Video: Why the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua is a great choice for graduate school

The Global Business Journalism Program is the subject of a documentary film that highlights the program’s unique role in teaching advanced economics reporting skills to Chinese and international graduate students.

The GBJ program, the first graduate business journalism program taught in English on the Chinese mainland, features a rigorous curriculum taught by leading Chinese academics and prominent international journalists.

The five-minute mini-documentary was produced and directed by second-year GBJ student Simone Martin of Italy. It was based on a project he completed for a documentary news course. First-year GBJ student Sarah Taylor Talaat of the United States was the film’s narrator.

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2016 GBJ grads Anish Pandey and Jade Ladal

“In its first decade, the GBJ program has been recognized as one of the top international programs in China — and now, students from around the world, together with Chinese students, are learning advanced business writing, corporate strategies, economics, accounting, data mining, multimedia storytelling and other skills,” Talaat says in the documentary.

The film features interviews with current students and GBJ faculty. GBJ student Tendekai Finos from Zimbabwe called the program “an interesting opportunity to learn in China, as well to study in China, where the economy is growing rapidly.” Viktoria Fricova, a second-year student from Slovakia, said she first discovered the program when searching for a high-quality international graduate journalism program. “When I found it on the internet, I knew this was the option for me,” she told the documentarian.

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Professor Dunham and GBJ grads celebrate, June 2016

The Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication will use the documentary to reach out to potential students internationally, to further enhance its reputation in China, and to attract partners and supporters to the program, said GBJ Co-Director Rick Dunham.

“We’d like continue to expand, so that we can be the leaders in training Chinese journalists of the next generation, and become a destination spot for global journalism,” Professor Dunham says in the film.

Launched in 2007 in partnership with the International Center for Journalists and Bloomberg News, the GBJ program has trained more than 400 graduates, many of whom have become journalists at prominent news outlets from Bloomberg to People’s Daily and Xinhua News Agency.

“We wish to welcome the world to join us,” GBJ Co-Director Dr. Hang Min says in the documentary. “We are setting the standard for business journalism education.”

>>> You can also watch the video on YouTube

>> For more information on the application process

>>> Here’s the GBJ website

>>> Here’s how you can begin the application process

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2016 graduation festivities


Global Business Journalism Program: Leading the next generation of journalism around the world

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It has been a honor to serve as international co-director of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University for the past three years. Here is a transcript of my remarks at the 2016 commencement on June 30:

This is a very special day for all of us. To you, the graduating class of 2016, it is the culmination of a multicultural, global experience that is certain to benefit you personally and professionally. For me, this day is very special, too.

This is the first group of Chinese students I taught at Tsinghua, and you have made this veteran journalist into a better professor and a better person. Jiao Jie, Cynthia, Jarchine. I could go on and on. I have such respect and affection for you. I am so proud of all of you.

This is the first group of international students I interviewed, taught and mentored from beginning to end. Jade: you may not remember it, but I recall asking you in your interview: Who was your favorite character from En Attendant Godot? (I bet you didn’t prepare for that question.)

From the beginning, I can remember being supremely impressed by the qualifications and enthusiasm of Lauren and Gaelle, who have been leaders and high achievers since the day they arrived.

And I can remember recruiting Jordyn as if she were a star athlete in the United States and I were an eager coach. I knew she would be an invaluable addition to our program. Even while she’s still in school, she’s published superb articles in Forbes and Beijing Review, respected global news outlets.

I am honored, on behalf of the faculty of the Global Business Journalism Program and the International Center for Journalists, to congratulate all of you on your successful completion of graduate studies at the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication.

You are entering an uncertain world of journalism … of business and economics … of geopolitics and global conflict. I guess any commencement speaker could have said that at any time. But the pace of technological change, the immediacy brought by social media and 24/7 news, and the interconnectedness of the world, have made it easier for human beings to create positive things — or sow destruction anywhere, anytime.

The disruption created by the digital communications revolution has affected businesses from Dallas to Da Tong. In our world of journalism and communication, traditional forms of communication are collapsing – rapidly in America and Europe, more slowly in China. But make no mistake about it, the old world is gone and will never be revived, despite the antediluvian longings of ultranationalists and isolationists and technophobes.

