I AM IN AWE.
If you listen to one thing this week, listen to this interview: Legendary BBC presenter and China editor Carrie Gracie, live in London, on the Sinica podcast.
“It is the defiance that I learned in China that enabled me to take on the BBC. Because I had been forced to think very hard over thirty years as a China reporter what was true north, ethically…”
Over the past couple of years I’ve developed more of an interest in China than I had in my entire previous existence of nearly three decades as a genetically, but not very culturally, Chinese person. I may or may not have mentioned before the slightly embarrassing detail that this came out of reading pirate fan translations of xianxia danmei novels (basically, prettyboy gay wizards) as a way to relax during the height of the pandemic while I was working my ass off in the lab.
But I am anyway also interested in learning about some of the more serious stuff, both historical and current affairs. So I recently followed this Chinese-American podcast that interviews various experts on China. To be honest, even though I read the BBC and the Guardian, I did not recognise the name of Carrie Gracie as being that of the editor who precipitated the BBC’s gender pay gap scandal as I hadn’t followed that closely.
Actually most of the interview is about her work in China. She talks about how it was more open and permissive of foreign investigative journalists in the earlier part of the 21st century, and her work on “White Horse Village” chronicling the reactions of ordinary people and peasants to the rapid development upending their lives. Even though those were boom years for China, it was apparently not a good time for many of the common people.
She also discusses with great relish some of her coverage of corrupt officials and their families, in particular Bo Xilai‘s tenure as the ruler of Chongqing and his wife Gu Kailai’s murder of her business parter Neil Heywood. One part that struck me was where she said that a lot of these high-ranking Chinese officials are dead inside and seem like they have no feelings about anything, to the point where one almost feels sorry for them if not for the appalling crimes they’ve committed. It reminded me of a commentary I saw about Russia a few months ago where one of the people mentioned said that Russia has become a country where love doesn’t exist. That article recommended this movie that’s literally titled “Loveless”, which is on my watch list.
She has this incredible way of speaking that conveys both her passion and pride in her work as well as the toughness and professionalism she has to have had in order to do it. She has the double punch of a lively and expressive voice, paired with the word choices of a really good thriller novel. It’s the voice of an absolute master of storytelling in the English language. If I had been in the live audience I’m sure I would have been on the edge of my seat.
It’s only in the last quarter or so of the interview that they steer it to the BBC gender pay gap scandal. I don’t think I’ve been in any situations where I experienced a significant gender pay gap (but would I have known?) but I have been in abusive workplaces under male bosses twice in my career, and what she says about the stonewalling, gaslighting, and intimidation sounds very familiar. It’s incredibly heartening to know that other people have reached within themselves and found the courage to stand up to the juggernauts of totalitarian government and patriarchal institutions – and won.
“I knew that I would be trashing my entire career, in my own heart, if I did not fight that fight at that moment. ‘Because [she was at a relatively secure position in life] if not now, then when? I kept on asking myself. ‘If not you, then who? Who is gonna fight this fight?’ It was a terrifying fight, but it had to be fought.”
If you listen to one thing this week, listen to this woman.