I’m not a very conventional person. Part of the reason why is because it’s fun, but most of it is because I don’t know the proper way to do things. Unconventional is my life in Tsinghua.
As an exchange student from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, I had no restrictions on the type of courses I could take. I only had two major regulations: I must take 12 to 18 credits. I can take no more than 8 credits outside my major. In other words, I had lots of room to be unconventional.
The first week of classes here was a nightmare.
The course registration site crashed because the servers couldn’t handle the number of students logging in at the same time. The finalized course list was only available on the course registration site. There was no English translation of the course list. Panicking, I translated the courses and the course syllabuses with my broken Chinese, picked as many journalism courses as I could and hoped for the best.
Tsinghua has a two week time period to sample classes. In those two weeks I flew through about 10 different classes and bought textbooks and completed the first week’s homework for a good half of each of those classes. After realizing it took me thirty minutes to fully comprehend one page of text in Chinese, I decided I couldn’t take courses taught in Chinese.
My finalized course list for the semester is as such: Business and Finance Reporting, Economics and Finance for Journalists, and Mass Communications and Contemporary Chinese Society, and Oral Chinese. All the courses are under Tsinghua’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications except for the Chinese class.
A lot of people ask me why I decided to study journalism in China. China is a black hole for Journalism as we understand it in the U.S: As a journalist, you’re always fighting against censorship. You face difficulties in finding information online. You never know when you’re too political. You can get kicked out of the country at any time. Your stories don’t seem relevant to 95 percent of the American population.
Despite all that, I still decided to study journalism Tsinghua University. In 2002, Tsinghua established a journalism and mass communications academy. In 2007, it started a two year master’s program in Global Journalism. The program is sponsored by big names like Bloomberg, Bank of America, the Knight Foundation and Deloitte. These names, make the institution seem open.
But, interestingly, Liu Binjie, the former minister of China’s General Administration of Press and Publication—the censorship department of the Chinese government—was Dean of School of Journalism and Communications in 2012, the same year Xi Jinping, the president of China, stepped into office. I note this because veteran China journalists, say that the control of media in China has been tightening since Xi has stepped into office. Liu is the one that is leading the ideology of Tsinghua’s school of journalism and mass communications. Is it a big deal? How are his experiences reflected in the leadership of the department here? How much does it matter? Are these the right questions I should be asking?
What happens in the high level decision I probably won’t ever know. It’s been difficult to find Professor Liu to spare a chat. But, experiencing the training that is accepted by this institution will help me better understand the media system in China. I never really put much thought into the administration and history of an institution until I came here.
Media regulation in modern China is a key part of the government. Since the foundation of the Communist Party of China (CCP), utilizing media was a big part of uniting the nation. In the 1930s, during the civil war with the Nationalist Party of China (the one with Chiang Kai-shek) the CCP was on the brink of disintegration. The Nationalists bullied the CCP into the desolate northwestern China. By then, the CCP had little weapons, little infrastructure, little money.
Media and mass communications was the only weapon they had. They were phenomenal with it. From the very beginning, high standing individuals in the CCP made decisions on how media should be made, who should make it, and what can be said to create the idealized image of China. That mindset towards the media as a weapon is still very apparent China today as we can see with heavy-handed censorship and overly positive news reports. My logic follows that tracing the media system in China still reflects the political mindset, internal conflicts and wishes of the party. And today, added onto the media system is a visible platform for the public to communicate back to the official image of China, the internet.
My classmates here too, I’m very interested in them. There are from good mix of nations: Russia, France, Slovakia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Pakistan, Italy, U.S., Korea, and China. I’d say of the 40 classmates that I’ve been able to share a conversation with, most are studying here for practical reasons, a switch in career, a boost in English language reporting, or a prestigious name to put onto their resume. I do get a vibe that they’re not satisfied with the reporting at home. They want to make a difference in the reporting back at their home.
So it is to this school, with an odd mix of Bloomberg terminals in our classrooms, and lecturers from American universities – that I as journalism student would like to learn from like, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and the University of Pennsylvania – Annenberg School for Communications – that I found a backdoor into though my exchange as a student from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.