The good news is that there are so many opportunities for people who embrace change and embrace the latest technologies. You are among the fortunate few. You have been trained in the latest technologies, but you also understand the enduring basics of journalism: accuracy, fairness, accountability, ethics and compelling storytelling. The Global Business Journalism program is a combination of a rigorous academic education taught by some of the finest professors in China, and a real-world journalism newsroom where students learn from distinguished journalists from around the world and create professional multimedia projects and data journalism reports.

With the skills you have learned, and the intelligence and drive you bring to your work, I have no doubt some of you are going to be journalism industry leaders and innovators, in China and around the world.

The Global Business Journalism Program is about to begin its tenth academic year this fall. In its first decade — with the support of Bloomberg News, ICFJ, the Knight Foundation and Merrill Lynch/Bank of America — it has brought together students from about 60 countries to experience a diversity of cultures and ideas.

The GBJ program has been indispensable in creating a new generation of business journalists who are reshaping and improving journalism in China. Not only does Chinese journalism benefit from our superbly trained alumni, but international journalism benefits because the next generation of reporters from Cameroon to California have a more accurate and sophisticated view of the Chinese economy and its role in global growth – and an understanding of the highest standards in global reporting.

What’s more, GBJ has created de facto goodwill ambassadors for China in dozens of countries throughout Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. It could not come at a more important time.

The journalism industry is facing an era of limits. In the United States and Europe, those limits are mostly economic: the profit imperative at a time of declining revenues, the mistaken choice of click bait journalism over quality. In China, those limits are mostly political.

But neither the journalism establishments of China nor the rest of the world can afford to be reactive. Traditional news outlets, whether in Beijing or Great Britain, are at risk of losing the next generation of information consumers to social media or alternative sources of information. We must – and we will –adapt, to create innovative new ways to share news.

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Barrows Dunham, 1947

I would like to close by quoting from my favorite philosopher, who happens to be my grandfather, Barrows Dunham. Seventy years ago, as the world emerged from the destruction wrought by fascists, he wrote in his book Man Against Myth that the peoples of our planet faced “ambiguous gloom, which may perhaps be twilight and may perhaps be dawn.”

Sounds like today. Looking at the pace of change, he wrote in 1947:

“In our day, indeed, events have attained so formidable a tempo that a single lifetime … will seem to contain more than there once appeared to be in history itself.”

Sounds like today.

Every generation sees an unprecedented pace of social change. That is the reality of human accomplishment, and human nature. There are always those who see the dawn and those who see the sunset. In the dawn of our new era, many in our chosen line of work will resist the changes that are needed.

This challenge reminds me of the Season 6 finale of Game of Thrones – specifically, the reaction of the receptionist at the Citadel, who, in response to a message delivered by Samwell Tarly, told our hero: “This is highly irregular.”

“Well,” Samwell responded, “I suppose that life is irregular.”

Indeed, life is irregular. But we can’t respond to occasional irregularities by retreating or taking the safe path. We must pursue the ambitious vision we learned in GBJ.

As all of you know, I am an optimist. I choose to see the dawn. I don’t fear the future, and you should not, either. You are uniquely prepared to be the change – to lead the change – as we approach the third decade of the 21st century.

To quote Dr. Dunham one last time: “Even now, we ourselves are determining the future, not by knowing what it will be, but by conceiving what it can be.”

Congratulations to the GBJ graduating class. Good luck to all of you. Thank you.


Who said it? Xi Jinping or … George Bush, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Nancy Pelosi or Henry Kissinger?

Images of Xi Jinping at the Sept. 3 military victory parade were shared around the world. But who is the Chinese leader and what does he stand for?

Images of Xi Jinping at the Sept. 3 military victory parade were shared around the world. But who is the Chinese leader and what does he stand for?

Chinese President Xi Jinping is coming to the United States, and very few Americans (or even American journalists) know much about the leader of the nation’s most populous country.

With apologies to Vladimir Putin, he has been called the most powerful leader in the world. But what does that mean?

