On Thursday, March 2, Colorado College hosted Kecheng Fang, a former Chinese political reporter, who spoke about contemporary media in China. Fang is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, and holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in journalism from Peking University in Beijing. Fang worked as a reporter for China’s Southern Weekly—the Chinese equivalent of the New York Times—from 2010 to 2013, and his writing has been featured in publications like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, BBC, and Politico.
Fang intended to major in math but he changed courses after developing an interest in the way news shapes public opinion. “Reading newspapers that were outspoken and invested in the world changed the direction of my life,” said Fang. “I believe they are key to achieving social justice—especially in countries like China where people enjoy less freedom and there is less social justice because the government is not held as accountable.” After graduating from university, Fang observed the complex relationship between Chinese media and the government as a reporter for Southern Weekly. His curiosity was not satisfied. Seeking a theoretical framework to help him understand the purpose and influence of media, Fang moved to the U.S. to pursue a PhD in philosophy.
Fang’s primary focus was to debunk some of the common misconceptions surrounding Chinese media and move beyond the censorship, resistance, and dichotomy often associated with the Chinese government. “People always want to know what it was like working as a journalist in China,” said Fang. “They think reporters are rebels and dissidents working against the government. But it’s not that simple.”
Hoping to provide a more “nuanced picture” of Chinese media, Fang addressed three common misconceptions: freedom of the press, the labeling of reporters as dissidents, and the role of the internet in modern-day China. Even though there are no private forms of traditional Chinese media and none of the digital platforms can publish original work or hire their own journalists, Fang maintained that Chinese media has far more freedom than Western media indicates.
“There is space for diverse opinions and investigative journalism in China,” said Fang. It is the method of informing, the types of stories and information deemed appropriate for public consumption that differs from Western media. Reporters resent their portrayal by Western media as dissidents resisting the oppression of their government. Traditional publications are owned by the government to inform the public without violating the trust of those who grant them access. “Access is not everything and does not guarantee good journalism,” said Fang. Nevertheless, Fang argued that it is working for and with the Chinese government that enables them to do their jobs.
With regards to the internet, many social media sites are blocked within China’s borders for the majority of citizens. The Chinese government knows the power held by that platform. While they encourage Chinese social media entrepreneurship within the country, government officials use social media to influence the way the world views China. “Like many politicians in the U.S., social media acts as the Chinese government’s direct line to the world,” said Fang. “They know how to use it.”
Hosted by the Mosaic Club and attended primarily by students, Fang’s presentation provided a unique look into a world removed from the United States. At the end of his presentation, Fang asked the audience to consider moving beyond the headline angle of censorship and resistance and instead concentrate on the tactical cooperation that is crucial to Chinese media.