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


A tribute to the shuttered McClatchy Beijing bureau — and the former Knight-Ridder international reporters

When I started as the University of Pennsylvania stringer for the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1974, I was greatly impressed that the Inquirer not only was a fearless advocate for Philadelphians, but it provided us with special insight into the world through its foreign correspondents and other reporters on the payroll of Knight-Ridder Newspapers. The global network of correspondents survived the demise of Knight-Ridder under the McClatchy umbrella.

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Stuart Leavenworth: The last Beijing bureau chief

In my 2 1/2 years in Beijing, I’ve had the opportunity to see the amazing work of McClatchy’s final China bureau chief, Stuart Leavenworth. His stories — perceptive, interesting and unique — reminded me what international correspondents for hometown papers offer. It’s not the same breaking news you get from traditional wire services. It’s added value that comes from a combination of skilled journalists with expertise in the subject matter they are covering and experienced editors who understand their audience (and the world).

Sadly, McClatchy is shuttering its Beijing bureau — and all of  its bureaus — this new year. Another casualty of declining newspaper audiences and diminishing news budgets. I will really miss the fine work of these intrepid journalists, as, I suspect, will thousands of loyal readers who now have yet another reason not to subscribe to their hometown paper.

Mark Seibel, a former Dallas Times Herald colleague of mine and a longtime editor for the Miami Herald and the McClatchy D.C. bureau, penned a Facebook tribute to his colleagues. With his permission, I’d like to share it with you:

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– 30 –

By Mark Seibel

The other day, Stuart Leavenworth, until midnight McClatchy’s China bureau chief, posted a farewell photo that captured the door of the McClatchy office in Beijing. The plaque read “McClatchy/Miami Herald/Beijing Bureau.” It reminded me that the closing today of McClatchy’s last handful of foreign bureaus – Beijing, Irbil, Istanbul, Mexico City, though not yet Berlin, for reasons of logistics — ends an era when regional newspapers worked hard to make sure their readers were informed not just on local news but on world events. Because readers expected that of their papers.

I first began directing coverage of China in 1984, when I joined The Miami Herald as foreign editor. The correspondent in Beijing then was Michael Browning, perhaps the most talented writer and observer I‘ve ever been privileged to edit. Three decades and his untimely death haven’t dimmed my memory of the lyrical way he described the rippling of a pig’s flesh as it was carried to market at what was the beginning of China’s economic reformation. He once profiled a woman who smoked hundreds of cigarettes daily as a tester in a Chinese state factory.

At the time, Browning’s competitors included correspondents not just from AP and the usual suspects, but from the Baltimore Sun, the Chicago Tribune, and Newsday, among others. None of those papers has international bureaus today.

Browning’s time in China eventually ended, hastened by Chinese displeasure with his coverage of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and The Herald’s time as the keeper of the Beijing bureau also came to an end, when in the mid 90s, Knight-Ridder decided to centralize oversight of its eight corporate foreign bureaus in Washington. The wisdom of that move can still be debated; I’d argue it put another layer between local editors and international news coverage.

Many talented reporters have passed through the Knight Ridder/McClatchy foreign system. Marty Merzer, Juan O. Tamayo, Carol Rosenberg, Alfonso Chardy, John Donnelly, Soraya Nelson and Dion Nissenbaum all served in the Jerusalem bureau before it closed when Dion moved to Kabul. Hannah Allam, Nancy Youssef and Leila Fadel were Baghdad bureau chiefs, before Roy Gutman closed that bureau when he moved to Istanbul. Jack Changwas the last fulltime Rio de Janeiro correspondent, preceded by Kevin Halland Katherine Ellison. When Tom Lasseter left Moscow to cover China, the position was never filled; Brian Bonner occupied it for months, but never held the job permanently. Shashank Bengali’s departure from Nairobi ended McClatchy/Knight Ridder’s long run there. Nancy Youssef’s departure from Cairo ended our presence there.

Tim Johnson served in China before moving to the Mexico City bureau, which he’ll close in January. Matthew Schofield has been based in Berlin twice, and will eventually close it for a second time.

McClatchy kept the spark alive the last few years with a handful of staffers and an ample group of freelancers and contractors, all talented in their own right. David Enders covered Syria from the inside, being among the first to recognize that the jihadists were taking over the rebellion, and eventually winning a staff assignment (and a share of a Polk). Mitchell Prothero stepped in ably after David, and was willing to move to Irbil when the Islamic State captured Mosul. Others: Sheera Frenkel, Daniella Cheslow and Joel Greenberg from Israel, Adam Baron from Yemen, Alan Boswell from South Sudan and Nairobi, Jon Stephenson in Kabul, Saeed Shah and Tom Hussain in Islamabad.