Is Xi a reformer? Is he a hardliner? Is he a step forward, a step back — or both? Is he firmly in control or fearful of rivals within the ruling elite — or both? Is “Big Daddy Xi” widely popular or the beneficiary of a manufactured cult of personality?

As much as I’ve learned about China over the past two years, I still have a lot to learn. For additional background, I recommend you check out my former Philadelphia Inquirer colleague Jim Mann’s recent commentary in the Washington Post:

For American pundits, China isn’t a country. It’s a fantasyland.

In the meantime, test your knowledge of who Xi Jinping is — and isn’t — by taking this news quiz. Which of these statements are from Xi and which are from other world figures? Good luck.

For answers, scroll to the bottom of the post, after the final photo. Click on the quotations to read the original source material.

President Barack Obama and Xi Jinping have been careful to treat the other with respect and discuss fundamental disagreements without alienating the other nation's leadership.

President Barack Obama and Xi Jinping have been careful to treat the other with respect and discuss fundamental disagreements without alienating the other nation’s leadership.

Who said the following?

 

1. Japan is “eating our lunch.”

a) Xi Jinping

b) Donald Trump

c) Paul Prudhomme

 

2. “(We must) make terrorists become like rats scurrying across a street, with everybody shouting ‘beat them!’

a) Xi Jinping

b) George W. Bush

c) Donald Rumsfeld

 

3. “Some foreigners with full bellies and nothing better to do engage in finger-pointing at us.”

a) Xi Jinping

b) Pat Buchanan

c) Chris Christie

 

4. “America must be a light to the world, not just a missile.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Barack Obama

c) Nancy Pelosi

d) George H.W. Bush

 

5. A cooperative United States-China relationship is “essential to global stability and peace.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Barack Obama

c) Henry Kissinger

 

6. “To build a community of common destiny, we need to pursue common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security.”

a) Xi Jinping

b) George W. Bush

c) Margaret Thatcher

d) Ronald Reagan

 

7. “Our people love life and expect better education, more stable jobs, better income, more reliable social security, medical care of a higher standard, more comfortable living conditions, and a more beautiful environment.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Pope Francis

c) Raul Castro

d) Barack Obama

 

8. “Japan is not being nice to us.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Donald Trump

c) Franklin D. Roosevelt

d) Theodore Roosevelt

 

9. “Resolute and decisive measures must be taken and high pressure must be maintained to crack down on violent terrorists who have been swollen with arrogance.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Barack Obama

c) Binyamin Netanyahu

 

10. “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won’t get in our way.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Barack Obama

c) Binyamin Netanyahu

 

11. “The international forces are shifting in a way that is more favorable to maintaining world peace.”

a) Xi Jinping

b) Shinzō Abe

c) Barack Obama

c) Hassan Rohani

 

12. “We should uphold the idea that working hard is the most honorable, noblest, greatest and most beautiful virtue.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Margaret Thatcher

c) Marco Rubio

d) Ronald Reagan

 

13. “When did we beat Japan at anything?

a) Xi Jinping

b) Donald Trump

c) Michael Keaton in “Mr. Mom”

d) The captain of the U.S. Olympic baseball team

 

14. “Our strength comes from the people and masses. We deeply understand that the capability of any individual is limited, but as long as we unite as one, there is no difficulty that we cannot overcome.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Bernie Sanders

c) Mao Zedong

d) Ronald Reagan

 

15. “Economic growth … is going to come from the private sector. But the No. 1 thing government can do to encourage that growth is get out of the way.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Deng Xiaoping

c) Ted Cruz

 

16. “As Deng Xiaoping said, we must ‘seek truth from facts.’

a) Xi Jinping

b) Barack Obama

c) George H.W. Bush

 

 

17. “People should not underestimate me.”

a) Xi Jinping

b) George W. Bush

c) Bernie Sanders

d) Vladimir Putin

 

18. “The Communist Party is keenly aware one of the reasons its predecessor in China, the Nationalists, lost the Chinese civil war in 1949 was because of the terrible corruption under their rule, costing them public support.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Henry Kissinger

c) Jim Mann, American journalist and author of The China Fantasy

d) Wang Jiarui, head of the Communist Party of China’s international department

 

