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Leading editor quits Caijing magazine
Published on: 2009-11-10
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The resignations follow months of uncertainty about the future of the biweekly magazine, considered by Chinese media observers to be China's most important news publication. Ms. Hu is expected to start a new publication with other former Caijing staff and a new partner.

People familiar with the situation say Ms. Hu was angry at what she saw as the lack of support for the publication from the magazine's owners, including a failure to fund it adequately and to back it in battles with authorities over its coverage of ethnic riots in Xinjiang earlier this year.

Ms. Hu couldn't be reached for comment. Caijing spokeswoman Zhang Lihui said Caijing's parent company, SEEC, accepted Ms. Hu's resignation and thanked her "for her contribution over the years to SEEC."

Wang Shuo, Caijing's managing editor, said on his public Twitter page that he also had submitted his resignation, along with almost all other top editors. The editors couldn't be reached, but other Caijing employees confirmed Mr. Wang's account.

The media in China are under pressure to make money but also to toe the government line on sensitive topics. That has made publications such as Caijing fragile, with several cutting-edge publications falling by the wayside over the years, said Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing-based political analyst.

"The way the media is set up here, there's basic instability," Mr. Moses said. "Today's star can be tomorrow's martyr."

Ms. Hu will initially take a job as dean of a new journalism school at Sun Yat-sen University in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, according to people familiar with the situation. She is expected to launch another magazine and Web site under the name "Caixin," or "Finance News," in the near future with a new partner, magazine employees say.

News staff at Caijing said they were unfazed by Ms. Hu's resignation, which had been expected. Speculation about her future was fueled by the departure last month of the magazine's business manager, Daphne Wu, along with most of Caijing's business staff.

Several reporters and editors said they were prepared to leave Caijing and follow Ms. Hu to her next venture, fully expecting that her university post wouldn't distract her from publishing.

"It doesn't really matter which publication we work for," said one reporter. "We just follow her, that's it."

Caijing staffers trace Ms. Hu's resignation to a long-running feud with the head of SEEC, Wang Boming. Ms. Hu has been upset about how much of Caijing's advertising revenue it has to share with its publisher, people close to her say. Caijing contributes the majority of its revenue to SEEC's print media operation, whose advertising arm, SEEC Media Group Ltd., is listed in Hong Kong.

Ms. Hu "felt that Caijing was a cash cow for the SEEC and was deprived of the resources she needed to make it world-class," says a long-time Caijing reporter.

That came to a head over ethnic riots in Xinjiang in July, when Ms. Hu sent reporters to cover the unrest but Mr. Wang told her to back off, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Wang couldn't be reached for comment. A person close to him said he resented the implication that he wasn't backing Ms. Hu. "He felt he'd battled many times on her behalf and kept the magazine open after officials attacked it," the person said.

The Wall Street Journal has had an agreement with Caijing since 2007 to occasionally publish translated Caijing articles in the Journal's Asian edition and to let Journal articles be published in Caijing.

The magazine has been under pressure from the SEEC to focus on the two subjects that make up its name: "cai" (finance) and "jing" (economics). In recent years it has broadened its scope to cover more general-interest subjects, including thorny issues such as illegal detentions and environmental problems.

Another point of contention was the apparent restrictions on the magazine's ability to report on the early days of the government's detention of Rio Tinto's China executive Stern Hu and three of his colleagues.

Ms. Hu, the public face of Caijing, has been a symbol of hope for advocates of change in Chinese media, and greater transparency in China. A petite, fast-talking former reporter from a family of journalists, she is known for her fiery temperament and commitment to hard-nosed reporting. Under her leadership, Caijing managed to report on corruption and malfeasance in China, but in ways that didn't get it shut down -- primarily by portraying problems as isolated events and not part of larger, systemic issues resulting from one-party rule. That allowed the magazine to expose problems without challenging the Communist Party's monopoly on power.

"We know where the line is, and we walk right up to it," Ms. Hu told The Wall Street Journal in 2002.

"Caijing is both a product and a symbol of Chinese reform itself," says Fred Hu, chairman of greater China for Goldman Sachs, who is a friend of Ms. Hu and a columnist for the magazine. "Probably everyone will be worse off," as a result of Ms. Hu leaving. "China needs independent, high-quality journalism to thrive."

SEEC head Wang Boming's political connections and market-oriented philosophy have turned him into an unlikely Chinese media mogul. The son of a former vice finance minister, Mr. Wang married the daughter of former president (and onetime heir to Mao Zedong) Liu Shaoqi, while his brother, Wang Dongming, rose to become chairman of Citic Securities, the country's largest securities firm by market value and part of the financial conglomerate Citic Group, set up in 1979 by former vice president Rong Yiren.

Mr. Wang was among the first wave of students to study overseas in the early 1980s. To earn extra money during his studies, he wrote for a Chinese language newspaper in New York, and later worked as an economist for the New York Stock Exchange in the late 1980s, before returning to China to join other foreign-educated students at the Stock Exchange Executive Council, a loosely government-affiliated think tank charged with helping to establish China's stock markets in the early 1990s. After helping to found the exchanges in Shanghai and Shenzhen, the SEEC ventured into media by publishing Securities Market Weekly, the China's first publication on the securities industry, which boasted a circulation of nearly a million during its peak the late 1990s.

In 1998, Mr. Wang, with Ms. Hu, founded Caiijng magazine, which has since become the country's best-known publication. Ms. Hu was given a free rein to run the magazine, while Mr. Wang kept a low profile. Reporters and editors say he was rarely seen in the newsroom, which is located in the same office building as the SEEC.

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