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Launch issue of Chinese National Geography English edition

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Chinese National Geography (中国国家地理), Chinese edition, was started in 1949 and has been regarded as China's response to the American National Geographic, with the font and the theme matching the American magazine.

But there is a Chinese edition of National Geographic, the Huaxia Dili or Huaxia Geography (华夏地理), and Chinese National Geography is a separate entity.

In May Chinese National Geography launched their English edition under Hong Kong's M Media Group, and under international publisher Melvyn Goh, who also publishes Harvard Law Review and Forbes in China.

Yungshih Lee is editor-in-chief, who had previously been involved with Chinese versions of National Geographic for more than a decade.

Chinese National Geography international has become a brand, they have a website that uploads pages of the launch issue magazine, as well as an active Facebook page.

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Shaolin monk at the Shaolin Temple; the launch issue of CNG concentrates on Henan province

The English edition of Chinese National Geography or CNG is colorful and glossy, with double-page spreads of photographs - the current issue from Henan. In Henan reporters (a lot of the material is translated from its Chinese sister) covered the origin of language and oracle bones, Shaolin Temple, the Longmen Grottoes, agriculture in the region, migration into the cities, and history (etc) - looking into emperiors like Fu Xi and their relationship to mythical creatures such as Nv Wa.

The mission statement of the magazine is to "bring China to the world" targeting Chinese who are living abroad as well as an international audience. What seems different about the Chinese newspapers aiming to reach out to an international audience is that this one has co-publishers based in Hong Kong, and two and is a geographic magazine aimed at exploration, expeditions and history.

Below Danwei interviews both Yungshih Lee and Melvyn Goh about Chinese National Geography (international):


Danwei: What do you hope to achieve with the launch of CNG?
Yungshih Lee: The mission of the magazine is “bringing China to the world” and that is exactly what we hope to achieve with the launch of this magazine. It is really amazing how China, a country with such long history, large population and landmass, and diversified cultural and natural resources, is being understood so little by the rest of the world. I hope our magazine would fill this gap by providing authentic and authoritative stories on China.

Danwei: As editor-in-chief of Chinese National Geography (international), what makes you feel qualified?
YL: I have been working for geographic magazines in almost my entire career life of more than 17 years so far. I have been the Editor-in-Chief of three geographic magazines and launched (or re-launched) two of them.

The magazines that I was editor of include The Earth Magazine, a geographic magazine in Chinese published in Taiwan, and two international editions of National Geographic (in Taiwan and China), which are all known for being top quality publications in their markets. Those experiences prepared me for my current role as the Editorial Director of Chinese National Geography (henceforth refered to as CNG) magazine.

Danwei: What is the extent of your experience with the Chinese edition of National Geographic, how long were you there, and were you happy with that experience, why?
YL: I had been working with National Geographic since 1999. At that time I was negotiating the licensing of a Taiwanese edition. I started work on the new magazine as Editor in Chief since 2000 and launched it in 2001. After I left the Taiwanese company, I was recommended by National Geographic Society to become the Editor of Huaxia Dili, which would gradually become the Mainland Chinese Edition of National Geographic. So I moved to Beijing for the job and worked from 2004-2008.

Working with National Geographic was truly wonderful. Not only did I learn from the people working there, I also made friends from many different parts of the world (the magazine now has 30 editions and most of the editors meet once a year in Washington DC). I still keep in contact with many of them including the executives of the Society, the editorial staff and photographers of NGM US, as well as editors from different countries.

Danwei: What are some of the planned features for CNG (international): could you give a couple of examples?
YL: I would like to share with you our next issue. It will showcase the geographical extremes of China. We will show our readers some of the most remote and extraordinary places of the vast country that many of its own citizens would be surprised to learn about. It will be an exciting issue.

Danwei: Do you think that Chinese readers will also be able to gauge with CNG (international), as well as those Chinese readers who have returned from abroad?
YL: I am sure we will have Chinese readers (with an understanding of the English language) who will appreciate the value of CNG. As for those who departed from and now returned to China, we believe they will appreciate an English Geography magazine more. Our magazine aims at a global audience and provides a platform for our readers whatever their background, wherever they are from, to interact. I certainly believe that CNG will captivate and engage our readers.

