By ISABELLA SPECIALE —
“I’m followed, I’m photographed, my office is probably bugged, my home is probably bugged. We actually found evidence in our home, a small device.”
This is not an excerpt from a Cold War-themed Hollywood blockbuster, but rather a casual recounting of the day-to-day hazards of journalism in China according to David Barboza, Shanghai-based correspondent for The New York Times, who won two Pulitzer Prizes in 2013 for his reporting from China.
Barboza, bespectacled and soft-spoken, has been with the Times in Shanghai since 2004. He recalls being warned of the dangers of working in China prior to his current posting, but in an informal meeting with Claremont McKenna College journalism students, he stressed that his fascination with China outweighed any potential dangers.
“I asked The New York Times if I could go to China, if I could live there. I went for a week and I knew this was where I wanted to live,” he told the class. “I told the New York Times, ‘If you don’t send me to China, I’ll quit.’ They sent me and it’s the best job I could ever have.”
Now fluent in Mandarin and married to a Chinese national, Barboza has become quite accustomed to the difficulties of being a foreign correspondent in China. He jokes that he has even met the government official assigned to following his every move, albeit from a distance, and is still amused by the thrill that his wife gets from feeling like a secret agent.
Barboza believes it is his job as a business correspondent that initially spared him from special scrutiny in China. In 2013 Barboza’s Pulitzers were for contributing to the Times’ series on the darker side of the global economy, and for international reporting for his pieces exposing massive wealth accumulated by family members of China’s premier; he maintains that the story would never have been possible if he hadn’t been able to stay under the radar of Chinese officials.
“Because I’m a business reporter, although they followed me they just didn’t think I would write about a political issue, a political family,” he said during his class visit. “So probably they were following our political reporters even more closely, because most of the time I’m writing business stories. And then, all of a sudden, I was writing about the prime minister’s relatives. So I think that was really shocking.”
His tenure in Shanghai coming to an end next month, Barboza reflects on his years in Shanghai as pleasant despite the pressure that often accompanied it. He still believes that the job isn’t necessarily dangerous if you are smart and ethical in your reporting. But, despite those beliefs, in his closing advice to CMC students Barboza reminded them that concerning danger, “If you want to be a reporter and do investigative (journalism), it just comes with the territory.
(Written by Isabella Speciale, edited by Terril Y. Jones; Oct. 2, 2015)