Xinhua is the state-run news agency, and it supplies most of the national print and TV media. All content is Party-controlled and censored, though there is a limited openness about social issues and natural disasters as long as the government is portrayed as successfully combating the problem. Stories about corrupt local officials, armed confrontations between developers and peasants being forced off their land, or the appalling conditions of coal-mine workers, do occasionally get through the net, though both journalists and editors take a risk reporting such things: several doing so have been jailed for “revealing state secrets”, or even beaten to death by the thugs they were trying to expose.

Newspapers and magazines

The national Chinese-language newspaper is the People’s Daily (with an online English edition at english.peopledaily.com.cn), though all provincial capitals and many major cities produce their own dailies with a local slant. The only national English-language newspaper is the China Daily (chinadaily.com.cn), which is scarce outside big cities. Hong Kong’s English-language media includes the locally produced newspapers the South China Morning Post and the Standard, published alongside regional editions of Time, Newsweek, the Asian Wall Street Journal and USA Today. These have so far remained openly critical of Beijing on occasion, despite the former colony’s changeover to Chinese control.

Most big cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Kunming, Chengdu and Chongqing, have free English-language magazines aimed at expats containing listings of local venues and events, plus classifieds and feature articles; they’re monitored by the authorities, though this doesn’t stop them sailing quite close to the wind at times.

Television and radio

Chinese television comprises a dozen or so channels run by the state television company, CCTV, plus a host of regional stations; not all channels are available across the country. Most of the content comprises news, flirty game shows, travel and wildlife documentaries, soaps and historical dramas, and bizarre song-and-dance extravaganzas featuring performers in fetishistic, tight-fitting military outfits entertaining party officials with rigor-mortis faces. Tune in to CCTV 1 for news; CCTV 5 is dedicated to sport; CCTV 6 shows films (with at least one war feature a day, in which the Japanese will be mightily beaten); CCTV News broadcasts an English-language mix of news, documentaries and travel shows; and CCTV 11 concentrates on Chinese opera. The regional stations are sometimes more adventurous, with a current trend for frank dating games, which draw much criticism from conservative-minded government factions for the rampant materialism displayed by the contestants.

On the radio you’re likely to hear the latest soft ballads, or versions of Western pop songs sung in Chinese. For news from home, you’ll need to bring a shortwave radio with you, or listen via the websites of the BBC World Service (bbc.co.uk/worldservice), Radio Canada (rcinet.ca), the Voice of America (voa.gov) and Radio Australia (abc.net.au/ra).

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