A moment in Beijing

Bosco, Joseph
May 2005
Quill;May2005, Vol. 93 Issue 4, p45
Trade Publication
This article presents a narrative of the author's experience as a journalism professor in China. In September 2004, I started teaching practical American journalism to enthusiastic Chinese college students at the Beijing Foreign Studies University. Come October, Dean Sun Youzhong encouraged me to put online the first English language, university-sanctioned, student written news blog in China. It is called, WOW: We Observe the World, and has enjoyed a modest but warm reception from all areas of the globe. WOW is a quick and easy online newspaper by and for student journalists. During the semester, the students reported on movies, music, books, sports, travel, culture and hard news. Come early December, in lieu of a final exam, I assigned an opinion-editorial on the arrest in fall 2004 of Zhao Yan, a noted Chinese journalist working as a researcher for the Beijing bureau of The New York Times. The State Security Bureau charged Zhao with revealing state secrets. It was a big story in the U.S. press. My students, though, knew nothing about it. Not a word on it was published in China. Frankly, there was a lot of stone disbelief in the lecture hall the day I delivered the facts of the case and opened it up for discussion. The 60 students got all of the links and resources they needed to dig into the case. I told them the best-written and best-argued essays would go up on WOW. Many people were flabbergasted that the series was not only allowed up, but also left undisturbed by the Great Firewall of China and its Internet blocking inside the country. The students are campus heroes, and the series remains up for all to read, officially, with the blessings of the deans and Party cadres I work for. I will not pretend to know why. I know a truly free press is coming to China, as well as they do, but it is a process as slow as it is unstoppable.


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