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Golden Memories
Special> 50th Anniversary of Beijing Review> Golden Memories
UPDATED: March 22, 2008  
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
The 30th anniversary of the journal is an appropriate occasion for reviewing what has been achieved and for looking forward to see what needs to be done in the future
By Yang Chengfang

Thirty years ago, on March 4, 1958, Beijing Review made its debut before the reading public. The 30th anniversary of the journal is an appropriate occasion for reviewing what has been achieved and for looking forward to see what needs to be done in the future. As one of the leading members of Beijing Review in its early years, I'm only too glad to do some stock-taking and express my personal opinions.

The Credit Side

Since its inception, Beijing Review has aimed at keeping its readers abreast of political, economic, social and cultural developments in China and offering Chinese views on major international issues.

We've come a long way over the past 30 years. The English-language edition we began with was intended for English-speaking readers all over the world. But readers' interests vary from country to country and from one social or political group to another—what interests Third World readers may not appeal to those in the West, and vice versa. Besides, more editions in different languages are needed if we are to broaden our readership. So, we've added new editions over the years—first the French then the Spanish, Japanese and German editions. The newest additions are our North American edition and the French-language monthly Chinafrique, both launched within the past six months.

Misunderstandings between nations are a constant source of mutual mistrust, suspicion and international dispute. Better understanding is crucial to friendship and co-operation between nations; indeed, world peace and security depend on close co-operation between all nations, large and small. By providing its readers with timely, accurate, first-hand information on what's going on in China, Beijing Review has helped promote understanding between China and the rest of the world.

Over the past 30 years, all of us at Beijing Review acquired valuable experience and learned useful lessons. Now, a new generation of editors, reporters and translators is taking over where senior colleagues left off.

So much for the credit side. Now let's turn to the other side of the ledger.

Room for Improvement

Over the past 30 years, Beijing Review has accomplished a great deal. But we also have a long way to go before we achieve our goal of offering the best magazine we can. Beijing Review's main weakness, as I see it, is that we are still not paying enough attention to meeting the special requirements of foreign readers. The choice of articles is one example—what appeals to Chinese readers may not necessarily make interesting reading for foreigners, simply because there are so many differences between Chinese and foreign readers in backgrounds, interests and needs.

Presentation is another serious problem. Writers may have very interesting subjects to write about, but their success depends on how they write. One basic rule of journalism is to keep your audience in mind. This is particularly important for a magazine like Beijing Review. However, some writers get so wrapped up in their message that they talk at their readers instead of to them—the result is the opposite of what they intend. Facts and reason speak more eloquently than bombastic rhetoric, meaningless verbiage and jargon. We must tell readers the truth of a matter, give them the relevant facts and figures and let them draw their own conclusions. In my opinion, that is a better way to win friends and influence people than trying to force ideas down their throats.

Our practice of writing articles first in Chinese and then having them translated into foreign languages needs improving if Beijing Review is to broaden its appeal to foreign readers. Experience has shown that articles written in foreign languages read better than translations from Chinese. So we should train and encourage our journalists to write in foreign languages.

China has embarked on the tremendous task of building socialism with Chinese characteristics. This is a great experiment full of hope and promise; it is also fraught with difficulties, problems and even risks. But we know where we are headed and we are confident that we can make it.

In July 1959, I traveled to Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, where I visited factories and farms. Summing up my impressions of the trip, I wrote in Beijing Review (August 4, 1959):

"Trial and Error. Learn on the job. Forging ahead in the face of overwhelming difficulties and temporary reverses till success is achieved. That, it seems to me, is the way we Chinese are engaged in building socialism in this vast homeland of ours."

I feel these words are still true. The most serious challenge Beijing Review must meet in the years to come is that of reporting Chinese news and views accurately and authoritatively in this time of far-reaching change and weeping reform. But looking at what the magazine has accomplished over the years, I believe that Beijing Review will give a good account of itself.

Premier Zhou and Beijing Review

As I began thinking about writing this article, I could not help remembering the late Premier Zhou Enlai. Without his personal guidance and help, Beijing Review's publication might have been long delayed, or even impossible. The very idea of starting an English-language weekly for foreign readers was his. Upon his return from the 1954 Geneva Conference, the premier became keenly aware of the urgent need for communication between China and the outside world, especially the West. It was against this background that Beijing Review came into existence. The birth and growth of the magazine was closely associated with the outstanding first premier of the People's Republic of China, as the following three episodes reveal.

From the beginning, there was much discussion about what the magazine's editorial policy should be. Premier Zhou was given a draft document on the subject, but he found it unsatisfactory and appointed a committee of leading comrades from government and Party departments to study the problem. At a meeting held in his office, the premier himself finally approved the guidelines developed by the committee, and most of its members were later appointed to the Editorial Policy Committee of Beijing Review.

On his state visit to India in April 1960, Premier Zhou held a press conference with foreign correspondents in New Delhi. When they asked for an official English version of his answers, he replied that the full proceedings of the press conference would be published in the next issue of Beijing Review.

On March 5, 1963, Beijing Review held a reception to celebrate two events—the magazine's fifth anniversary and the inauguration of the French and Spanish editions. Premier Zhou headed a large group of state and Party leaders who attended. He went from table to table greeting the staff, expressed appreciation for their hard work and toasted their health.

If only Premier Zhou had lived to honour us with his presence again as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Beijing Review.

The author was editor-in-chief of Beijing Review when it was launched in 1958

(This article appears on page 16, VOL.31 NO.10 MARCH 13, 1988)

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