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China’s Pulitzer Prize

May 10, 2012

I just got back from a two-week family visit back to the U.S., and things have been anything but quiet while I was gone:   naval confrontations in the South China Seas, Chen Guangcheng’s flight to the U.S. embassy, the annual US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) in Beijing … and now, the expulsion of a respected American journalist from China.

On Tuesday, Al Jazeera announced that China has refused to renewed the visa of Melissa Chan, their main correspondent in Beijing — making her the first foreign journalist expelled from China in nearly 15 years.  Since the Chinese government also refused to grant a visa for anyone to replace her, Al Jazeera will be closing its English-language bureau in Beijing.  (It will continue to operate the bureau for its main Arabic-language channel).

Melissa is a friend of mine, who has interviewed me for several of her reports, most notably her pathbreaking report on the “ghost city” of Ordos, and her follow-up two years later.  Although I know she’s disappointed to leave, I told her that being expelled was sort of like China’s version of the Pulitzer Prize — tangible recognition that the work she was doing was important and powerful enough to strike a very high-level nerve.

You can see from the list of video links below that Melissa didn’t shy away from some of the toughest stories out there.  But she was also fair.  She wasn’t trying to make China look bad — although sometimes the truth wasn’t pretty.  She was just trying to make sure that the world got to hear all sides of what was often a complex and challenging story.

If you only have time to watch one video, check out Melissa’s recent report (in March 2012) on China’s secret “black jails.”  It will give you an idea of the kind of courageous reporting she has been doing, and I suspect it was one of the things that got her kicked out of the country.  I also suspect that her story, in January, interviewing farmers who knew Xi Jinping as a sent-down youth during the Cultural Revolution, was one more thing that helped wear out her welcome.  While there was nothing really negative about it — in fact, it was quite complimentary — it trespassed over strict (and rather paranoid) rules barring anyone from discussing any aspect of the biography or personality of China’s next leader.

I realize that Al Jazeera is not particularly popular in the U.S. because of the often adversarial perspective it has taken towards Israel and towards America’s role in the Middle East.  But I hope that doesn’t obscure the value of the reporting Melissa has done from China, or diminish concern over the Chinese government’s decision to send her packing.  What that decision says about China, in 2012,  is far more damning than the most critical report any correspondent could file.

Good luck, Melissa.  You will be missed.

By the way, those who are interested can follow Melissa Chan on Twitter (@melissakchan).

(Before my vacation, I promised the next installment of my critical analysis of China’s economic figures, and I won’t disappoint.  I will post it ASAP).

20 Comments leave one →
  1. The Digit Man permalink
    May 10, 2012 12:59 pm

    Melissa Chan – a journalist of substance, integrity and courage – you will be sorely missed. Best wishes for the future.

  2. Iyer permalink
    May 10, 2012 1:47 pm

    I am happy to see your blog back in action – was wondering if you were also in trouble like Melissa Chan 🙂

    • prchovanec permalink*
      May 10, 2012 1:48 pm

      I have not taken refuge in the US Embassy — yet 🙂

  3. Paul Adkins permalink
    May 10, 2012 2:35 pm

    It’s not just a step backwards for journalistic freedom, it’s also yet another kick in the head for the new China that everyone hoped would emerge. At the start of the Hu/Wen leadership era, we were promised much in the way of reform in so many areas. Now all we see is an escalation of the paranoia – we have gone from the episode with Ai Weiwei, a Chinese national, to the shoddy treatment of two Australian-Chinese business people in Guangzhou the last few months. Now the expulsion of Ms Chan sends a message that China is scared of the truth, that it hasn’t achieved anything. “Guo jin min tui” applies not only to business, but to the whole fabric of society.

    Look at China today. A few people have gotten rich. Peasants are being relocated from their land. Official statistics are being manipulated. Trouble makers are being shut up – either by jail, house arrest, expulsion or “student visa”. Nothing has changed.

    Are we still in the bad old days of Chairman Mao? Or is it worse than that?

