Foreign Intrigue scholar reports for China Daily
Beijing is a metropolitan city of close to 17 million inhabitants. Reporting and taking photos for China Daily enabled me to dive into the fast-paced, dramatic nature of Beijing. From covering an artist’s community on the outskirts of the city to photographing the co-founder of Wikipedia in a high rise in the core of Beijing, I covered a diverse mix of assignments. However, the most profound story I reported on was in Yixian County two hours outside of the capital city.
Stepping out of a rental car on a dusty road chickens pecked at my toes, I carried camera equipment on my right shoulder, while palming my notepad. Daniel Chinoy, an American reporter for China Daily, conversed in Mandarin with a local farmer named Lu Xuetao.
I don’t know Mandarin so I could only pick up a few words from the interview, but Chinoy had already briefed me on the young farmer’s background. His was a rags–to-riches story. The “hook” was a small microfinance loan that sparked his personal economic recovery. The loan was for 1,000 yuan, or $140 U.S.
Eventually, the one pig he purchased with part of the money became 80 pigs and his income became 30,000 yuan a year. Without the loan, Xuetao said, he wouldn’t have had any other options to start his business. For the story, I took a portrait of him and his chickens looking into the distance.
After seeing Xuetao’s farm, we visited a woman named Wang Guiling. She ran a pharmacy not far from Xuetao’s farm. Like Xuetao, she said without small microfinance loans, she couldn’t have continued running her business. Guiling said most of her patients purchase medicine on credit, and the loans help her get by while waiting for payments.
After nearly eight hours of interviews and photos, we drove out of the village bumping over stray rocks and loose land. We returned to Beijing on a smoothly paved super freeway. It was a heavy reminder for me that in rural China, outside of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, life is very different.
I studied microfinance my freshman year at the University of Washington. I attended a campus lecture delivered by Muhammad Yunus, considered by many to be the pioneer of microfinance, and later studied many of his theories. Seeing microfinance in practice in rural China was a powerful experience.
The other greatest learning experience came from witnessing the relationship between China’s press and China’s government. I knew going in that I would be working for a newspaper controlled by the Communist Party. Challenges regarding censorship and propaganda pieces would be part of the job. But about a month in, I noticed stories were becoming more critical and reporters and editors at the newspaper were beginning to stretch the rules of censorship.
Turns out, the emergence of a new English-language paper in China called The Global Times, gave China Daily more wiggle room to push limits. During my last week at the newspaper, an article ran in the metro section about how the government hadn’t turned on public heating even though it was snowing. That night as I walked into my apartment, I found a heated room.
Similarly to the new freedoms China’s media world had been experiencing, the general public had also been pushing for fewer restraints on their personal lives. The government had decided to turn the heat on early, in response to the people’s outcry. It was a perfect note to leave Beijing on.
Chantal Anderson is a student in the Department of Communication.