Archive for May, 2011

Investigative Journalism in China 



Chinese journalists intervieweng

A Commitment to the Public Interest and the Truth

Despite the depressing factors mentioned above, there are still many cases that Chinese investigative journalists bravely confronted vested interests and exposed wrongdoings with striking integrity. There exist positive dynamics that facilitate serious investigative journalism practicing in China.

1. Chinese investigative journalists are seen as models of professional practice.

Revealing social injustice and official wrongdoing in favor of the public, even at considerable personal sacrifice, Chinese Investigative journalists have established a reputation and are signalized as the professional ideology for journalists. Therefore, successful investigative journalists enjoy high prestige and social status both from the public and in the journalistic circle. Furthermore, they are better paid than their peers.

For example, most Chinese journalistic undergraduate pride themselves in getting an internship in prestigious investigative newspapers like Southern Metropolitan Daily. The newspaper itself is recognized as an ‘‘excellent training school’’ for journalists, its staff can enjoy the opportunities for ‘‘professional excellence’’ there. (Fan, 2005, p. 373)


The cover page of Southern Weekend in 2006

Also, journalists who left Southern Metropolitan Daly or Southern weekend have mostly been hired as high-ranking staff in other media organizations. (Liu, et al., 2004)

The professional ideology has kept encouraging more and more young journalists to follow, thus providing continued vigour for investigative journalism in China.

2. Chinese tradition of public intellectuals articulating society’s conscience

 The media scholar Hugo DE Borgh has commented that Chinese investigative journalists have been striving to realize roles traditional to Chinese culture, rather than adopting foreign models.

Similarly, as Tong and Sparks (2009) mentioned, in Chinese history, there has been a tradition that intellectuals speak for the public against the authorities. Recently in China, Journalists consider themselves less as docile hacks and more as public servants. To some extent, it can be perceived that this morality originates from this Chinese tradition, that intellectuals should articulate society’s conscience. This responsibility made many Chinese investigative journalists remain committed to seeking the truth.

 The Internet has boomed investigative journalism

The most prominent change is the use of the Internet. The Internet has aided the development of investigative journalism in two aspects.

Firstly, the Internet provides a good source of stories. For instance, at the Southern Metropolitan Daily more than 80 per cent of investigative reports originate from online sources. (Tong and Sparks, 2009)

Secondly, the Internet can give stories access to a much wider audience. In traditional media outlets, like local newspapers and TVs, audience is limited to residence in a certain area. But if an investigative report is posted on the web, people from worldwide can learn the story, thereby exerting a more profound influence.

China has the world's largest netizen population


The 2007 case of Shanxi Brickfield Slave Scandal is a good example of the Internet effect. In May, a journalist from a local TV found a story from a local online forum that the brick-making industrialists in Shanxi province were forcing workers working in slavery. The journalist produced an investigative reportage and broadcast it on TV.

“Although these stories attracted the attention of the locals, they found no wider coverage and failed to trigger any official action against the slave owners.” On 5 June, however, a user posted the story on the influential Tianya online forum and promoted it strongly. “This led to an outcry that forced the central party leadership to intervene. Dozens of slaves, including many children, were freed, and employers and officials were punished.” (Tong and Sparks, 2009, p.346)


In sum, investigative journalism in China has flourished in the late 30 years,  investigative journalists enjoy high social status and high payment, the Chinese tradition has been prompting many journalists to make commitment to their course and public interest. To retain practice, some cautious strategies have been adopted. The emergence of the Internet is a boomed in investigative journalism.


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Fake relative service for wedding ceremonies in Shenyang

In China, a wedding is extraordinary significant. It is a sign of grown up and a mark for a new phase of life. Almost all relatives of the bride and groom will attend the ceremony, witness their happiness and send hopes for the young couple. In Shenyang, a metropolis in Northeastern China, I attended a wedding ceremony.


The Dinning table at a Chinese wedding ceremony

A moving wedding ceremony

At Shenyang Wedding Hall, a wedding ceremony is in progress. On the stage, an emcee congratulated the bride and groom. Guests were elegantly dressed, happily taken photos with the newly-weds.

At the peak of the ceremony, the bride’s father was about to deliver a speech. The man, in his 60s, recalled the growth of his daughter from a new-born baby, a child of a toddle, a primary school girl right away to this young woman in her wedding dress now, every important moment in her life. His shaking tone and shining tears made guests deeply moved.

“When the bride’s father gave her hand to the groom, I cried.” A woman guest, Li Xiang, said it was a very emotional moment. All guests applauded and gave their regards to the newly married.

However, on this occasion, many guests, including Li Xiang, were fake relatives. The bride’s father never met the bride before the ceremony, he is an actor. The detail of the bride’s life-as in “her father’s” speech – is written by the girl herself and gave to a wedding agency she commissioned. The wedding agency hired actors and actress specifically for this day to play the bride’s relatives. Shortly before the wedding, actors were instructed on how to play their roles.