19. “When China and the United States work together, we can be an anchor for world stability and the propeller of world peace.

a) Xi Jinping

b) George W. Bush

c) Dan Quayle

d) Rick Perry

 

20. “Our two nations are poised to take an historic step forward on the path of peaceful cooperation and economic development. I’m confident that our trip will be a significant success, resulting in a stronger U.S.-China relationship than before. For Americans, this will mean more jobs and a better chance for a peaceful world.

a) Xi Jinping

b) Barack Obama

c) John Kerry

d) Ronald Reagan

 

Answers below this photo.

XI Jinping is honored in Iowa, where he lived several decades ago.

XI Jinping is honored in Iowa, where he lived several decades ago.

1.b; 2.a; 3.a; 4.c; 5.c; 6.a; 7.a; 8.b; 9.a; 10.c; 11.a; 12.a; 13.b; 14.a; 15.c; 16.b; 17.c; 18.d; 19.a ; 20.d


Learning about China’s health-care system the hard way

Students brought good food and good ccheer.

Students brought good food and good cheer.

“I did the best I could,” the surgeon said in his best English. He paused, a bit awkwardly, for a few moments then repeated, “I did the best I could.”

I really didn’t want to look. After about an hour of surgery below the right eye, nearly half of my face was covered by a gauze bandage and surgical tape that made me look something like a character in a SciFi flick, “Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster Meets the Mummy.”

Through my out-of-focus eyes, the clock seemed to say a few minutes after one in the morning. It had been six and a half hours since I fell off my bicycle on September 23 in a driving rainstorm on an invisibly slick surface on a dark campus pathway. I fell face-first onto a brick pavement, trying unsuccessfully to break my fall with both hands.

In the tenth floor surgical suite in Peking University Hospital Number 3, I felt even worse than I looked. My broken left wrist was in a newly created, hard-plastic cast. My jammed right thumb was throbbing. My left leg near the knee had been sewn up from what, at first, looked like a war wound after something (I still don’t know what) pierced my skin. My face was lacerated for about 6 centimeters where my glasses frames were thrust into my flesh. I hurt everywhere. I couldn’t see clearly, and I’m not sure if that’s because my glasses were missing or because my head was swirling.

I don’t remember much in the immediate aftermath of the crash except the blood and the pain. Three students came to my rescue and one let me borrow her mobile phone to call my office manager. Somehow, I managed to hobble about 1 kilometer to Tsinghua University’s hospital emergency room, where my experience with the Chinese health-care system began. Two hospitals. Two surgeries. A half-dozen x-rays, a CT scan and a tetanus shot. And some very dedicated, highly skilled doctors who are under constant pressure from seemingly never-ending waves of patients.

Republicans derided U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2010 health insurance law as socialized medicine. Well, this really was socialized medicine, with all of its benefits (universal care, low cost) and its liabilities (longer waits and greater bureaucracy).

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I knew I had broken my wrist as I shuffled slowly westward to the hospital over the uneven pavement of Tsinghua’s beautiful lake district, which had become an instant obstacle course of puddles and tree roots. My non-professional diagnosis was quickly confirmed by a battery of x-rays. That was the easy part.

We shuttled up and down the corridors of Tsinghua’s hospital from department to department. The emergency room doctor had me take off my pants to examine the knee area. I’ll never forget the look on his face. Translated into English by my colleagues, he said: “We can’t treat injuries that serious at this hospital.”

One weekafter the injury.

One week after the injury.

It is 8 p.m., 90 minutes after the crash. The swelling is getting worse, as is the pain. And I have gotten no treatment, save the tetanus shot.

My colleagues paid the bill for hospital services in cash — under $100 — and called a taxi to go PUH3, one of the biggest — and, I was told, best — hospitals in the capital, with emergency surgeons on duty 24 hours a day.

Arriving at Peking University Hospital Number 3 at about 8:30, I was overwhelmed by the smell of cigarette smoke outside the front door, where nervous relatives of patients — and more than a few doctors — went for treatment of their nicotine addiction.

