Tania Branigan, a well-known journalist who writes about China for the Guardian newspaper in the UK (and who blogs and uses Twitter to a degree that I am awestruck by), commented not long ago in an interview here, “we’re not here to be writing an encyclopedia of China.”
Branigan was explaining the challenge China journalists face because their readers have so little background knowledge. There’s a flood of China stories this week because of the visit to Washington by President HU Jintao ( see below for link to a PDF of a Berkshire biographical article about Hu). I would guess that many journalists wish that their readers did have an Encyclopedia of China to hand – and that they had one themselves. Of course, this leaves me, a publisher who is focusing on this type of information and who published the 5-volume, 2,800-word Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pondering how best to get reliable, accessible, and interesting material on China to all the people who need it. Brian Coutts, writing about its selection for Library Journal‘s Best Reference 2010, wrote, “Take a publisher with a decade of experience in China, add a group of well-known Chinese and Western scholars, pay special attention to details (each of the 800 articles begins on its own page, all article titles are rendered in English, Chinese characters, and transliterations), add 1100 unique photographs, sprinkle in dozens of traditional Chinese proverbs, do it all on recycled, chlorine-free paper, throw in a year of free online access, and the end result is this sumptuous resource on all things China for the 21st century.”
Here are Branigan’s remarks from the interview:
I think the biggest problem you have as a foreign correspondent is that your readers have a knowledge of the context when you’re talking about your own country. People know how common it is to encounter corruption or not be able to get your child into a certain school, or they know how much of a problem it is to buy property or for police brutality to happen or any of those things. But when you’re a foreign correspondent people really don’t have the same background knowledge. So you can try to contextualize to some degree, but ultimately we’re not here to be writing an encyclopedia of China. Yes, we’re trying to write things that enlighten people and I think it’s important to add context where you can, but news by its nature tends to be what’s striking or important.
And here, in addition to the Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, are some other Berkshire China titles as well as a free PDF article about Hu Jintao:
Brand China: Global Perceptions and Representations
The Internet in China: Online Business, Information, Distribution, and Social Connectivity
Education in China: Educational History, Models, and Initiatives
Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography
China Gold: China’s Quest for Global Power and Olympic Glory
Encyclopedia of Modern Asia
This Is China: The First 5,000 Years
Hu Jintao, b. 1942, President of China (2002-present)
Hu Jintao is the current President of the People’s Republic of China. During his two terms in office he has faced several crises, with varying degrees of success. His handling of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake was initially praised for his break from previous government secrecy but later criticized outside China after widespread media censorship of the event became apparent. He has been very active in promoting development at home and improving foreign relations, notably with Taiwan.
PS: I now rather wish I’d arranged things so I could go to the National Committee on United States-China Relations luncheon tomorrow for Hu Jintao, in Washington, DC. The luncheon in the president’s honor will be held at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel and is hosted in partnership with the US-China Business Council and in cooperation with nine other organizations. The luncheon will be President Hu’s only public event during his state visit to Washington to meet with President Obama. Instead, here I am in Narnia Great Barrington, where it just won’t stop snowing!