Danwei: The launch issue's focus is on Henan. Can you tell me a little bit about why you made that decision to focus it on Henan, and how you feel about the province?
YL: Henan is really where the Han culture of China began. I think it’s a great starting point for anyone who wants to understand China. There are many stories to report on Henan, ones with a great cultural significance and even the natural history is exciting. Yet Henan is often neglected by many who visit China.

So the Henan issue is really a perfect example of what the magazine is about. We tell the stories of China that should be told but are missed in the Western media. These kind of stories could only come from a source with a deep understanding of the Chinese history, culture, and natural environment. This is what makes CNG unique.


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Thousands at the Longman Grottoes

Danwei: What was behind the decision of taking Chinese National Geography under your wing?
Melvyn Goh: There are 9,680 magazines in China and among all those magazines Chinese National Geography has the greatest potential to go global. If you look at the target audiences and based on the feedback which we have received from our readers (Chinese born abroad, mainland Chinese who emigrated overseas, and foreigners living in China and have an interest in China), we are confident that we are filling a market need that has been unserved. There needs to be a better understanding of China.

Danwei: Given that Chinese National Geography (Chinese edition) started in 1949 and was under the government, have you ever been afraid of being a sort-of government mouthpiece?
MG: The Chinese National Geography (Chinese edition) intentionally houses its editorial and sales teams in separate buildings for the sake of preserving editorial integrity.

I have been in international media for more than 20 years and I am very impressed with the Publisher of CNG (Li Shuangke) because he understands the issue of editorial independence. I am not surprised that the circulation of CNG has surpassed 1 million copies at its peak. It was 20,000 copies ten years ago when he took over. We believe that CNG readers are smart and will not part with their money if they felt the brand was a government mouthpiece.

Similarly, we would not be able to sign a pure commercial agreement with CNG that gives us the right to articulate the contents as we see fit if the brand was under any influence by the government. We do believe in the CNG brand and the mission of "bringing China to the world". When we articulate our belief, we are speaking for ourselves.

Danwei: What do you envision for the English edition of Chinese National Geography?
MG: That one day, Chinese National Geography will be the preferred magazine that readers sought to gather reliable and authoritative information on China. That Chinese National Geography (international) can help to bridge the gap between China and the world thus bringing “Zhongguo to the world“.

Danwei: Are you supported by adverts or other channels of funding?
MG: CNG is a magazine brand not a magazine. We have established a number of revenue channels to build the business. Advertising is one channel but not the only.

Danwei: How successful do you think it will be based on your experience, and who is your target audience?
MG: Nobody can be too sure about the future especially with the economy at this time. However, I can say that I feel good about it. The entire team is confident with the strategy. Our target audiences are three groups: - (a) Overseas-born Chinese returning to China or reconnecting with China; (b) Adopted children who wish to rediscover their roots or mainland children emigrated at an early age and (c) foreigners living in or outside China who has an interest in China.

Danwei: Has it any similarity to the popular US magazine National Geographic? Is it a knock-off version?
MG: We complement. National Geography's mission is to preserve the planet and covers world geography while CNG's mission is bringing China to the world. It is China-centric.

Danwei: Can you tell me a little bit more about Chinese publishing market trends – past, now, for 2009 and the future?
MG: It has certainly matured. A number of successful Chinese brands have moved out of China i.e. gone international and I believe more will follow the trend. There will be de-regulation and also changes in government policies to regulate the industry. Watch e-reader!

There are currently 31 Comments for Launch issue of Chinese National Geography English edition.

Comments on Launch issue of Chinese National Geography English edition

fantastic!

"It is really amazing how China, ... is being understood so little by the rest of the world."

For Christ's sake, please change the record. If you want to present images and articles of China's breathtaking landscapes and monuments, fine. But don't make it about 'understanding China - you'll just end up like People's Daily in pictorial form.

