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Jian Guangzhou: The nature of a journalist


Updated: 2010-11-09 16:14:00

Jian Guangzhou: The nature of a journalist

An undated file photo of Jian Guangzhou. [] 

Originally published in early 2009

"As reporters, we have to consider how the news will influence society."

- Jian Guangzhou

Editor's Note: In 2008 it seemed in China that one news story followed another. It was a career year for Jian Guangzhou, a journalist at the Shanghai-based Oriental Morning Post, because he had witnessed and reported many stories. But it was one extraordinary incident that year that made him more widely known.

His article, 14 Babies in Gansu Sickened with Kidney Stones after Drinking Sanlu Infant Formula, the first article in China to name the company of the contaminated formula, appeared in the Oriental Morning Post on Sept 11, 2008. He never imagined it would cause an "earthquake" that shook up the baby formula industry and generated a nationwide storm of quality accountability. Jian, 35, sporting a pair of glasses and a scholarly manner, had drawn public attention to food industry quality control through his work as a journalist, which improved the whole food industry in many ways and earned the nation's praise and his peers' admiration.

If we trace the reason why Jian became the first journalist to name Sanlu in the scandal, the answer is that he is a passionate and kindhearted journalist with an analytical mind. Those who knew him well were not surprised when he reported the scandal.

The first to reveal Sanlu

When Jian Guangzhou first heard the news that there were 14 infants being treated for kidney stones, his professional antenna warned him that this might be a case of food industry negligence. Although there had been previous reports of infants with kidney stones in both Hubei and Gansu provinces, when these reports referred to the company that made the formula, they just vaguely referred to it as "a company." Although readers had repeatedly asked the media to release the brand name of the formula that was sickening the babies, there was no media outlet willing to do so. The vague responses from the media prompted him to decide to follow up on the infants.

Jian paused when he found evidence linking the infants with Sanlu baby formula. Would he reveal the name of the maker? Sanlu was a well-known company with an estimated brand value of over 15 billion yuan. When he contacted the Sanlu Group, representatives said there were no problems with the quality of the Sanlu baby formula. But after traveling to Lanzhou, Gansu province, he saw that many parents were in tears after taking their sick infants to the hospitals. Jian was determined to reveal Sanlu by name in his report. He became the first journalist to link Sanlu to the scandal, and his report turned into a series of formula incident reports.

When the formula scandal came under the scrutiny of the Chinese community, baby formula manufacturers, the food industry and the public demanded quality accountability. "When I reported news, I don't care about my own safety. As reporters, we have to consider how the news will influence society," Jian said.

Jian Guangzhou: The nature of a journalist

About 17,000 boxes of Sanlu liquid milk, worth a total of 500,000 yuan are destroyed under supervision of local business regulators and ex-employees of Sanlu Group in Zaozhuang, Shandong province, March 5, 2009. [cnsphoto] 

Moved to write

A journalist needs passion, and Jian Guangzhou has always had it. "I am a very sensitive person," he said.

Jian often cries when he writes articles, he said. In November 2006, he interviewed volunteer teachers who taught at Cizhong Elementary School in Deqin county, Yunnan province. When he saw that the students ate plain rice without any vegetables every day, his tears came unbidden. As he parted from the students, his eyes were red and he cried during the entire return trip, he said. After his after articles were published, an anonymous older man called him to donate 100,000 yuan to education. Three more elementary schools were built with the money. When he returned to Shanghai, Jian and his friends established a fund called Loving Home that provided scholarships and helped impoverished students with their elementary, secondary and higher education.

In 2008 when the May 12 Wenchuan earthquake struck, Jian reached Sichuan by riding a rescue transport from Chengdu to Wenchuan county through Maerkang, an 800-kilometer road. At night, they had to sleep either in the vehicle or alongside the road. After four days and three nights, they arrived in Lixian county. The tears betraying his anguish never stopped. The drivers who had volunteered to help the victims told him: "We would be lying if we said we were not afraid of dangers. The truth is that we want to save people's lives."

Several years ago, Jian went to Tianjin to interview Bai Lifang, a 90-year-old man who raised donation money for education by riding a tricycle. He had been riding for 20 years and donated every cent raised toward the education of impoverished students. As he wrote this story, he wrote it with tears, he said.

Hurrying to his destination

A writer of detailed reports, Jian always hurries to his next destination.

In 2005 on the 60th anniversary of the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, during the grand ceremony held in Red Square, he planned a series of articles titled Forever Veteran. He wrote this series as he followed the sole survivor from a regiment of 800 soldiers that guarded the Shanghai Sihang Warehouse. He followed the veteran as he traveled from Chongqing back to Shanghai and recorded the complete trip as the veteran realized his dream of revisiting the battlefield and reliving his memories of the deadly battle. This series raised people's respect for history and for veterans.

In 2006, Jian organized a group of volunteer teachers called Childhood in the Tibetan Plateau from among staff members at the Oriental Morning Post to go to Tibet to help with teaching. On the way back to Lhasa from Xigaze via Yangbajain, there was an accident on the bus. The bus driver went to look for help. He and his colleagues had to wait through the dark night with no cell phone reception. At night the desolated valley was preternaturally still, and the temperature dropped to nearly 0℃. They had nothing to eat for more than 10 hours. At midnight, a knock on the bus door scared everyone. As the only man aboard the bus, Jian remembers he was ready to sacrifice his life to save others. But the danger was imagined. The driver had returned, unable to find help. They had to endure a rocky ride on the three-legged bus, until they finally came to an area with cell phone reception. When they finally found a hotel, it was already 6 am.

The formula scandal was still big news in China, and Jian was already on his way to Siziwang Banner, Inner Mongolia, to follow the story of the return to earth of the Shenzhou VII spaceship. He and his colleagues were embedded for two days in the cornfields of the Mongolian steppes and had only one meal a day. Their skin began peeling. But they became the first ones to witness the Shenzhou VII landing. In that moment, Jian said he and his colleagues felt genuine bliss.

Even today, Jian Guangzhou still remembers the simple words of his parents: "Even if you become an official or a billionaire one day, you must still be kind-hearted and considerate." Jian has kept his parents' advice.

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