A couple months before I came here, I asked a British colleague who’d been a Beijing correspondent why he thought so many mainland Chinese would come to affluent Hong Kong to study Western-style journalism, when the Chinese media itself is so tightly restricted. His reply: “The shopping.”
That, I now see, is not true. (Or at least only partly true.) Over the past 24 hours, I’ve gone around the room in each of my four sections, asking students about their motivation for studying journalism. The answers ranged from “My parents chose this for me” and “I don’t want to be tied to a desk,” to “I like interviewing different people” and “I want to broaden my horizons.”
Yet one response I heard again and again was particularly moving: “I want to know the truth. I don’t want to be lied to, or told what to think.”
Back home, one of their most illustrious institutions, Tsinghua University – some hail it as the “MIT of China” – now purveys what it calls “Marxist Journalism.” This, the Washington Post wrote in 2007, is “broadly interpreted to mean journalism that the government views as improving society and taking account of Chinese realities, including censorship under one-party rule.”
So, it dawns on me that Hong Kong, with its legacy of British law and tradition, may represent a haven for more critically thinking Chinese. Already, students are reading and watching local news reports – and finding taboo books in the library – they’d never get on the mainland.
As if to reinforce the point, last night I watched a TV report of how some 40 Hong Kong journalists demonstrated here Monday before Chinese government offices, protesting police detentions and beatings of Hong Kong journalists covering inter-ethnic tensions in Ürümqi, in northwest China.
Such an outcry by mainland journalists, on the mainland, is unimaginable. Truth is, I don’t know how many Chinese share my students’ views. But it sure inspires me to help make a difference.