"That one day, Chinese National Geography will be the preferred magazine that readers sought to gather reliable and authoritative information on China."

Then at all costs avoid the temptation to do something like this with you picture captions:

The Potala Palace, former headquarters of the splittist Dalai clique whose terrorist activities continue to this day, stands in magnificent splendour against the mountainous backdrop.

The moment you do that, it's game over as far as CNG's mission statement is concerned. From the interview I wouldn't be so sure that this isn't exactly where the magazine is heading.

stuart, I don't think it's productive to insult every magazine that appears under a government wing, and has the aim for its readers to "understand China". If you read the whole interview, you'll see that the target audience are Chinese who have moved abroad and have children who are thinking of coming back to China. People in this category and similar do feel the need to understand more about China. There is no need to categorize and label the magazine just because of a marketing slogan.

Be cool bud, think of the phrase as a publication license.

@ Alice Xin Liu

First, there was no insult, and to say so misrepresents my comment. On the basis of the interview there is a legitimate concern about this magazine's agenda. And you yourself say that it's 'under a government wing'. So what do you expect?

"and has the aim for its readers to "understand China"."

Look again at Y Lee's answer to the first question and you'll see the unmistakable essence of 'foreigners don't understand China'.

"the target audience are Chinese who have moved abroad and have children who are thinking of coming back to China."

Again, that's not the whole picture. Read again.

"There is no need to categorize and label the magazine just because of a marketing slogan."

I haven't done any such thing. The magazine's content will do for its categorization. My suggestion is that that content should champion China's amazing geographic diversity in a completely apolitical manner. Can Y.lee give us such an assurance?

@stuart

oh my man, you frequently go nuts, hard-shell nuts, I don't even think anyone GAF about that phrase, I mean, ponder it for a sec, what would 10 unsuspecting Joes think when they reads it, 5 don't have the faintest idea who the he11 dalai is, 3 know him but don't typically care, the other 2, laugh it off and continue to the witting part of the magazine.

see the pattern? here in china, no one, again, GAF about dalai, we are too busy with daily live.

you need to take a break after blogging for a day or two, go outside or something.

Dear Stuart: I suggest you try to think of CNG as a Chinese Playboy magazine. Most foreigners are going to buy it simply for the magnificent photos and not bother reading much into the accompanying English text. Regarding your misunderstanding of what the editor meant by the word "understood", I would emphasize the fact that most foreigners are indeed unaware of China's diversified cultural and natural resources. The photos of Qinghai, Yunnan, and Jilin will certainly help bring a better understanding to those who have never heard of such places (or anywhere else off the standard group tour route of Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai, and Guilin).

Indeed I bought my first 中国国家地理 (CHINESE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHY) in January 2002 mainly because it included a free map of Xinjiang province. (June and October 2002 issues included maps of Shanxi and Yunnan.)
I have actually read the Chinese and English text of both versions of this magazine and can assure skeptic Stuart that there is no political agenda for either domestic or international readership. Enjoy!

@ Peteryang

"here in china, no one, again, GAF about dalai"

Best laugh of the day, that one. Thanks.

And you missed the broader point with my tongue-in-cheek picture caption, but then it's unlikely that you can see that.

did Danwei join CNG on the junket to Lolan? a good way to launch the new mag.

"I would emphasize the fact that most foreigners are indeed unaware of China's diversified cultural and natural resources."

The vast majority of Chinese, too, I would suggest.

"I have actually read the Chinese and English text of both versions of this magazine and can assure skeptic Stuart that there is no political agenda"

Well, good then. But that was 2002 and this is a new undertaking. Right?