There were many firsts, but some I think of often: Nancy Youssef was first to report that there had been no demonstration outside the Benghazi compound, and she did so within hours of the attack; Roy Gutman was the first to raise the issue of Obama’s lack of involvement in the negotiations over leaving U.S. troops in Iraq; Tom Lasseter, with an assist from Matthew Schofield, was the first to systematically interview former Guantanamo detainees about their time there, and David Enders reported in 2012 that al Qaida’s Nusra Front could be found at the fore of many key rebel victories in Syria.

I’m sorry to see that Miami Herald plaque disappear from that door in Beijing, but glad to have been a part of it.


Chris Roush: There is hope for journalism … in business journalism

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Chris Roush, a distinguished American journalism professor and author of two prominent business journalism textbooks, told Tsinghua students on Dec. 2 that the future of business journalism is bright, despite the economic woes gripping much of the news industry.

“If you can write about business and the economy, then they’re really interested in you,” he told 45 students in the Global Business Journalism Program at the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication.

Roush, a former reporter for Bloomberg News, Business Week and other U.S. publications, said there is a worldwide demand for young journalists who can explain complex economic topics “in a coherent way so that people can understand.” He told the students from more than a dozen countries enrolled in Professor Rick Dunham’s Multimedia Business Reporting class that their ability to tell journalism stories in multiple languages and on multiple media platforms would make them a valuable asset to news organizations in China and around the world.

“Your language skills are a big deal,” he said.

Unlike the students he was addressing, Roush said he had not planned to be a business journalist.

“After grad school, I needed a job,” he told the students. “The first job I found was as a business reporter in Florida.”

A history major at Auburn University who earned an M.A. in journalism from the University of Florida, Roush quickly made a name for himself in his first job and was recruited by a larger Florida newspaper. After distinguishing himself with his coverage of the deadly Hurricane Andrew in 1992, he was recruited by Business Week, the nation’s top weekly business news magazine. He later covered Coca Cola for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Bloomberg News before working for a dot-com start-up. His next stop was academia, as a professor at Washington and Lee University and then at the University of North Carolina.

At UNC, Roush has created a major in business journalism and runs a website called TalkingBizNews.com. He is the author of “Show Me the Money: Writing Business and Economics Stories for Mass Communication” (2010) and “Profits and Losses: Business Journalism and its Role in Society” (2011). He is the co-author of “The Society of American Business Editors and Writers’ Stylebook: 2,000 Business Terms Defined and Rated” (2012). He also has created the websites collegebizjournalism.org and bizjournalismhistory.org.

Like Tsinghua’s Global Business Journalism Program, Roush’s program at UNC has been very successful at placing its graduates at top media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, Reuters, the Financial Times, CNBC, MarketWatch, BuzzFeed and Business Insider.

Roush advised the GBJ students to “find an area or topic where you are the expert” and practice their news writing.

“I really believe the best way to become a good writer is to write a lot,” he said. “Write one story a week.”

Roush said it was important for young journalists to bring both practical skills and a positive attitude to their jobs.

“No matter what you are passionate about, if you are good at it, good things will come your way,” he said.


Pulitzer Prize winner Ken Herman encourages Tsinghua journalism students to ‘try different things’

Ken Herman (center) talks to Global Business Journalism Program students, flanked by Rick Dunham (left) and Sharon Jayson (right).

Ken Herman (center) talks to Global Business Journalism Program students, flanked by Rick Dunham (left) and Sharon Jayson (right).

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ken Herman encouraged students in Tsinghua University’s Global Business Journalism Program to experiment with the many new technological tools available to today’s reporters.

“Try different things,” Herman, a columnist at the Austin American-Statesman in Texas, said in a lecture on May 12. “Don’t be afraid to fail. Keep trying and you’ll get better.”

Herman and his wife Sharon Jayson, a longtime reporter for USA Today, spoke to Professor Rick Dunham’s Data Journalism and Multimedia Business Reporting classes at the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication. They told the stories of their award-winning journalism careers and advised students to master traditional news writing, audio, video and social media.

Jayson’s three-decade career has included stints as a television news reporter and anchor, a radio station reporter, a radio network Austin bureau chief and a newspaper journalist in Washington and Austin.

“I love journalism,” she said. “I’m glad to go to work every single day.”

