman in China" in several news articles and magazine profiles, is a result, in part, of its status as a business publication in China.
While press freedoms are severely restricted in China, the government -- perhaps hoping to develop an open and robust capital market system -- has given the business news outlets here greater latitude.
And while Hu's glossy journal has carefully steered away from some political issues, like the Falun Gong movement, that the government has deemed largely off-limits to the press, media specialists say that Caijing has become one of China's first noteworthy magazines built on Western journalism practices.
"Caijing is about as good as it gets in China," says Orville Schell, dean of the graduate school of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, which has trained Caijing reporters and editors. "And they've picked the perfect niche -- business -- which gives them the maximum latitude to do investigative work in China."
But some of that investigative work has brought Caijing's editors to the attention of the government, and the result was that they were made aware of the limits on press freedom in China.
Wang Boming, one of the people who helped obtain financing for the publication, said that people from the magazine have been called in occasionally and had to perform a "self-criticism."
Chen Zhiwu, a professor of finance at the Yale School of Management, said the magazine's journalistic drive has slackened.
"Caijing is a good magazine, but they used to be even bolder a few years ago," he said. "Now, they're more cautious about who they write about."
Still, many believe that Caijing has made the most of what the government will allow. When the magazine published an expose on how fund management companies were taking advantage of investors, the story rattled the industry and spurred an investigation by regulators.
When Caijing wrote about a public company manipulating its stock price and falsifying profits, trading in the stock was suspended and regulators opened an inquiry.
And when the SARS crisis was raging in early 2003, Caijing's lengthy exploration of how the disease spread and how the government covered it up was one of the few critical accounts to appear in the Chinese news media.
Built on such exposes, Caijing's circulation has reached about 80,000 and the magazine has even turned a profit, Hu said. It has also spawned imitators as other publications like Business Watch and Economic Observer try to emulate its hard-charging style.
"Caijing opened up a new sector for China's magazines," says Liu Weizhou, editor of the 21st Century Economic Herald, widely considered to be one of the nation's best newspapers. "Caijing has also influenced many newspapers by finding exclusive news."
But just how independent is Caijing? The magazine is owned by the Stock Exchange Executive Council, a state-owned entity loosely tied to the nation's stock market -- all of which means Caijing must watch its step so as not to run afoul of top government leaders or state censors when it investigates corruption inside and outside of the government.
"Caijing has a good reputation pushing the borders," says Perry Link, a professor of East Asian studies at Princeton. "But they have to be careful. They may have flexibility, but it's flexibility with a leash."
For Hu, running Caijing was both predestined and accidental. After her college placed her in the journalism school, she was disappointed and went to see her aging great-uncle, Hu Yuzhi.
She recalls: "I told him `I'm studying journalism, but I don't want to.' He said, 'Oh, it's great. You should do it. After the Cultural Revolution is over, journalism will be very important again. You'll see.'"
Date Posted: 4/19/2005