@stuart - dude. if this abstract quest for editorial "purity" is really your concern, then you mustn't forget to include the fact that his holiness receives money from the CIA, because, you know, that agency is known for its humanitarian effort, and you'd be surprised at what it costs to upkeep the ascetic buddhist lifestyle (cars, homes, publicists, retinues... it all adds up)

all you're demonstrating is ignorance, not unlike the "vast majority of chinese" you're "suggestively" insulting. someone, somewhere profits from instability (i'll give you three guesses), and seeing as wars are costly and unpopular, it's much easier to wage proxy war in the media - or did you have a better theory as to why his holiness summers in hollywood?

that said, there's nothing, at least in the few pages posted, that points to this being an overt political play. there are other good motives to launch a magazine capitalizing on the china mythos. profit comes to mind.

give a man a fish and you'll feed him for a day. but if you turn him into an international celebrity... that's several lifetimes of feeding right there.

I was given a copy of CNG's pre-launch issue (October-December 2008) and read each interesting article. Topics included Xinjiang's lakes, Qaidam Basin oil, the food of China's Northwest, Mongol history and the Yangtze dolphin.
Here's a quote from the most interesting article, which addresses the question involving DNA analysis of China's ethnicities: "The Han's gene pool may also include ethnic groups such as the Hui, Manchu, Mongol, and Xianbei. This theory may be emotionally difficult fot the Chinese to accept, but it could possibly be the right answer." (Xie Xiaodong, genetics expert, Lanzhou University)

"not unlike the "vast majority of chinese" you're "suggestively" insulting."

If only I had a kuai for every time I'd heard that deliberate misinterpretation of something I've written. A weak tactic, not at all worthy.

Tell me, what percentage of Chinese citizens would you say possess an 'understanding' of greater China from a geographical and anthropological perspective? According to the interview they're part of the mag's target audience too.

As for your Dalai conspiracy diatribe, best saved for another place. Or the trashcan.

"The Han's gene pool may also include ethnic groups such as the Hui, Manchu, Mongol, and Xianbei. This theory may be emotionally difficult for the Chinese to accept, but it could possibly be the right answer."

What's with the "may also include...?"

Is Xie Xiaodong an "expert" in genetics? The peoples of China have been, uh, interacting for thousands of years. That the Han gene pool would contain "non-Han" elements is a no-brainer.

And who are "the Chinese" to whom Xie refers, who might find this obvious fact "emotionally hard to accept"? Perhaps he means people who believe Chinese=Han.

Is this the kind of coverage we can expect from CNG?


Good spot, Bruce.

Looks like you've uncovered a plot to launch a Han supremacist journal.

CNG's Editor-in-Chief, Mr. Shan Zhi-Qiang, pens an editorial in practically every issue by way of a "preface", as well as many of the cover articles. Judging from his writings, Mr. Shan has a taste for over-generalization when it comes to distinctive cultures, a school-girlish romanticism when it comes to history, and jingoism when it comes to China's heritage and "place in the world". In articulating his sometimes colorful but always predictable ideas, he doesn't exhibit a logical mind, which may have come from a lack of intellectual seriousness and basic scientific training.

Those of you who read Chinese well can read a few CNGs and see if you agree with my view of Mr. Shan's writings and what pass for his thoughts. For the rest, I can translate a few snippets of his wisdom later on.

As a "window into China", CNG is perhaps too much tinted with provincial narrow-mindedness and bias to offer a good view for cusrious outsiders.

Can't wait to see articles fawning about the "beauty of Hangzhou girls...famous at home and abroad..." or "the Cantonese, though uncouth and ugly, possess a pragmatic way of going about business..."

I rarely visit these comments anymore because all you folks do is gang up on someone.

What Stuart says makes sense. What some of the others say can and can't be refuted. Bottomline is this. There is an audience and the publisher wants their money. They print what sells.

There is only one definite and it is this...Chinese will NEVER understand foreigners and foreigners will NEVER understand Chinese because we are all just too weird to each other. This is the way it should be. Weirdness makes us all interesting. Stop trying to figure it all out. Stay weird.

Yet my favorite part of CNG's pre-launch issue is page 109, which features photos of 5 Han Chinese celebrity women and speculates on their complex genetic origins according to the shape of their face: Gong Li (oval), Zhang Ziyi (pointed), Ma Yanli (long), Chen Luyu (round), and Li Yuchun (square) each represent a different face of Han women.
I welcome my commenting comrades to have fun with that one!

