Minding Your Business for You Government `Minders' Monitor Journalists, Stage-Manage Interviews, and Get a Free Lunch

Article excerpt

DRESSED in denim jeans, jacket, and boots, Zhu Xiaobin enthusiastically shakes hands, offers his card and introduces himself with his chosen Western name, "Hi, I'm Eddie Zhoo."

Mr. Zhu is greeting two visiting Western journalists on behalf of the waiban or foreign-affairs office of Yichang, and, during their three-day stop in this dreary Yangtze River town was responsible for arranging interviews and interpreting. But that was not Zhu's main job. He is part of a layered hierarchy of "minders" all across China, charged with keeping an eye on foreigners and ensuring that they see and hear what the government wants - all for a hefty fee.

With Beijing's attention focused on the controversial Three Gorges Dam, and Yichang's fortunes riding on its completion, Zhu took his job seriously. The massive dam is a priority project that will channel millions of dollars to the locality for resettling residents and building infrastructure - and, most likely, lining official pockets.

For three days, Zhu conscientiously and with great paranoia stage-managed the visit. The journalists were shepherded to official interviews and to see resettlements where everyone sang the praises of the new dam.

The young official was never far away, closely monitored interviews, and often tried to read the journalists' notes. He even intervened several times to stop chats with residents critical of the dam, including calling the police to block further interviews. After renting a boat to travel upstream to talk to residents affected by the dam, the journalists were ordered back and guarded by the police and a suddenly sullen Zhu.

Like many Chinese officials, he also viewed the visit as a chance for profit. Every meal, paid for by the correspondents, was an elaborate banquet attended by a bevy of officials who materialized as mealtime neared.

"I can't let anything negative be written," Zhu admitted, citing the example of a colleague in a neighboring province who was reprimanded for bad publicity about the dam. …


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