Getting the Story in China: American Reporters Since 1972

By Jonathan Mirsky

A paper by Jonathan Mirsky, fall 1999 fellow, follows the history of modern American reporting on China. Beginning with the 1972 post-Nixon euphoria of American reporters, Mirsky traces the American press’ growing awareness of the controls imposed on them by the Chinese state. The paper then provides personal accounts from journalists of their China careers, from 1980 through periods of tightening and relaxing control to the reimposition of official threats and surveillance in late 1999. After an analysis of the importance of secrecy and deception to the Chinese state and of the problems this presents to American reporters, Mirsky notes that these reporters have ignored Chinese writers’ recent scrutiny of previously taboo subjects. The paper also examines some American criticisms of American journalists in Tiananmen, focusing especially on the Shorenstein Center’s report Turmoil at Tiananmen. Finally, Mirsky considers Beijing’s preoccupation with the power of the press and the possible significance of American reporting in China.

Download the paper (PDF).