Inside the hospital, I was overwhelmed by the sea of humanity. There were lines everywhere, as relatives and friends queued up to sign up for emergency appointments or to pay their bills on the spot. In cash.

(Sidebar remark: My three colleagues used up all 2100 yuan they were carrying with them, the equivalent of about $350. I gave them my ATM card and they emptied another 400 yuan from my Bank of Beijing account so we could pay our debts before my discharge.)

The mass of humanity and the slightly aged facility reminded me of Parkland Hospital in Dallas, circa 1978, or an inner-city Washington, D.C., hospital — except that there were no gunshot injuries or knife wounds. I quickly learned that there were many more people hurting a lot more than me. In a strange way, it calmed me down as I awaited treatment.

My injuries were handled one at a time, slowly but surely. First, 20 minutes of knee surgery. I don’t remember anything after my leg was pierced by several needles with anesthetics. Then came the CT scan, followed by a visit to the specialist who crafted a hard plastic cast to protect my broken wrist while leaving me with some limited mobility of the arm and fingers. I remember a brief trip outside in my antique wheelchair — which got stuck in a water-filled rut — as we navigated through the massive hospital complex in a steady drizzle. Finally, the facial surgeon. Under four layers of gauze for an hour, to protect me from infection, I had a nightmarish thought about Joan Rivers as I occasionally struggled for air. I am definitely not getting a face lift in 25 years.

At long last, I was done for the evening. We returned the well-worn wheelchair and got our deposit back. We paid all of the bills, which totaled a bit under $500. I was thinking that the single CT scan would have cost more than that back home in the U.S. of A. I consider my care a true bargain.

The doctors were young. Some seemed harried. All seemed to be quite competent. The specialists were compassionate. Maybe it was because I am a foreigner. Maybe it was because they care about more than paychecks, wrangling with insurance companies, liability lawsuits or golf tee times.

Chinese hospitals underscore the "waiting" in  "waiting room."

Chinese hospitals underscore the “waiting” in
“waiting room.”

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The news over the past two weeks has been uniformly good:

  • I am healing surprisingly quickly. No eye bandage anymore. Hardly any scar. I will not be the next Boris Karloff. I can bend my damaged knee and jammed thumb. The cast could come off my arm in a few more weeks.
  • I have had an outpouring of assistance from my students. Twenty-six students volunteered for two-a-day visits for two weeks. They have helped me with meals, laundry and dish-washing. We have had enlightening and stimulating conservations on topics ranging from linguistics to American and Chinese history. If I haven’t told you before, I love the students at Tsinghua.
  • My fellow professors have supplied everything from flowers to sweets to wine. My co-director, Hang Min, even sprung me from my apartment to go to a delicious Sichuan restaurant in Zhongguancun. Other angels with cars have included Eunice Song and Jiao Jie’s family.
  • I have had time to catch up with family members via Skype. And now that I can type again, I will be able to connect more easily with the rest of my friends. I also can prepare lesson plans and PowerPoint presentations for my classes.
  • Finally, I am planning to return to the classroom tomorrow. Because of the Chinese National Day holiday, I only missed one class in both my Multimedia Journalism grad course and my U.S. Media Culture undergrad course.

This is not the kind of adventure I had in mind when I came to China last year. But we all live and learn, and this has indeed been an interesting learning experience.


An evening bike ride through Tian’anmen Square on June 3, 2014

This guest blog was written as a Facebook post by Felicia Sonmez, one of the best journalists in Beijing. Many thanks to Felicia for giving me permission to share it with you.

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First you get a hunch you’re being followed. Then you think you must be crazy. Why would an old man on a bike be doing a thing like that, on a leafy Beijing street, on such a pleasant spring night?

Then you slow down, and so does he. You start up again and bike faster, and so does he. Finally he gets ahead of you and stops at a corner. You hesitate for a moment, then turn right, back toward the long road to the Square. And before you know it, he’s approaching you on your left side, and suddenly, he’s crashed into you.

“Sorry!” he says.

“What are you doing?” you ask, as he stumbles off his bike.

Rather than stick around to find out the answer, you hurry to get back on your bike and pedal away as fast as you can, without looking back.

Ordinarily, you might be worried about the chance of some stranger following you back to your house. But in this case, you’re almost relieved to get home. He probably works for the government. And they already know where you live.

It’s June 3, 2014, the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, and also a year to the day since I moved back to Beijing. The visit last month from black-clad plainclothes security agents to our bureau — as well as most every foreign news outlet in Beijing — warning us not to do any newsgathering related to the anniversary has had several weeks to sink in. So have the various warnings that have come down from the Chinese foreign ministry.

Dozens of Chinese activists, rights lawyers, artists, journalists and others with even the most tenuous of links to Tiananmen have been detained over the past few months — enough to make it clear that any reporter would be foolish to think of heading down to the Square on June 3 or 4 and expect to get any reporting done, let alone avoid getting detained.

So, after a day spent in the office, I decided on a whim to hop on my bike and just go for an evening ride around town, to see what I could see. I left my recorder and notebook and home, bringing only my pocketbook, a deactivated smartphone I use for taking photos, and a few H&M shopping bags, which I threw in the basket of my bike.

I was only gone for an hour, and I wasn’t sure what I’d encounter.

I biked down Dongdan North Street until I got to East Chang’an Avenue, about four big blocks away from Tiananmen Square. Central Beijing usually has a fair police presence to begin with, but tonight felt different. Every police car or van that passed was silently flashing blue and red lights, as was every police box on the street, and officers were stationed at every main intersection. I must have passed more than 100 police over the course of my bike ride.

As I approached the corner, there was suddenly a lot of yelling. I looked on as four uniformed police officers dragged a young man across the street and toward the accordion gate that was blocking part of the bike lane.

About a dozen bikers waiting for the light to change watched as the police forced the man onto his knees and yelled at him. I couldn’t make out what the man had done wrong. But a woman with him was making a phone call, and one of the bikers next to me was recording the confrontation on his smartphone. I snapped a few photos, then turned onto Chang’an Avenue and kept biking to avoid causing a scene myself.

The police presence on Chang’an Avenue has been ramping up steadily over the past few weeks, with dogs and armed officers gradually being added to the mix. But tonight was unlike anything I’ve seen. Officers and police vehicles were stationed all along the giant east-west thoroughfare, which has seven lanes of traffic on each side. A few other bikers were riding along like me, including a few guys clad in racing gear and spandex (not like me). Even among those pro-looking riders, there was a palpable tension as they sped down the road under the officers’ watchful gaze.

I approached the Square. It was unlike any time I’ve ever seen it in the eight years since I first came to China. It’s normally a pretty festive place, teeming with tourists snapping photos, as well as a fair amount of police and vendors. That’s how it was two days ago, when I came by with some friends visiting from out of town.

Tonight, it was completely empty. Not a single person was on the Square as I biked by, just a lone white police van parked in front of the Monument to the People’s Heroes, facing against traffic.

I recalled a conversation with a Beijing lawyer I met recently. Hundreds of thousands of police officers being mobilized across the city — for what? he asked. Just to ensure that a non-commemoration of a non-anniversary remains that way? He thought it was not only a waste, but a shameful one.

I thought, also, of a story the lawyer had told me about a friend of his. It was last year, and news had just broken of the arrest of venture capitalist Wang Gongquan. Wang was outspoken, but his surprising arrest was taken as a sign that the neither the wealthy nor the well-known would be spared in Beijing’s new crackdown on dissent.

Many were spooked. But perhaps that was the intention. Regardless, the day Wang’s arrest was reported, the lawyer said, was the day his friend decided to pack up and leave China.

I kept biking down Chang’an Avenue, slowing down to snap a few photos with my smartphone, and suddenly something struck me. In clearing out the Square and deploying thousands of police across the city to quell any potential disturbances, the authorities had created a spectacle — a memorial, almost — of their own. The vast emptiness at the heart of the capital was a manifestation of the void that has existed since 1989, and of which the world is reminded — though perhaps not quite so vividly — every June.

