Wednesday, March 29, 2006

...but oh, right, THAT'S Beijing

Reading the article in the below post made me late for an interview I did with the director of the Midi School of Music, which is better known for the Midi Festival, a 4-day rock fest on the park lawns of Beijing now in its 6th year (May 1-4). And at the interview who else shows up but someone from the That's Beijing. I won't say who. This is afterall China.

After we got the low down on the fest I shared a cab with him back across town. Of course I asked him about it, and the answer was, "Yeah, Kitto's been out of the picture for a while. That happened three and a half years ago." The tone was half "what a terrible thing" and half "water under the bridge."

The current deal with That's Beijing is this: the business is not a "magazine," because "no foreign interest can own media in China," so they're an "advertising company" acting as a "consultant" to a Chinese publisher who rents them a license. This is basically the same as in Kitto's story, except now he's screwed out of ownership.

The fallout was that "That's title," as Kitto called his enterprise, was split. Now there are different owners for That's Beijing and That's Shanghai, and That's Guangzhou is a sort of subsidiary of the Shanghai mag.

What's it like writing there? "I get censored on a daily basis."

Then we talked about the possibility of my working there as music section editor, which has a nice ring to it, not to mention the terrible portent of working in state media in Beijing, albeit probably the hippest wing. Hmmm.

Scruples about this kind of thing are hardly in abundance. (Remember, the Chinese are "pragmatic" - which is another way of saying intimidated into submission.) Last week a former Taipei Times colleague - yes, the deep green pro-independence newspaper - over dinner told me of having applied for a job with the ultimate CCP mouthpiece, The People's Daily. I was so bemused I forgot to ask about the personal ethics involved there, and anyway my former workmate turned it down. "They only wanted to pay me RMB 6000 a month, can you believe that? I was asking for 12,000, which is the lowest salary I've ever asked for in my life." RMB 6,000 is US$750.

Right. Pragmatism.

But Beijing does on the surface feel so much like any big city, and it forces people to scrap to survive. And in that situation a job looks like a job. Personally I can think of lots of excuses - a chance to the man on the ground covering a hot, emergent music scene; a chance to see the evil machine from the inside....There are afterall, my Taipei Times friend tells me, westerners working as copy editors for the People's Daily. And really, that's nothing but polishing the party line.


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