Beijing: At just 31 years old, Rui Chenggang has emerged as the media face of Chinese capitalism: young, smart and, to the dismay of some, deeply nationalistic.
His nightly financial news programme attracts 13 million viewers on China Central Television, the nation’s biggest state-run network, where Rui puts tough questions to Wall Street chiefs and Chinese economists while also delivering a dose of optimism about China’s outlook.
He also writes a popular blog (Blog.sina.com.cn/ruichenggang) infused with patriotic rhetoric. And he recently published a book, Life Begins at 30, in which he reflects on China’s economic miracle and what he sees as the difficult path ahead.
In a foreword to the book, the president of Yale, Richard C. Levin, calls Rui “an energetic young standard-bearer of the New China”. Some critics are less generous, calling him a tireless self-promoter and a propaganda tool of the Communist Party.
Confident: China Central Television anchor Rui Chenggang. Gilles Sabrie / NYT
But Rui (pronounced Ray), who drives a Jaguar to work and wears Zegna suits, says his goals reach beyond media stardom.
He wants to use his celebrity to build bridges with the West and help change world opinion about China, which he says suffers because of biased foreign media coverage and the country’s poor training in communication.
“China has a really bad image problem,” Rui says after a broadcast one evening, while relaxing at the Ritz-Carlton hotel. “I’m gathering a group of people, and we hope to do something about that.”
Supporters say Rui’s growing influence among young people is a reflection of China’s development in the 20 years since the government cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square here. But his efforts fit the government’s goal of using state-controlled media to improve the nation’s image abroad.
Beijing is pushing its big media properties, all of which are heavily censored and operate under the government’s propaganda department, to expand overseas operations. Under one proposal, China may even create a 24-hour English language news channel to compete with CNN and BBC, and deliver a more positive view of China’s rise. Rui would appear to be the very model for such national image building.
In late January, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, China’s dashing young journalist lined up interviews with some of the biggest names at the event: Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, Craig R. Barrett of Intel Corp. and Stephen A. Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group Lp. He trades email messages with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and three times a year, he meets “Henry”, as in Henry Kissinger, he says.
He also says he has vacationed with Chinese policy advisers and moderated programmes for China’s top leaders, including President Hu Jintao. His tone on the air is serious and scripted. Off the air, he sounds like an investment banker who is running for office.
“In China, we have neither a financial crisis nor an economic crisis,” he says. “China is going through a serious slowdown. The world is going through a synchronized recession. As a journalist we shouldn’t exaggerate.”
Not everyone likes his personal campaigns.
“As a TV host, I think, he’s not bad,” says Zhan Jiang, a journalism professor at the China Youth University of Political Science in Beijing. “But off the show he’s a bit disgusting. If you protest Starbucks in the Imperial Palace, why don’t you protest speaking English to your Chinese buddy in China? It’s ultranationalism, and too narrow-minded.”
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES