The wind beneath my wings

By RAVI SHANKAR (chinadaily.com.cn)

Updated: 2013-09-29

In a nice way, the shoe was on the other foot.

As journalists, we are the ones asking the questions, seeking the answers, looking for that exclusive photo or interview.

So when some of the media spotlight, albeit briefly, turned on me for winning this year’s China Friendship Award — the highest prize for foreign experts who have made outstanding contributions to China’s economic and social progress — I felt some initial discomfiture.

The wind beneath my wings

Ravi Shankar 

Video: Ravi Shankar talks about his 11-year media experiences in China.  

But that soon disappeared when I realized that this was my own little Oscar moment.

How do you feel about the award, was the first question in an online interview even before I had received it.

The right noises: Thrilled, of course. An honor and a privilege to be counted as one among many greats. But I didn’t wail in joy; nor did I thank everyone from my kindergarten teacher to my golf coach. (Cleverly, of course, I acknowledged my bosses in full sincerity.)

Of course, I was thrilled. But the simple truth is this award was for no eureka moment or for apples falling on the head.

The story wasn’t me. It was China Daily. And the recognition of the global operations spawned by a newspaper from humble — though pathbreaking — times in 1981.

A little historical perspective: Very few newspapers around the world are feted at their birth like China Daily was. Almost every major global news agency and newspaper (in many languages) reported on its birth like they would today about a panda birth in Edinburgh Zoo (and yes, there was a panda story on the front page of the first edition even though it was about a lack of procreation).

In those days, China Daily was China for the typical foreigner who did not speak the language. It was their only window into an unfathomable and unfamiliar world emerging from isolation.

Of course, as China opened up, there were many more avenues of information but China Daily continues to lead the pack. It no longer was a newspaper for foreigners in China who could not read Chinese.

We took it to the rest of the world. In just the past few years, we have launched dedicated editions in the US, Europe, ASEAN and the wider Asia-Pacific, as well as Africa. And our multimedia platforms are your first “hits” on search engines.

The response has been more than gratifying because there is such a thirst for China knowledge around the world. Readers are not interested in coverage only through a narrow prism of set agendas.

They want to know the Real China. The China Story. And the Chinese Dream. People I meet in Europe, the US or Asia want to know how in the Kingdom of Bicycles the car is the King of the Road. They want to know about those incredibly fast trains. They want to know about migrant workers and how they will fit into the new urbanization plans. They want to know about social trends and social media. They want to know of marriages and divorces; and, indeed, if concubines have made a comeback!

This is exactly what we are trying to answer.

To come back to why (I think) I won the award: Yes, I have been closely involved in conceptualizing, coordinating and executing many of the major projects we have undertaken in the past decade. They include the continual expansion and revamps of the paper; special editions like The Olympian for the 2008 Beijing Games; for the 60th anniversary of the founding of New China; and the launch of several overseas editions.

Longevity helps. I am the longest-serving expat on the paper and so have a “historical perspective”. The good thing is that there are many who are thinking long-term and they bring a wide array of talent.

In the euphoria of the moment, I give myself a pat on the back. But the truth is I’ve been carried on the back of a great China Daily team, increasingly being made of expats like me.

Here I feel it is incumbent on me to mention Zhu Ling, our publisher and editor-in-chief. During our first encounter in China Daily Hong Kong Edition more than 11 years ago, I got a thinly disguised verbal lashing for not correcting “Chinglish” on my first night at work. I didn’t know what Chinglish was, having just come from Singapore’s “Singlish” which I was comfortable with. He has been more than kind since. I greatly appreciate the opportunities he has given me, and I hope I have learned.

The writer is executive editor of China Daily’s overseas editions.

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