Herman, who covered George W. Bush both during his days as governor of Texas and president of the United States, won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1977 for a series of stories in the Lufkin (Texas) News investigating the death of a young recruit in the U.S. military. The series led to congressional hearings and changes in American military recruiting practices. For the past six years, he has written a newspaper column that sometimes covers serious policy topics and often uses humor to make his points.

“I feel it is important to tell people what is going on in their government – or just entertain them,” he said.

Herman was one of the first print reporters to supplement his reports with multimedia elements such as video and audio. He said that some of his early efforts at video journalism were “pretty bad.”

“Make mistakes,” he said. “I certainly did. But you’ll learn how to do it and you’ll get better.”

Jayson, who specialized in coverage of younger Americans and human relationships during her decade at USA Today, said she knew she wanted to be a reporter from the age of 12, when she worked on a newspaper at her school. She encouraged the students to follow their passion in life, like she did, even if it does not lead to material wealth.

“Don’t just accept something because you think you’re going to get rich,” she said.

Ken and Sharon in Tian'anmen Square, with the Forbidden City in the background.

Ken and Sharon in Tian’anmen Square, with the Forbidden City in the background.


Why you should join the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua — or recommend it to a friend

Our 2014 graduating class

Our 2014 graduating class

To all of my journalism friends around the world: I invite you to spread the good word about the good work we are doing here at Tsinghua. We’re looking to recruit an exceptional class of graduate students for the upcoming school year and to prove to any skeptics that you can have a world-class journalism program in China. Here’s the pitch. Feel free to share. Comments and questions are welcome.

Are you interested in becoming an expert on the world’s fastest-growing economy?

Do you want to study Asia Pacific business development and report that to the world?

Do you want to have an amazing educational and personal experience in a dynamic country?

Do you want to learn how to share your stories with audiences via print, audio, video and digital media?

 

Please join in us in the Global Business Journalism Master’s Degree Program at Tsinghua University in China!

 

2015 Enrollment Instructions

for M.A. in Global Business Journalism

at the School of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

 

  1. Introduction

With China playing a central role in the global economy, there is a soaring demand for trained professionals who can understand the exciting, complicated development of the world’s fastest-growing economy – and can explain it – clearly and in depth — to audiences in China and around the world.

 

Co-Director Hang Man with GBJ student

Co-Director Dr. Hang Min with GBJ student

Tsinghua University Master of Arts degree in Global Business Journalism is designed to meet that growing need. The program offers international students the opportunity to master the fine points of business, finance and economics in China. All courses are taught in English — the international language of business — by internationally renowned scholars and accomplished journalists with extensive global experience. The program’s facilities rival those of other leading journalism schools worldwide. The news lab has the largest number of Bloomberg terminals of any college in the world.

 

Business journalism is one of the fastest growing areas of employment opportunities in the industry today. News audiences are eager to learn about the world of business, while media departments expect PR professionals to understand and analyze the complexities of business issues.

 

Tsinghua’s Master of Global Business Journalism Program is designed to offer you the opportunity to meet these growing needs and, at the same time, master the fine points of economics, finance and business in China and the world. We welcome you to join in us!

 

The first English-language graduate business journalism program on the Chinese mainland, created in partnership with the International Center for Journalists, it has sent 171 graduates to news outlets in China and globally over its first seven years.

 

Launched in 2007, the GBJ program has already been recognized by students and recruiters alike as a world-class program. Academe, the world’s leading journal on higher education, featured a cluster of articles on the program in February 2008. Only the most talented applicants from around the world are accepted, and the student body is culturally and professionally diverse. The full-time program spans two years of intense, fast-paced, rewarding study. Those who complete it successfully emerge with valuable connections, a rich array of opportunities and the business and journalism skills to capitalize on them. It is a two-year experience that will last a lifetime.

Professor Dunham in the classroom at Tsinghua. (Photo by Zhang Sihan)

Professor Dunham in the classroom at Tsinghua. (Photo by Zhang Sihan)

 

The program aims to bring business journalism in China in line with top international reporting standards. The Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication has a long history of cooperation with major international media and financial-information organizations, and visiting scholars have come from outlets such as Bloomberg, Reuters, Business Week, The New York Times, Financial Times, The Washington Post and CNN.

 

GBJ offers an array of specialized courses that are at the forefront of global business journalism. Students can learn about international accounting standards, multimedia journalism, data mining, complex financial derivatives, journalism ethics, advanced feature writing techniques and the management of media organizations – knowledge that is transferable to other economies and other professions. At the same time, they gain a deeper knowledge of the Chinese language and economy.

