The Critical Whisperer for Intellectuals

Criticised for being the voice of the Communist Party, China Central Television (CCTV) starts to lose viewership in- and outside of the country. The 90s of 20th century was considered as the booming period of Chinese media. Many current distinguishing figures in Chinese news TV embarked their career during that time. Bai Yansong, one of the most influential, well-known news reporters and commentators in China, learnt his first lesson in college in the department of journalism — bottom line of being a journalist: always telling the truth. After the first decade of the 21th century, some left CCTV for various reasons, from “inappropriate behaviour on air” to “less freedom in personal performance”. Bai is still there, doing current news report and commentary in a professional style.

Bai Yansong teaches in Class

Bai sees journalism as a marathon. “It has no ending, down the road. But when you got to know what’s down there so just stopping trying? Giving up is always easier than carrying on.” he said.

Confronting with the harsh media restriction environment, many choose to leave, while others stay and try to dance with chains. Bai is one of the latter. “Up till today, CCTV is still the best platform in the whole country to conduct press supervision.” Bai believes. Questioning and interrogating local government in misconducted political and social cases, Bai said that he has already come to a time in his journalist career when he stands at the opposite side to the powerful. He has to keep his critics within certain level in order to hold the right to the microphone. “It’s like walking on thin ice.” he said.

Founding “East-West United University” (东西联大) fulfilled one of Bai’s life-long dream. Born into a family with 3 teachers, “I always wanted to be a teacher since I was little.” Bai said. 11 students from 4 of most prestigious universities in Beijing are selected every year to Bai’s private “university”. Twice a month, class locates once on the east side of Beijing and the next time at some place on the west side. Reading list is assigned for each week, and reading report is compulsory. Every time, Bai sits down with his student, discuss various topics from rural workers in urban area to social changes in terms of time periods of the 70s, 80s and 90s. “Most of journalism majors at our universities do not cover practical interview training.” For Bai, how to conduct an interview is one of the crucial skills of a journalist. On practical interview class, students raise their topics which display their different focuses in the society. Many of the topics are inspiring.

Nonetheless, some of the topics from students also represent certain left-behind features of this particular society. One popular topic was “If I was a Homosexual”. The topic itself implies discrimination against the homosexual community to a certain degree that the students might not be able to realise it. This sentence pre-set the discussion from a perspective that “I” am not a homosexual. But what if “I am”? What if one of the students were a gay or a lesbian who was too frightened to come out? This topic puts every participants to the position that is definitely NOT a homosexual , which indicates that a homosexual is one of “THEM” but not one of “US”. This is a subtle discrimination which is unintended, and in the social context of China, understandable.

Anyway, for the world community, even in some “advanced countries” like Germany or US, it is still a long way to achieve their full understanding of homosexuality and embrace the fact that is supposed to be natural and universal. And it is even a longer way for societies like China. Bai’s classes represent the advancing step by young intellectuals. Social change goes gradually. What matters the most is some one is on the way.

Bai’s career as a journalist and a news commentator inspires Chinese young people to take the society with more serious attitude. He described himself as a “most optimistic pessimist” who has hope for the future and believes in people, although “there will be nothing in the future”. He is loved because he is critical, skeptical but never cynical. The endeavour to nurture young people to take more responsibilities like he does will not be in vain. “When I pass on the torch, I will just forget about all this.” Bai talked about retirement one day. But who knows? Not only as a committed journalist, a voicer of intellectuals, but also as a citizen with strong sense of responsibility, could he never stop caring.


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