“I learnt to treasure what I’ve got in my own life by acting as others”

Li Xiang, 23, works routinely as a teacher in a kindergarten. She played as the bride’s fake sister, and cried for the couple in the ceremony. Was the tear she shed for the bride true or acting skills? I asked.

“This is the first time I’ve played others. Before the ceremony, I had to get well-prepared. I had to understand what my behavior should be as a younger sister, I contemplate this person’s character and personality, such as which attitude I should take when speaking to her; I have to memories all the trifle information of both hers and mine, like her nickname, how many years she is older than me, her education information, etc, it is tiring but interesting.”

Li Xiang said that at first, she was nervous, fearing that any mistake would sell her out. But as the wedding went on, she gradually forgot nervousness and was buried in the excitement and happiness in the wedding hall. When the “father” recalled every little detail of the girl’s growth, she suddenly thought of her parents, being caring and nice all the time, standing on her side no matter what happened.

“That moment I just realized how happy I am with my parents’ love. In this sense, I have learned a lesson from this experience, which is worthwhile. I think other guests had also learnt something because not only me, many cried, both the real and fake relatives.

Li Xiang told me her involvement in this fake relative service was not for economic reason,   because what I earned from that was trifle that she couldn’t make a living from it. At first she applied out of curiosity but as time went by she benefited from it. “Playing others, makes you feel like one of those charming actresses on TV. But when I actually knew more about this activity, I can better understand the meaning of life by getting to understand others’ life. This experience made me treasure my parents, friends and what I’ve got in my own life.”

“I did it to help people achieve their happiness.”

Li Xiang told me the company hiring her is run by a young man called Chen Chen. Once a newspaper journalist, he found great demand for fake relatives in wedding ceremonies during his experience. Three years ago, he launched this firm providing faking relative service for newly- weds.

In his small office inside a flat, Chen accepted my interview request quite willingly. He told me why many new couples need fake relative to appear in their wedding.

 “One of the reasons is that nowadays the life pace for young people is too fast. In the highly competitive working environment, young people usually have to work extra times to prove their value and diligence. After work, there’s little time for relax and social life, generally, more and more people lost contacts with relatives, classmates and friends. Until getting married, they suddenly recognized few people are attending the ceremony, which is quite an embarrassment. That’s why they have to hire actors and actress to play as their relatives to attend the wedding.”

Chen also said an alternative reason is that people want to hide shameful aspects inside a family from others. As an old Chinese saying puts: “Do not wash your dirty linen in public”.

“Here is one impressive case, my client was a young man. Before marriage, he was introduced to his girlfriend’s parents. They quite liked him but asked to meet his parents talking about the preparation of the wedding ceremony. This put him in predicament because from an early age, his father has dumped this young man and his mother and married to another woman. They haven’t contacted each other since then.”

“The young man considered it a shame and wouldn’t mention this to others. He was also concerned that her girlfriend’s parents would marry their daughter to a man from an incomplete family. He asked us to help him. I chose one of our agents with a similar appearance and almost the age of the young man’s father. He memorise all the young man’s personal information and prepared suitable answer for any possible questions. The meeting turned out to be satisfactory, the agent even attend the young man’s wedding, as his father, of course.”

I asked Chen if he feels sorry for the bride he has deceived. Hesitated for a while, he answered that there is an element of deception that always made him uncomfortable. But he would rather put his activity in another way – to help those in need.

 “All I have been doing is non profitable, not for my own interest. We just want to help people in desperate need, help them to achieve their happiness otherwise they would miss at such a close distance. Imagine how disappointed they will be if their happiness just slip out of their hands. Therefore I believe what I did.

“I was guilty to my boyfriend but I cared more about my respect.”

In the case in the beginning of this article, the bride hired fake relatives in her wedding. In a café, She accepted my interview request secretly, under condition that her name unwritten.

“All my families are farmers; I would also have been a farmer if I hadn’t made my way to university and found a job in Shenyang. I couldn’t tell my boyfriend’s family because both his parents are high-ranking government official. I fear that his parents would not accept a daughter-in-law with farmer background. I love my boyfriend, I have to eliminate every factor that can ruin the wedding. In order to get married to him, I had to have proper parents. That’s why I contacted this agency and asked for help.”

The bride confessed that she employed Chen’s agency. Chen provided angents to act as guests to attend the wedding. Five the agents acted as her parents, her sister and her one uncle and  two aunts. They were all convinced.

“I was guilty to my boyfriend but I cared more about if I can receive respect from him and his family.”

I asked her if she will finally confess to her partner and his family, she replied instantly that she would confess for sure “if the timing is good” because “lies could never become the truth”.

Analyzing the Cause of “fake relative service”

Chen Chen told me, he has helped over 300 clients so far. Besides his company, there are almost 20 firms doing the same business in Shenyang. Reports say that “fake relative service” is also present at other parts of China. It’s wise to consider it as a significant social phenomenon, or recent social problem, as Cheng Jin, the assistant professor for sociology in Liaoning University, pointed out.

