“The most dangerous woman in China” is a female business journalist. Bloomberg Businessweek gave this title to Hu Shuli, at the time the editor of Caijing magazine, a leading Chinese business publication,back in 2001. Ten years later, as editor-in-chief of Caixin Media, Hu was featured in the Time 100, Time magazine’s annual ranking of the most influential people in the world, as she unrelentlessly continued publishing investigative pieces on corruption and fraud.
Hu’s impressive career boosted an increase in Chinese women working in business journalism. After years when business journalism was dominated by men, with the field even called “the forbidden city,” the number of female business reporters is rising. “In the past five to 10 years, more women have acquired the necessary professional knowledge and work as front-line reporters or news anchors or editors,” said Gu Huini, a former reporter at The New York Times.
Hu started her business journalism career at Caijing, a biweekly, state-owned publication, where she began writing stories exposing instances of corruption in China. In October 2000, the magazine published an article titled “Inside Story of Funds Company,” which gained enormous public attention for disclosing numerous cases of corruption nationwide. This investigation characterized Caijing magazine’s reporting in the following yearsuntil 2009, when Hu left after a dispute with her publisher.
She then went on to found Caixin Media, a Beijing-based media group providing financial and business news and information through periodicals, online content, mobile apps, conferences, books and TV/video programs. It quickly became one of the most influential privately owned media companies in China.
Despite Hu’s success, female business journalists still face many obstacles in climbing up the career ladder. Zhang (first name withheld), a professional business reporter for six years, eventually decided to change her job because she saw her career in journalism stagnating with no possibility of promotion. “Though I am getting older and more experienced, I started to feel like I was writing the same article,” said Zhang. “I am far away from how passionate I was about business journalism before, and this made me less competitive compared with those freshmen in journalism.”
Pregnancy is also a complicating factor for a female journalist’s career advancement. “I had to get my boy to sleep and then hand in the articles at midnight. It made me exhausted,” said Zhang. Career advancement and pregnancy may be related in another way. According to the Shanghai Women Journalism Workers Report, employers in the Chinese media give women fewer opportunities because they may eventually have a child or even a second one, given the recent change in China’s one-child policy.
Recent corruption scandals unveiled as part of an anti-corruption campaign led by Chinese President Xi Jinping have swept away both public officials and media workers. They also have exposed the relations between some female business reporters and male politicians. Shen Bing, a former news anchor for the finance and economics channel at CCTV, China’s state-owned TV broadcaster, was arrested and accused of having an intimate relationship with Zhou Yongkang, a political leader now under investigation for corruption. Another CCTV anchor, Ye Yingchung, was also arrested as part of the inquiry. Officials have yet to release further details.
These episodes prompted Chinese commentators to question the women’s professionalism. “A woman who truly knows how the system works is Shen Bing,” wrote Wang Fuzhong, a respected Chinese economist, on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. “Thus, corrupted by power, Shen changed from a bright and brave lady to a vulgar and vicious woman,” he concluded.
As business journalists are constantly exposed to power and wealth, strong professional ethics are required. “You can only survive if you restrain your endless desires and greed, or you degenerate without even realizing it,” said Cai Jue, the producer of a financial program on the TV station, International Channel Shanghai.
She advised young female business journalists starting their careers to be “smart” about their choices. “Journalists always face harsh decisions. And female business journalists even more so.”
Cai’s advice about creating good journalism echoes the words that Hu once shared with Adi Ignatius, editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review and author of her Time 100 profile: “Believe in what you do, do it smartly and never give up.”