Friday, 3 July 2009

English Language Boom in China/Three

It surely has the jump on Western competing media in this respect. Stephen Levene, circulations director of the Asian Wall Street Journal/Hong Kong, wrote me that his paper sells about 350 copies daily in the PRC, most of them on the newsstands, in major hotels, “to expats.” “A small part of that total circulation is on a hand-delivered subscription basis.”

The papers are actually handled for AWSJ by the China National Import and Export Corporation, which handles all foreign publications. On my way back from the U.S. Embassy in Peking, where I had gone to see how they dealt with the English language boom (They had sponsored a most useful report touching on the subject in January, 1982), I did a little informal ABC circulation homework at Clement Chen’s brilliant Jianguo new hotel and at the adjacent International Club in the diplomatic quarter of Peking.

The hotel manager told me they distribute 250-650 free copies a day at the hotel depending on seasonal ebb and flow of tourists. (They sell about 20 copies a day of the International Herald Tribune at 250 fen ($1.25) and 20 AWSJ’s at 200 fen, compared with the CD’s 10-fen price in Peking, or by rail to the rest of the country 15 fen for same day air service.) You have to want a newspaper a whole lot at that differential. Over at the International Club, they sold 30 CD’s and 10 each of the competing American publications a day.

The China Daily is not the ludicrous mouthpiece that its Russian counterpart, Moscow News, usually was when I read that in 1980. But it is no muckraking crusader either. It’s exceedingly useful for Americans to read, precisely because its stories billboard what changes the administration wants to amplify and accelerate in its dominant campaigns to rehab the despised intellectuals – a process needed if China is to modernize successfully, to throw out the “iron rice bowl” (lifetime job security, regardless of performance), and to re-privatize the economy at its edges and interstices – to deal with growing consumer demands for services and to mop up pools of structural underemployment.

China Daily reads like McGuffey Readers must have read in the American nineteenth century, with Horatio Alger stories of individuals making economic contributions by taking their own initiatives, with aphoristic wisdom straight out of Samuel Smiles and self-help books. While CD was set up for tourists, its ads are internally oriented, suggesting that its Chinese readership is even more attentive than the casual tourists’. Two-thirds of its 60,000 circulation is Chinese. Cadres are obviously killing two birds with one stone – polishing their English while they keep a weather eye out for changes or nuances in party policy.

When I asked Madame Zhang about UNESCO’s New World Information Order, she perked up. Clearly, the Third World wishes its sources of news were more beholden to its interests than to those of their former “oppressors.” But she was also realistic. Xinhua has its own plate too full to start trying to serve as a bona fide Third World new agency on is own. “All the countries must have an input into such an agency,” she demurred, “not just China.” She sees the lack of finances as the principal impediment, not potential political bickerings with in the Third World.

She also surprised me by starting to quiz me on what changes they should make in CD when it starts publication in New York in June 1983. I told her to blip the sports and expand the really invaluable stories on travel and culture in China (page four is the least politic: and invaluable for someone interested in the arts and history of the country). And what my American colleagues came to call the Calamity Page (the last page always contained some off-putting disaster from the decadent West, sometimes several!) should be turned over to the Third World as seen from the Chinese perspective. Feminists would be pleased to note how many of the editorial staff were women, more than half.

But the CD’s professional future seems even more secure when you learn that 10 staff members are taking full-time J-school teaching abroad – six at the East-West Center for Technical and Cultural Interchange in Honolulu, four more at mainland U.S. institutions of higher education. CD already has a Hong Kong edition: Photostats are airlifted each publishing day, ending the three-hour plane trip before noon for early P.M. distribution the day of issue (CD’s mainland edition goes to bed at 1:30 a.m. at the Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily) presses and is on the streets (or more precisely in the hotels) by 5:00 a.m. The paper is now training staff for Shanghai and Canton editions.

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