  4. Iyer permalink
    May 10, 2012 2:36 pm

    Melissa’s recent report (in March 2012) on China’s secret “black jails.” : the link - – is not going where you want it to – it leads to ” Little-known past of China’s ‘next leader’ “

  5. Joy permalink
    May 10, 2012 6:05 pm

    Al Jazeera is based in Qatar. They were actually treated nicely in China, when compared to what they would get doing the same in the countries near their HQs…

    Why don’t they try and focus on that area of the middle east, on those arab countries and all the horrors that go on there? Oh wait, it’s not part of their agenda.

    BTW Al Jazeera in English and in Arabic is completely different, in Arabic it’s very clear what they’re at, in English, they know better than to state their agenda too directly.

    • Stephen Blowfield permalink
      May 25, 2012 6:28 am

      As with all booms there are consequnces .with the rush to get rich in Realestate greed takes over by the developer and the buyer .In time all becomes undone.Faulse fixed beliefs almost delusion causes asset busts world wide ,of which China is not immuned.

  6. andao permalink
    May 11, 2012 3:52 pm

    Of all the major news companies, Al Jazeera had the potential to be the most friendly to China, especially given the unpopular positions of the US in the Middle East. Overall I think it’s a good news source that covers a lot of what Western media do not. I am very confused why China would target them instead of more tantalizing targets like CNN.

    After this incident, I don’t see how China will ever be able to field an world-class media company. Everything in their current English newspapers is so laughably one-sided, you can just see a Party cadre dictating it to an English translator. I would love to see a Chinese paper do a opinion piece on whether or not Huangyan Island should really belong to the Philippines. I think China is 20 years or more from that level of maturity and self confidence.

  7. nikon permalink
    May 11, 2012 7:25 pm

    China did the right thing, you cannot trust Al Jazeera, controlled by the evil Qatari royal family

    • The Digit Man permalink
      May 14, 2012 7:22 am

      those who live in glass houses …. you’ll have to do better than that nikon-san.

  8. Dismanirie permalink
    May 13, 2012 5:08 pm

    It’s true enough that Al Jazeera has an agenda which does not jibe with everyone’s worldview. However, it has a good track record of uncovering the truth in many corners of the world where the other international news organisations fear to tread, and local sources are politically prohibited from coverage.

    Where it has failed is applying a balanced view on the happenings in Bahrain, Libya and Syria, which has badly dented its credibility overall. And while I would hate Al Jazeera to spend all its time covering Qatar, the dearth of even positive stories about its home country makes the broadcaster somewhat laughable. It’s as if it were wearing a metaphorical hijab.

    For a really balanced perspective of what is happening around the world, I find myself watching news from a dozen different sources, and through the filter of common sense and political nuance, the distilled information is pretty comprehensive. I am one who believes that Al Jazeera belongs in that daily diet, and as long as they attract courageous and objective reporters like Melissa Chan I will continue to watch their programming.

    Best of luck to Ms Chan wherever her career next takes her.

  9. princess1960 permalink
    May 14, 2012 6:38 pm

    really good luck to Ms CHAN ..

  10. May 15, 2012 7:13 am

    ok, so to claim a superpower status countries have to outdo each other in promoting their own gitmos or black jail, censorship of the Internet in China versus NDAA and other internet control delicacies in the US though this new NSA facility which will listen to everything from everyone. It is time for the citizens of the world to rediscover freedom. Obviously being of the centrally controlled electric grid is one way to achieve that, but how to become untraceable on the internet?

  11. Sean permalink
    May 16, 2012 3:28 pm

    Really one of the best people covering China. A huge loss. I first started following her after her reports on the Farmer Yang story ( which was picked up else where for its slightly ridiculous but underdog nature (farmer holds off thugs with home-made cannons) but Melissa kept covering it, showing the rather dire circumstances that forced his hand and the repercussions he and his family endured. Terrific reporting.

    • princess1960 permalink
      May 16, 2012 8:59 pm

      life doesn’t have sens if everything is OK ..
      thank you


  1. More Melissa Chan Fallout | The China Hotline
  2. Al Jazeera Expulsion Still Unexplained - China Digital Times (CDT)
  3. Weekly Round Up May 21 – 2012 | Connect the Dots

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