— Modern Weekly is about as hip as it gets in China, and about as successful as
it gets in this country’s small universe of independent magazines. It comes in a
glossy, large format with slick graphics, lots of short quotes and pictures and
some sophisticated reporting in separate sections — news, business, lifestyle
and culture — including a good deal of news, business, lifestyle and culture in
countries other than China.
flagship publication of Shao Zhong, the People’s Republic of China’s first
private media entrepreneur, the magazine has a circulation of 700,000,
relatively still small given the country’s population of 1.3 billion, but it is
nonetheless a trend-setter in this country, where the media in general are still
heavily censored and controlled.
give our readers an amazing amount of information,” Mr. Shao said during a
recent conversation in his Beijing office. “We tell them a lot about what’s
going on in the world, and in these areas there’s a lot of space.”
Mr. Shao, who uses the English name Thomas, meant by a lot of space is political
space, room for reporters to roam. He was responding to the inevitable question
from a foreign journalist about what restrictions he has to accept in order to
run a successful magazine empire in China. He wouldn’t, he was asked, be doing
much reporting on Tibet or on violations of human rights in China, would he?
tend to stay away from topics like that,” Mr. Shao said.
course he does, and he has to. It’s the bargain that Chinese journalism has to
make to survive in this country, where everybody knows what can and can’t be
reported. When a couple of weeks ago, for example, China’s public security
bureau arrested Xu Zhiyong, an activist lawyer and founder of the Open
Constitution Initiative, which advocates the rule of law in China, the news was
widely reported abroad, but blacked out in China itself. (Although Mr. Xu was
released on bail on Sunday, he is still expected to face charges of tax
there’s very little reporting on the situation in the western region of
Xinjiang, scene of last month’s ethnic riots, except for dutiful repetition of
the government’s position and denunciations of Rebiya Kadeer, the exiled Uighur
leader whom China blames for the disturbances. Chinese readers are likely to
find in their own press more about the private life of Barack Obama than about
their own president, Hu Jintao, because reporting is pretty free on Mr. Obama
yet tightly regulated on Mr. Hu.
a recent issue of Mr. Shao’s Modern Weekly, there was a two-page spread on what
the magazine called “India’s Secret Submarine,” all by way of reporting on
India’s naval development over the past decade or so. It is out of the question
of course that Modern Weekly would carry out an unauthorized examination of
China’s naval development, which would be deemed a state secret.
everybody knows, the press is not free in China. Yet there’s no question that
things are changing, and Modern Weekly illustrates the emergence of a press
that, certainly, is at least more freewheeling than ever before in China, and
separate from the government.
will you find a successful magazine these days that’s completely run by the
government,” Mr. Shao said.
Shao, 48, is tall, lean, and casual. He started out in his native town of
Guangzhou in China’s south, where he put in a few years in city government, as a
member of the Guangzhou City Development and Planning Commission.
1990, he said, he began, thanks to China’s opening to the outside world, to see
a lot of foreign magazines, and he contrasted them unfavorably to those being
published in China, which, he said, were “ugly.”
got some very specific inspiration from a book, “Seventy Years of Time Magazine”
that chronicled how Time’s founder, Henry Luce, built his magazine publishing
empire, a story that inspired Mr. Shao to strive to be a sort of Chinese Luce —
ironic, given Luce’s famous animosity to China’s Communists.
Shao liked the way Luce’s magazines combined pictures and texts and divided
coverage into sections — similar to the sections that Mr. Shao publishes in