Seeing in Chinese

The NYTimes in its global edition is reporting much more on Chinese affairs – and why not ? Chinese manufacturing companies are major suppliers across more industries such as electronics, many consumer household goods, and now basic chemicals or finished metals. Of course there is the not small matter of $2trillion in US debt held by the Chinese plus an economy growing at least double the rate of the US or Europe for the past 15 consecutive years. So the NYTimes suspects that Americans will be interested in what is happening in China.

But sometimes it is embarrassing to read NYTimes coverage because there is no way to easily confirm the stories by going to a local Chinese source and seeing what they have to say. First, Chinese script is Greek to me but more importantly, many of the Chinese in English media sources are official and therefore opaque if not downright suspect. Others may be private but guarded and hardly independent as they must tow the official line. Even going to Hong Kong or Taiwan press sources results in a distinctly business or local view. In sum, one does not easily have access to an authentic Chinese point of view.

So my problem is seeing in Chinese -but not the official Xinhua one.

Which brings us to Caixin Online [do visit the website, it is a revelation]. This is the English language website of caijing.com, a Chinese business news weekly magazine and online site based in Beijing. The screenshot just below shows the type of coverage offered by Caixin – it is certainly not the Xinhua official point of view.


As can be seen in the screenshot, the economic analysis is amazingly frank. The current real estate bubble in China is cited in three different stories – with the adverse effects on local government budgets being the main feature But there is also a sweeping article on the bad debt nature of large real estate “assets” in the Foul Assets story. Hardly Xinhua fare.

However, if you press the Chinese button on the extreme right you find that the Chinese version of Caixin is not identically the same as rendered into Chinese script. Rather the line-up of stories is different. Some are straight from the English version[including the Foul Assets opinion piece]; but there are several foreign press stories [including Barrons, Marketwatch, the Financial Times and other Western sources]. And some of the hard hitting pieces in English are not found on the native Chinese magazine side. So what you see in the English version may not be available to most Chinese given this apparent self-editing plus the censorship firewall that China has in place.

Nonetheless, Caixin delivers an insight on what the Chinese business class are thinking. Given the recent history of the publication in which the chief editor and many of the staff staff left the original CaiJing Magazine just 6 months ago in order to start up Caixin Media – there is certainly a compelling story behind the emergence of Caixin Online. However, the best proof of the reality pudding is to follow such stories as the North Korean torpedo attack on a South Korean frigate that killed 46 South Koreans yet continued Chinese support for North Korea or coverage of the European Financial Crisis. So far the results are mixed. But despite these provisos, with Caixin Online, “seeing in Chinese” is much clearer than ever before.