That was the thought I was planning to end my night on, until I turned north onto Nanchang Jie. I realized after a few minutes that the old man was following me, and he kept pace with me all the way up the street past the Zhongnanhai leadership compound, across the north end of the Forbidden City and to the corner of Beichizi Street.

The bizarre run-in with him, which echoed stories I’d heard from other reporters during sensitive periods in China, quickly turned my mood tonight from pensive to spooked. But perhaps that was the intention. I left before I could find out more — and before my phone, press card, or other belongings could potentially be snatched.


What every tourist should know before visiting China

A panoramic view of the Forbidden City.
I plan to usher in the Year of the Horse by preparing the welcome wagon for visitors from abroad.
As a new resident of Beijing, I look forward to sharing the magic of my adopted hometown. But I warn you that you should be prepared for a few shocks, cultural and otherwise. No, you’re not in Kansas anymore. Or Houston. Or Washington.
Here is a brief primer for first-time visitors to China:
Culture and customs
  •  Check your cultural assumptions with your luggage. Life is different here. Don’t view life in China through the prism of your American or European experiences.
  • Beijing is crowded and massive. Don’t be intimidated by the volume of traffic, the human gridlock or the seeming chaos on the streets and in the subways. You’ll get used to it.
  • Don’t be afraid to jostle people. There is no sense of personal space here. Don’t take it personally if somebody elbows you or pushes you.
  • There is no “walk right, pass left” etiquette here. People walk, bike or drive every which way. Cars DO NOT stop for pedestrians. Bikes DO NOT yield to pedestrians. In fact, nobody yields to anybody.
  • Be decisive. Indecisive people get run over by bikes or cars or other pedestrians.
  • Don’t get upset when people spit on the street at any time in any place. Spit happens in China.
  • Do not expect Western-style toilets. Get used to holes in the ground. Don’t complain about it. Get used to it.
  • If there is not a price listed on an item in a market, you are expected to bargain. At tourist-oriented markets (such as the Silk Market), the original prices might be ten times what is reasonable. Don’t be afraid to walk away. Even if you are interested in buying something. Negotiate aggressively. If you don’t want to negotiate, go to a regular store.

Food and drink

Be careful of street food, despite its enticing aroma.

Be careful of street food, despite its enticing aroma.

  •  Don’t drink the water. Use bottled water, even for brushing your teeth.
  • Be smart when it comes to street food. Some of it is delicious, but some of it is cooked in oil that is, simply put, poisonous. Unless a Beijinger vouches for a vendor, think twice before trying it. I’m afraid I speak from experience (some bad “stinky tofu”).
  • Don’t be afraid to sample the rich variety of tasty regional cooking. Experiment beyond your comfort zone. Try things.
  • Don’t expect Chinese food to be the same as American Chinese food. It’s better. Most of all, it’s different.
  •  Your drinks may be warm or hot when served at restaurants. This includes water, milk and juices. Chinese meals maintain a balance. Cold drinks can throw a hot meal off-balance. If you want cold water (or beer) make sure to order it “bing.”

Getting around

  • Fewer people speak English than you might expect. It’s not like traveling in Europe. Younger people are more likely to understand English than older people. Some younger people may want to practice their English on you. Enjoy that – unless they’re trying to sell you something.
  • Stay calm. If things go wrong, it won’t do any good to raise your voice. If people don’t understand you, it won’t help you to get agitated.
  • Go to the most popular tourist attractions during the week. Earlier is better for places like the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and the National Museum. They can get very crowded by midday, particularly on weekends or holidays.
  • Use the subway. Because of surface traffic gridlock, the subway usually is the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B in Beijing. It is clean, efficient and cheap, in addition to being crowded. Relax and enjoy it.
  • If you are taking a taxi, make sure somebody writes down your destination in advance IN CHINESE. Do not assume that you will be able to communicate with a cab driver by trying to pronounce a location in Mandarin. You’re probably mispronouncing it, or worse, saying something embarrassing that you don’t mean to say.
  • Try to find a good street map in English (or at least in Pinyin).
  • Use Google Maps online to get an idea of where you’re going and a sense of how far it is from the nearest subway stop.
  • Make sure you have your passport with you when checking in to hotels or on plane or train journeys. Carry a photocopy of your passport ID page and your visa with you at all times.

