Parting thoughts after 9 years as a journalist in China
Fascinating post, pointed out by James Fallows, by the Guardian‘s environmental reporter Jonathan Watts, who’s just spent the past 9 years in China. Here’s what he had to say as his valedictory address:
This is the text of a speech given by Jonathan Watts at the 2012 China Environmental Press Awards in Beijing on April 10. The annual awards are co-organised by chinadialogue and The Guardian, in cooperation with Sina and with the support of the SEE Foundation. They aim to recognise and promote outstanding environmental journalism in China.
It is a very great pleasure to speak to you today for professional and personal reasons.
Professionally, I am delighted because the China Environmental Press Awards are now strongly established after three years and the partnership between The Guardian, chinadialogue and Sina to organise this event has moved from strength to strength. On behalf of The Guardian Media Group, let me extend our appreciation to our excellent partners, and to all of you for participating.
Personally, this is also a special moment. I will be leaving China later this month, and I would like to take this opportunity to share some reflections on my nine years in China. In essence, what I am going to say is that I believe you are covering the most important story in the world, but that story is too often shunted into a cul-de-sac. It is necessary to be more assertive and to take the key issues into other areas – economics, politics, foreign affairs.
That is a bold statement. I want to explain how I reached such a viewpoint. It is mainly as a result of working in China since 2003, first as a general news correspondent up until the 2008 Olympics and then as Asia environment correspondent.
I did not come to China expecting to become an environmental writer.
When I arrived in China in 2003, I believed I had the best job in the world, working for my favourite newspaper in the biggest nation at arguably the most dramatic phase of transformation in its history. I still clearly recall my first few weeks and months here. Like many newcomers, I delighted at discoveries of Chinese literature and Daoist philosophy, Beijing parks, the edgy eccentricity of Dashanzi and the Chinese language, though I never managed to master it.
That was a thrilling time – as Beijing prepared for The Olympics and a new leadership of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao held out the prospect of change. My mantra in those early years was that in China “nothing is certain, so everything is possible”.
This was true for the environment, which was horrible. I very quickly came to the conclusion that the situation was so appalling in China that this was the country most likely to make a change for the better. I told journalist friends at the time of my hopes for a green revolution here but they were more focused on politics and hopes for reform.
But when I look back at the past nine years, the environment and the economy have been bigger drivers of change. It has been a remarkable period. Let me just give you a few numbers to hammer home the point: in the past nine years, China’s GDP has quadrupled; incomes have risen three-fold and car ownership five-fold; coal consumption has more than doubled and carbon-dioxide emissions have followed suit to become easily the biggest in the world. . .
And you might also find this article by James Fallows on Chinese aviation to be of interest.