NYTimes Reporter Visits Reed

China Correspondent Chris Buckley Talks Politics, Journalism

This past Monday in Vollum Lounge, New York Times correspondent Chris Buckley gave a public lecture titled “Reaction, Reform, or Restoration: Chinese Politics and Power in the Era of Xi Jinping” based on his work for the last 20 years in China.

Since he began reporting for the New York Times in 2012, Australian native Chris Buckley has covered a wide scope of important Chinese issues, from climate change and rural life to politics and foreign policy. As China continues to become a greater world power in the coming years, journalists like Buckley are instrumental in shaping how China is viewed by a Western audience.

The 90-minute lecture was accompanied by photographs and sought to depict a China of tremendous and increasing contrasts between rich and poor, urban and rural, and young and old.  Through his articles, Chris Buckley tries to capture what is like to live through economic, cultural and political changes. His powerful photographs of ex-soldier protestors, the #Metoo movement, and urban pollution show a nation both alike and unalike the United States.

The second half of the lecture shifted the focus more towards President Xi, looking at both his personal history and some of the reforms he has made as China’s president. Buckley describes President Xi as a product of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, as he grew up in relative luxury as the son of a revolutionary in Mao’s trusted inner circle. Xi’s father was later demoted, and years later arrested for treason against Mao. Xi himself, along with many people his age, was sent to work in the country. He was later rehabilitated by a subsequent president. Buckley believed Xi’s experiences of chaos during this time are what made him into such a conservative politician today because it reinforced his belief of the need for there to be a strict political hierarchy. Unlike his predecessor Hu Jintao, Xi has redrawn the boundaries of what is culturally and politically acceptable in China, including cracking down on corruption among Party leaders and altering school curricula to reflect his agenda. One example of this is the Muslim “re-education” camps in Xinjiang, where hundreds of thousands of Muslims are sent to be “transformed” by learning about Chinese laws and the dangers of religious extremism.  

Additionally, Xi has worked to strengthen the Communist Party in China and has dramatically recast the rules of Chinese politics. “Don’t expect him to give up power anytime soon,” states Buckley in reference to President Xi. Audience members learn that because of Xi, China’s National People’s Congress recently revised their constitution with an almost unanimous vote to remove presidential term limits, allowing Xi to remain president as long as he wishes.

The following day in Prexy, the Center for Life Beyond Reed hosted Chris Buckley to talk about his experiences as a journalist. About ten students gathered around and listened to him discuss the changing art of journalism, as well as the various benefits and challenges of being a journalist in a country that lacks a free press. Surprisingly, a majority of writers for the Times do not hold majors in journalism, a relief for aspiring journalists at Reed.

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