Technology

  • Get ready for slow, unreliable Internet and spotty WiFi. Do not expect that you will have working Internet 24/7. Internet and WiFi can stop working at any time.
  • If you want to use Facebook or Twitter or YouTube or other blocked sites, you will need to have working VPN service before you arrive in China. (Email me if you need information on VPNs.) You also will need a VPN to access the New York Times, Bloomberg and some other news site.
  • Bring an electrical converter or a couple of converters designed for use in China. (Not Hong Kong.)
  • Bring a multiple-USB recharger for your electronic devices such as cameras and smartphones. You will need an electrical converter for this, along with one for your laptop.
  • It may be very expensive to use your U.S. smartphone for calls and data. Check in advance before you leave the U.S. You can always disable the data and use it via WiFi. That’s what I do, which allows me to use email, social media and the Internet for free. I also use my U.S. cell phone for text messages with friends and family in the U.S. (at a cost of 50 cents per text sent and 5 cents per text received).

What to pack

  • Dress in layers. Be ready for wind gusts.
  • Bring disposable 3M anti-pollution masks. They aren’t very expensive and they can make your life more enjoyable on dangerously polluted days. Don’t be self-conscious about using masks. It’s for your own health.
  • Bring toilet paper, napkins, tissues and hand sanitizer. You often will not find these products in public places.
  • Make sure you have plenty of prescription medicine and vitamins. It will be hard to find, if you need it, and it may be expensive and questionable in quality.
  • Make sure you bring extra medication to combat stomach ailments and flu-liked symptoms such as Pepto Bismol, cold medicine, DayQuil and NyQuil.
  • Check in with your credit card companies and banks before you leave to let them know you will be making purchases in China.

Feel free to offer suggestions to make this guide more useful. I will update it with your ideas.

Enjoy China!


What’s in and what’s out in 2014

Image

Moonrise over the ancient city wall, Xi’an.

Just a few things have changed in my life this year.

New job. New city. New country. New life.

Teaching journalism in China. It’s almost as much of a challenge as practicing journalism in America.

Here are some of the things that are “in” in my new life at Tsinghua University — and some of the old, familiar things I’ve left behind.

OUT: Texas on the Potomac
IN: Yankee on Tiananmen Square

OUT: Hikes on the National Mall
IN: Hikes on the Great Wall

OUT: Bike helmets
IN: Anti-pollution masks

OUT: Turn signals
IN: Chaos on the road

OUT: The second most congested commute in America
IN: The second most congested commute in the world

OUT: Considering something three days old as new
IN: Considering something three centuries old as new

OUT: Finnish saunas
IN: Chinese massages

OUT: American Chinese food
IN: Real Chinese food

OUT: DC Metro
IN: A subway system with trains every two minutes, polite employees and escalators that actually work

OUT: Dysfunctional democracy
IN: Democracy?

OUT: Taking your shoes off at airports
IN: VPNs to access Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WordPress

OUT: Rush Limbaugh’s rants against Barack Obama
IN: Chinese media rants against Japanese Prime Minister Abe

OUT: The New York Times
IN: People’s Daily

OUT: The Abraham Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial
IN: The terracotta warriors of Xi’an

OUT: Delicious Chesapeake crab cakes
IN: Delicious Chinese dumplings

OUT: Lobster rolls from food trucks
IN: Stinky tofu from street vendors

OUT: Scrapple
IN: Chicken feet, fish lips and duck brains

OUT: The Washington Redskins
IN: Mao’s little red book

OUT: Obscenely expensive Internet service
IN: Unreliable Internet, spotty WiFi and the Great Firewall of China

OUT: Obamacare
IN: Truly socialized medicine

OUT: Soccer moms
IN: Ping pong dads

OUT: 24/7 deadlines
IN: Monthlong breaks between semesters (We call them “district work periods”)

OUT: Suits and ties
IN: Casual Friday every day

The dress code is a lot more casual -- even for a China Radio International appearance.

The dress code is a lot more casual — even for a China Radio International appearance.