A woman reads the China Daily while perched on a porch. Like many newspapers the world over, China Daily’s online edition is expanding, with an expanded English version launched in February 2009. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

From its beginnings in 1981, China Daily has developed into the national English-language newspaper of China. With a circulation of 300,000 and an online edition, its target audience is tourists, business leaders, diplomats, and other visitors to China; it also has a large Chinese readership.

Founded in 1981, China Daily, China’s national English-language newspaper, began as a small but ambitious experiment, led by a corps of experienced journalists of cosmopolitan outlook, with a score of reporters recruited largely from among English language teachers and recent college graduates. Originally operating out of shabby borrowed quarters on the east side of Beijing, in two decades China Daily has grown into a large enterprise with its own modern compound and presses, hundreds of employees, a stable of ancillary publications and activities, and status as a quasi-official paper of record.

Three years in the planning, with its first trial issue printed in Australia in 1980, China Daily officially launched on 1 June 1981, as an eight-page broadsheet with an initial press run of about twenty thousand. Two years later, when it began North American distribution, it claimed a circulation of seventy thousand within China. A Hong Kong edition began in 1997. By its 25th anniversary in 2006, the paper claimed a circulation of 300,000, a third of it abroad. It expanded to twelve pages in 1995, sixteen in 2004, and twenty-four in 2007. The paper began an online edition in 1996.

In 1993, the paper launched 21st Century, a weekly educational publication for students of English that subsequently branched into several editions for elementary, middle school, high school, and college levels as well as teachers. Other offshoots include Business Weekly, begun in 1985, and Beijing Weekend, begun in 1991, which both became regular inserts in the paper; the regionally-circulated weekly Shanghai Star, started in 1992; and color tabloids published in conjunction with Beijing’s hosting of the 1990 Asian Games, the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, and the 2008 Summer Olympics. Among other activities, the paper has hosted CEO roundtables for executives of multinational corporations, organized English language and journalism training courses, and sponsored an annual English speaking contest for college students beginning in 1996.

China Daily’s initial leadership was an eclectic mix. Publisher Jiang Muyue, who did not speak English but had long been associated with foreign-language publications, played a supportive but largely ceremonial role. The initial editor in chief was veteran journalist and author Liu Zhunqi, who had joined the Communist underground as a student at the missionary-run Yanjing University in Beijing and later worked for the U.S. wartime information center in Chongqing. Although he was in poor health due to mistreatment during the Cultural Revolution, Liu contributed a quiet gravity and distinction.

The undisputed mastermind and energizer of the early China Daily was Feng Xiliang, a longtime editor of the weekly Beijing Review, who had studied journalism at St. John’s University, a missionary school in Shanghai, and earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. As head of the paper’s founding commission and then managing editor (1981–1984) and editor-in-chief (1984–1987), Feng often stated that China Daily’s objective was to help foreigners understand China and China understand the world. Indeed, a large (although usually unacknowledged) proportion of China Daily’s readership is composed of Chinese readers.

Among Feng’s innovations were the use of foreign news agency reports in addition to the official Xinhua News Agency for international news, an emphasis on striking layout and large headlines, and prominent use of photographs. Rather than relying on translations from Chinese to English, Feng emphasized writing of news and features as well as commentaries directly in English. As part of his effort to reach international audiences through colloquial language that broke with political jargon, he recruited advisors and “polishers” from Britain, Australia, and the United States; encouraged study abroad for young Chinese reporters; and initiated exchange agreements and training programs for staff.

Feng, who later was an advisor to the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, developed Alzheimer’s disease and died in Beijing in 2006 at age eighty-six. Succeeding him as chief editor were Chen Li (1987–1993), (who also passed away in 2006), Zhu Yinghuang (1993–2004), and Zhu Ling (b. 2004), all men—although the initial senior editorial leadership included a number of older women, and a female reporter from the original staff, Huang Qing, rose to the level of first deputy chief editor.

Along with other major newspapers in Beijing, China Daily provided overwhelmingly sympathetic coverage of the student protests in Tiananmen Square during the spring of 1989, with many of its journalists joining in at the height of mass demonstrations. Like other news organizations, the paper experienced a retrenchment period after the declaration of martial law and military crackdown of 4 June, including a temporary reduction in size from eight to four pages and adoption of the official description of the demonstrations as a “counterrevolutionary rebellion.”

Often described by foreign media as “official,” and technically under the supervision of the Propaganda Bureau of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, China Daily nevertheless resists definition as a simple mouthpiece. Along with carrying pronouncements that are clearly obligatory, the paper has developed a reputation for lively, original reporting, with a staff that prides itself on professionalism. Its upstart traditions, extensive international ties, roster of foreign employees and goal of reaching foreign tourists, business people, diplomats, and other expatriates and visitors gives it a distinctive, if quixotic, status.

Further Reading

China Daily. (2009). Retrieved February 11, 2009, from http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/

Ho, M., & Wood, J. B. (2006, May 31). Bringing up baby. China Daily, p. S8.

MacKinnon, S. R. (2007). Press freedom and the Chinese Revolution in the 1930s. In J. D. Popkin (Ed.), Media and revolution: Comparative perspectives (pp. 174–187). Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

Veteran journalist’s legacy lasts. (2006, February 2). China Daily, p. 2.

Source: Polumbaum, Judy. (2009). China Daily. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 323–324. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

China Daily (Zhōngguó Rìbào 中国日报)|Zhōngguó Rìbào 中国日报 (China Daily)

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