Great conference, but what terrible timing: a freakishly beautiful and warm April Saturday and we spent all day inside learning about “Media in Chinese Politics” at Harvard’s Fairbank Center. Indoors, in an underground lecture hall! Actually, it wasn’t all day. In the morning we enjoyed breakfast on the hotel terrace, watching the rowing crews. In the evening, a walk across Cambridge to dinner with a number of renowned scholars.

I spent a while in the morning puzzling over something called the  “eluding the cat case” but I finally got online and looked in up, and then not only Twittered but managed to sign up for the Chinese equivalent by using Google Translate to figure out what information to put where.

Xiao Qiang from Berkeley made the most amusing opening to a paper, “I’m sleep deprived, we’ve just had lunch, I’m presenting a paper I didn’t write, after very eloquent speaker who basically said everything I want to say, in front of an audience of tough minds.”

The conference ended with a public program that was focused on the potential and need for change in the media. The most pointed question asked was, “If you had $10,000,000 to improve the media in China, how would you spend it?” I don’t think any of the speakers came up with a full answer, but it’s a tough question — one I’d like to see their answers to after they have some time to think through what they would like things to be like in 5 or 10 yeras, and then figure out how to apply some money to the situation.

A few thoughts for next time. I work in the media business and with Chinese media companies, and would have liked more real world analysis, and tore discussion of the practicalities of dealing with government agencies, because that’s where change is going to be seen: in the way content is vetted before publication, and in the way online content is monitored.  I would also have liked to see media covered more generally. The conference focus was the news business but it could have included popular books, educational and professional publishing, and film making, where there are distinct but related political and economic challenges.

These notes are all too random, but I haven’t yet pulled my thoughts together about some of the more subtle cultural and political issues that were raised — they will come together, I hope, in the design of a reader on the subject of media in China that we’ll be able to publish as a single volume later this year.

karen christensen's corona typewriter on t s eliot's desk

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