Cheng explains the “fake relative service” is an extension of the “face” issue, a desire for recognition from others, which is deeply rooted in the Chinese culture.

Chinese always feel being judged by people around

“The Chinese take “face” seriously. Unlike the individualism in the western world, Chinese people care more about what people around judge them. In an early age, Chinese kids are taught that other people are watching, they really dread bad remarks from others.

“In this case, a wedding is a social, family event rather than a personal event, where a good social representation has to be completed. Therefore, if you don’t have “proper”, “respectful” parents or relatives at the wedding, or the failure to hide your family shame will cause neighbors talking or teasing behind your back – a shame for both families;  even worse, it will make families of your partners loath you, possibly cause damage to post-marriage life.”



The Chinese people are quite sensitive about how they present themselves in public. The sense of “protection of face” constantly gives people so much pressure that they have to consort to fake ways.

On the other hand, due to the economic and social development, fast-paced lifestyle and heavy pressure from work make many young people isolated, social and family bonds are withering, the relationship between relatives are becoming weak.

The two factors give rise to the phenomenon of “fake relative service”, which may seem weird and ridiculous in elsewhere in the world. However, the cause of it – an increasingly social disconnect –  seems a universal problem worldwide.

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Beijing Olympic Legacy

Beijing Olympic Games have passed for almost four years. China’s capital has benefited significantly from the halo in aspects of improved infrastructure and blossoming culture diversity. But critics say that the heritage has not been matched by the environment – the grey skies still exist, and China’s post-Games economic growth has slowed.

Bird Nest Stadium in Post Olympic era

In order to contemplate what legacy the Olympics have left behind, I asked four experts about how the Olympic legacy has changed Beijing – from its culture, economy to the environment.

Unexpected Economic Disappointment

Tourism missed an expected boom

In retrospect, the last 11 Olympics host countries have all suffered from slow economic growth after the Games. Beijing is not lucky enough to escape the ”Curse of the Rings“. The worldwide economic bust has hit post-Olympics China as well.


No example can be more illustrative than the tourism sector. Zhang Xiaoxue is a senior manager from Beijing Association of Travel Services. She told me that the financial crisis has hit Beijing’s overseas tourism hard.

“After the Games, travel agencies and hotels anticipated a surge in Olympic-related visitors. But we were disappointed when the influx of travellers never reached previous anticipation because of the gloomy economic situation.”

According to Zhang, for the recent three years, even some of the city’s glamorous hotels have stumped up half price offer to attract travellers. “In low season for travellers, such as summer, hotels on average have had just less than 10 percent occupancy.”

Environmental Achievement and Vision

Li Jiao is the Director of Beijing-based organisation Greenpeace China campaigning for environment protection. To her, the greatest heritage of the Olympics is two-fold.

“Firstly, the strict anti-pollution regulations brought blue sky and fresh air back; secondly, under the push for a ‘Green’ Olympics, the awareness of people and the government about the importance of environment has been heightened.”

Beijing’s effort has won recognition worldwide. According to the recent report released by the British organization Clickgreen, the air pollution control put in place in Beijing during the 2008 Olympic Games has halved the lifetime risk of lung cancer for locals from certain inhaled pollutants.

However, Li is now concerned that the improvement was just like a flurry of excitement, given that post-Olympics pollution has deteriorated, “Some indicators have come down; on some days the air still smells acrid and buildings just a few hundred metres away can appear smudged in smog.”

She emphasizes the real environmental legacy lies in years beyond 2008. “‘Green Olympics’ is not merely for today, but also for tomorrow. Only by taking long-term, persistent efforts can the Green Olympics actually have a concrete impact.”

 Furthermore, Successful environmental measures in Beijing need to be extended to other developing cities across China.

“Every civilian needs to recognise his indispensible role in taking environmental action. Only by concerted cooperation and extensive participation can we truly ‘green’ our homeland. “

Cultural and psychological impact

the Games have raised the nation's confidence

The event has set the stage for a more diverse and tolerant cultural atmosphere in the capital. Beijing resident and artist Zhu Xiaoxue comments as follow,

”Now I have greater opportunities to attend various high-quality exhibitions, and art works of the domestic artists are more tolerated , which would help boost artistic growth in every field, the diversity which should have been rooted in a Socialistic society is now building on in China. “

Albertina Malik from America is a lecturer from Beijing Foreign Language University, who has lived in Beijing for eight years. She says that the Games, as an opening-up party to the world, have changed the mindset of the state.

“The whole nation got so hilarious when China topped the gold medal tally, considering this nation’s 200-year-long history of humiliation and inferiority. It is more like an implied reassurance that the Chinese can be as good as others, and can be more self-assured on international stage.”


The Olympic Games have left Beijing positive legacy in terms of a more diverse cultural aura, a more confident image on international stage, etc. On the other hand, post-Olympic pollution degradation and the economic downturn have also tarnished the heritage to some extent.

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