How Missouri’s 1930s reporters became the ideal journalist for China

Almost 50 years after his death, a Missouri journalist who reported on the early days of the Chinese Communist Party is still praised by Beijing as an ideal foreign correspondent.

Edgar Snow, who has interviewed Chairman Mao Zedong many times, was introduced by the Communist Party as a “friend of China”, appeared in a romantic movie, and wants more “snow of this new era among foreign #journalist”. Quoted from officials.

He has also appeared on government-run tours for foreign media.

“We were taken on a trip to Yang An, a revolutionary place hosted by the Legislature. [communist leaders] I’ve been hiding in a cave for a few years, centered around Edgar Snow, “a Chinese-based foreign journalist told VOA.

“They continued to chase Edgar Snow and their revolutionary history,” said a journalist who sought anonymity because of safety concerns.

At the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party this summer, the state-owned China Daily announced the launch of a new era of Edgar Snow Newsroom.

According to an article in English on June 20, the purpose of this newsroom is to “present a true multidimensional panoramic view of China.” China Daily..

VOA has made several attempts to interview China Daily representatives, but has not responded to emails and phone calls.

Media strategy

Beijing adopted the snow heritage best known in its 1937 book, Red Star Over China, because of the expulsion of foreign correspondents and restricted coverage.

Written by Edgar Snow and published in 1937, “Red Star Over China”.

Political analysts and reporters reporting on China view the Edgar Snow newsroom as a hallmark of Beijing’s broad efforts to influence foreign press and public opinion.

Julia Belkin, co-author of two reports on China’s global media impact on the International Federation of Journalists, uses the newsroom to bring foreign news media to Chinese state media content during difficult times. I think we can force it to depend more and more. To secure a visa.

“If major organizations cannot have foreign correspondents based in China and they cannot get their own coverage of China, they need to rely on that state if they want to report on China. There is much more content. “

According to an IFJ survey, China has content sharing agreements with dozens of international retailers as a way to export lucrative coverage. We invest in overseas newsroom equipment and studios to carry out exchange and training programs, often targeting journalists in countries with weak Western ties.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia bureau chief Cedric Albiani agrees that the newsroom is “perfectly in line with the Chinese world.” [media] strategy. “

“The Chinese administration has built a propaganda device that is so impressive that it believes it no longer needs foreign correspondents,” Albiani said. “So it only sees foreign correspondents as unwanted witnesses, and that’s why it started getting rid of them.”

In 2020, China and the United States Visa Tit for tat Following the Trump administration’s decision to reduce the number of Chinese staff in five US state media organizations

At least 12 journalists at US outlets Exiled from China For the last 18 months.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington sent an email to VOA, the country welcomed foreign media, secured their “legitimate rights and interests”, and “open and free” communication between reporters and authorities. Said that.

“As long as foreign journalists comply with the law and report on compliance. [with] No need to worry about laws, regulations or regulations. That said, he opposes attempts to create fake news using the idealistic prejudice against China, the so-called “freedom of the press,” and acts that violate the professional ethics of journalism. “

China Daily reported that the Snow News Room tells a “real” story in China. For Human Rights Watch researcher Yaqiu Wang, it’s a disinformation code.

“The Chinese government clearly doesn’t want people to know the truth. It’s a human rights violation committed in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Hong Kong, and the mainland,” Wang told VOA. “They just want to make a story to hide the truth they know is true.”

Rebecca MacKinnon, CNN’s Beijing bureau chief from 1998 to 2001, believes that the Edgar Snow Newsroom has significant promotional value in the country.

By naming Snow in the newsroom, the state tells the Chinese people what an ideal foreign journalist would look like.

“Some of this may inoculate more Chinese masses against journalists who aren’t like Edgar Snow’s cartoon version,” McKinnon told VOA.

Americans abroad

Snow covered China in the US news magazine Saturday Evening Post. At that time, foreign journalists had little access to the country, and the relationship between the United States and China was essentially non-existent.

Bill Birtles, a Chinese correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, who had to leave the country last year, said: Communist Party leadership. “

Upon returning to the United States, Snow was not very welcomed because he was in close contact with the party’s upper layers. He voluntarily asylum in Switzerland due to McCarthyism, an aggressive US campaign against communism in the 1950s, and died there in 1972.

Critics of Snow claim that journalists wrote overly favorably about the Communist Party and sacrificed ethics for access.

One of the most common criticisms of journalist and author of Edgar Snow, John Maxwell Hamilton, is that Snow did not report on the Great Famine. However, Hamilton said Snow’s notebook showed his efforts to investigate an imminent disaster.

The famine of the late 1950s and early 1960s resulted in the deaths of tens of millions as a result of policies under Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward campaign.

A foreign correspondent who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity said Snow had missed other important events such as purges and abuse of women. But journalists said it did not undermine the respect that snow deserves to contribute significantly to the understanding of the Communist world.

“We have remade Edgar Snow into an effective advertiser for them,” said Hamilton, a professor at Louisiana State University who previously worked for the State Department.

“The Chinese Communist Party wants to use him because Snow is a kind of journalist who would write favorably about the Chinese Communist Party, and he wants to pretend he wasn’t,” Hamilton said. “They diverted aspects of what Snow did and made him someone else.”

He added that Beijing is unlikely to bring journalists like Snow into the country today.

David Bandurski, director of the Hong Kong-based China Media Project, which studies trends in Chinese journalism, states it more succinctly.

“Creating a newsroom around Snow’s ideas is simply nostalgic gift wrapping for external promotional campaigns,” he told VOA.

The tug of war over Snow’s legacy has not been lost to journalist daughter Cyan.

“Instead of getting along with any leader, my dad was considered alternating with persona non grata in China. [for his alleged bourgeois ideas] And in his own country [for his alleged communist ideas] “Efforts were made to promote mutual understanding, often at his own expense, and during nuclear brinkmanship, simply because he insisted on telling the truth to both sides,” Sian Snow told VOA.

She added that her father was not a communist.

Report limits

Snow had access to say that today’s Foreign Correspondents are no longer possible. It’s even hard to find a local who wants an interview.

“In the past, it was easy to call anyone, even on relatively delicate topics,” said an anonymous journalist. “And I was motivated to talk to foreign media, which is getting worse day by day.”

Sources are often canceled, even if the article is about a harmless topic. Foreign journalists are also called to informal meetings with foreign ministry representatives who criticize their coverage.

For others, visa delays, security risks or expulsions mean they must be reported externally.

Bartles left China in August 2020 with the advice of the Australian Embassy after Chinese security officials asked him and arbitrarily detained Australian Chen Ray working for the China Global Television Network. ..

“In China, fewer foreign journalists will have more coverage from abroad, so that coverage will make more assumptions,” Bartles said. “The longer we spend abroad, the less we lose contact with how quickly things change.”

Snow’s daughter said the limited space for journalists did not reflect her father or what he stood.

“Unfortunately, the current Chinese government does not allow freedom of the press, but that freedom, along with others, is constitutional,” she told VOA. “In that sense, the newsroom doesn’t show who my dad was.”

How Missouri’s 1930s reporters became the ideal journalist for China

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