 

The GBJ program benefits from other academic resources on the Tsinghua campus, including its prestigious School of Economics and Management, as well many Chinese and global media and technology companies in Beijing. Internships, field trips and recruiter visits are integral parts of the program.

 

GBJ students have opportunities to attend conferences on new media, economic development and other business topics. They benefit from meetings and discussions with guest speakers, including top editors and reporters from leading Chinese and Western news outlets and international business executives. The GBJ has a growing network of smart, sophisticated reporters, editors and public relations professionals who can enhance the world’s understanding of economic and corporate developments in China and globally.

 

  1. Program Courses

 

Basic Courses
Introduction to Mass Communications and Society in Contemporary China
Chinese Language
Intercultural communication
Media Research Methods

 

Core Courses
English Financial News Reporting and Writing
Multimedia Business Reporting
Global Business Journalism (advanced)
Economics and Accounting Basics for Journalists
Business Data Mining and Analysis

 

Elective Courses
Corporate Communication
Opinion and News Commentary
Hot topics in the Global Economy
Feature Writing
Corporate Strategies, Case Studies of Chinese and Global Companies
Personal Finance Reporting
Media Management
Workshop on Film and TV Production
Theory and Practice of Public Diplomacy
Data Journalism
Public Relations: An Introduction
Public Speaking

 

Other Requirements
Pro-Seminar for Master Candidates in Global Business Journalism
Literature Review and Thesis Proposal
Academic Activities
Internship

 

  1. Qualification of Applicants

Applicants should have a Bachelor’s degree in related fields and certificate for English proficiency.

 

  1. Application Documents

1)       The completed Foreigner’s Application Form for Admission to Graduate Programs of Tsinghua University with a 2-inch recent photo, signed by the applicant;

2)    Statement of Purpose and resume;

3)    The original or the notarial degree certificate or proof of education at an academic institution (you need to submit an original or notarial degree certificate after it was awarded) and an academic transcript. The degree certificate and academic transcript must be officially sealed.

4)      Two academic recommendation letters from scholars of associate professorship or higher. They must show referee’s phone number and email address on the letter.

5)      For non-English speaking students, please provide English level certificates. e.g. TOEFL, IELTS, etc.

6)      A copy of your passport page with personal information (personal and ordinary passport);

7)      The completed Application Form for Tsinghua University Scholarship (if applicable, original);

8)       A non-refundable application fee of RMB600.

The certificates provided should be the original documents in Chinese or in English, otherwise notarial translations in Chinese or English are required. None of the above application documents will be returned.

 

Some of the best students from China and around the world.

Some of the best students from China and around the world.

  1. Application Procedure

Step 1: Online Application

Complete Online Application on the website of the Foreign Student Affairs Office, Tsinghua University

(http://www.is.tsinghua.edu.cn/EN/online-application/instruction.html). Print and sign the Application Form produced by the system after the application status changes to “verified.”  

 

Step 2: Documents Submission

Submit the application documents listed above to the address indicated below by post mail or in person.

 

Step 3Application Fee Payment

There are two ways to pay application fee:

1 . Pay online using a credit card;

After your online application form is verified or the materials are received by Tsinghua University, the staff will make you the online payment draft, and at the same time, an email will be automatically sent out to remind you to pay the application fee via the online application system.

2 . Pay in cash at the Foreign Student Affairs Office (Room 120, Zijing Building 22) on the campus of Tsinghua University.

 

  1. Application Deadline

November 1, 2014 — March 20, 2015

Both the Online Application and a complete set of Application documents should be completed and the package should be received by March 20, 2015.

 

  1. Tuition and Scholarship

Tuition:Program tuition fee is RMB39000/year.

Accidental Injury and Hospitalization Insurance: RMB 600/year.

 

Please visit http://is.tsinghua.edu.cn  for more information about scholarships.

 

  1. Program Website

For more information about the program, please visit the GBJ website at:

http://gbj.tsjc.tsinghua.edu.cn/publish/jcgbj/index.html

 

  1. Application Website:

For an application, please visit the Application Website at:

http://www.is.tsinghua.edu.cn/EN/online-application/instruction.html

We regularly host international scholars, lecturers from global businesses and exchange students.

We regularly host international scholars, lecturers from global businesses and exchange students.

 

10Contact Information:

Ms. Olivia Xiaoyu Zhou

Room 302, Omnicom Building,

School of Journalism and Communication

Tsinghua University,

Beijing 100084, P. R. China

Tel: +86 10 6279 6842

Fax: +86 10 6277 1410

E-mail: tsjcws@tsinghua.edu.cn

 


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!