Liu Jianqiang is an environmental journalist whose bilingual activism and investigation brings debate about Chinese issues to the Anglophone world. Deutsche Welle asked him about the challenges of his work.
China's air pollution is some of the worst in the world.
The line between environmental journalism and activism can be a very thin one. Which side of the line would you say you fall on? Are you an activist or a journalist?
I was a journalist, but I'm not sure I will be in the future. In China, if you are only a journalist, maybe you can do something, maybe you can make a difference. But I believe I can do more as an activist.
What are some of the major issues that you come across as an environmental journalist or as an activist? What are some of the big problems facing China today in environmental terms?
Water pollution and the dams I think may be the number one problem. And the second one may be the safety of food and the air pollution. In Europe people think that climate change will be the number one problem, but for China we have a lot of issues to deal with.
When you say air pollution… how bad is the problem?
Right now, if you go to Beijing, you will feel very bad. In the past three years I spent a lot of time in San Francisco with my family, but when we went back to Beijing... you can feel the difference. It's very bad.
What kind of pressures do you face as an environmental journalist as opposed to other kinds of journalism?
I don't think there is a very big difference between environmental journalists and other kinds of journalists. But in China it's very difficult to talk about politics. It's a little bit easier to talk about environmental issues. As an environmental journalist I face a lot of problems. Sometimes I feel bad… I can't change anything, because we have a lot of environmental problems in China. That's the big pressure.
What about other forms of pressure? For instance do you find yourself up against the censors when you're writing articles about sensitive topics?
I think that my editor faces a lot of pressure. When I wrote an article about a hydropower company he told me, 'don't do that.' But I insisted on doing the story. When I was featured in Wall Street Journal later, I was fired by my boss because I did a lot of investigative reporting.
What does it mean for the people of China if the journalists are up against pressure from government and industry? What does that mean for the average Chinese person?
I don't think that the common people know the pressure. But I think the most important thing for Chinese people is information. And I do think that the Chinese people get help from the media. If they know the truth they can do something.
You work for China Dialog which publishes in Chinese and in English. How much of an extra edge does that give you?
China Dialog has offices in London, San Francisco and Beijing and is very unique because most Chinese only read in Chinese. We aim for people from outside and inside China to talk about environmental issues. But I think we need more good articles. We need more courage about environmental issues.
Liu Jianqiang is an environmental activist and investigative journalist working for www.chinadialogue.net, a Chinese-English news outlet. He has written about the dam at the Tiger Leaping Gorge on the Yangtze River and the reconstruction of the Kunming Lake in Beijing. Jianqiang participated in Deutsche Welle's Global Media Forum from June 21 to 23, 2010.
Interview: Sophie Tarr
Editor: Gehrhard Schneibel