I will cast my vote with Huaxia-NG (华夏地理),the official partner of National Geographic in China, as a far superior alternative to CNG.

Because of its ties to NG and therefore access to its wonderful gallery of photos, better imageries in print and online are to be expected of HNG. What turns out to be a pleasant surprise, however, is the delightful writing that has little of the silliness elsewhere in Chinese publishing industry.

What it badly needs is a more phono-genic English title.

I have the feeling that CNG has better connections to the government thanks to its shreadnes in toeing the party line, and will use its leverage to eventually route HNG as a "a lackey of decadent Western values".

To Spelunker: the genetic make-up of the "Chinese Race" is indeed very complex and interesting, a consequence of constant border exchanges with and invasions by the Northern and Northwestern nomads, and steady push into Eastern and Southern China and therefore interactions with the Yue, the Malays, and various Tibetan-related ethnic groups such as Yi.
Anecdotal piece: we once met mountain folks in Qin-Ling Ranges of southern Shaanxi Province who have light yellow (no, not brown---YELLOW with a greenish tint) eyes, AND ---snub nose. They claimed to be "pure Han", and they were not wrong, for that's how far "pure Han" can take you.

Japanese, in comparison, is perhaps far more genetically homogeneous than Chinese. This was once held as evidence of their racial superiority to the "Chinese mutts", by conservative Japanese (in late 19th Century and early 20th), and sometimes, ironically, inspires a Chinese backlash in a ridiculous championship of the "Authentic Chinese Race". There is not such a thing, and why would Chinese envy inbred-ness?

Last year, Iacob Koch-Weser contributed an in-depth profile of the English and Chinese-language editions of National Geographic's special issue on China.

To SGT. SLAUGHTER: I see your point, but I think you are confusing empathy with identity. Chinese will NEVER be the same as foreigners and foreigners will NEVER be the same as Chinese. But that impossibility---in your case also a preference---shouldn't, and doesn't, preclude mutual understanding. A mere recognition of "weirdness", as you put it, is fun; but trying to decipher and appreciate that "weirdeness" is far more enjoyable, and that fun is sustainable and goes deeper.

Using a food analogy, that's the difference between knowing what you like and telling why you like it; that is, between a glutton and connoisseur.

1. Lee Yung-Shih, the current Editor-in-Chief at CNG-English, was formerly the Editor-in-Chief of Huaxi-NG (Chinese).

2. One wonders, then, how well Mr. Lee will work with Mr. Shan, Editor-in-Chief at CNG-Chinese.
Here is a blog comment on Mr. Shan's writing style: "He mostly constructs an abstract notion first, then untidily puts together a pile of (irrelevant" evidence that benefits from neither logical nor coherence" ("绝大多数是先立论点,然后再胡乱拼凑一堆逻辑不通漏洞百出的论据上去").
Here is another blog review comparing Mr. Shan's writings to those of Mr. Lee's (in Chinese): link

See what I mean?

"I see your point, but I think you are confusing empathy with identity...is fun; but trying to decipher and appreciate that "weirdeness" is far more enjoyable, and that fun is sustainable and goes deeper.---ORPHEUS"

No! You don't get it. Try all you want to decipher and the only conclusions you draw will be stereotypes and generalizations.


"Using a food analogy, that's the difference between knowing what you like and telling why you like it; that is, between a glutton and connoisseur."---ORPHEUS

Again, WHAT? This doesn't work either. I like Pizza. I like it because it tastes good BUT I don't like all Pizza because it doesn't all taste good. You see that everything is a contradiction.

Point is this: When you think you have it all figured out you realize you don't. Stop trying to figure it out.

I can't even understand the mindset of my own fellow Americans most of the time and why Obama is our president let alone trying to figure out another nation's people.

We are all different and all one in the same.

^ Before long some non-American passerby will quote the above post as evidence of the Great American Anti-Intellectualism.

SGT. SLAUGHTER: "I rarely visit these comments anymore because all you folks do is gang up on someone."

You can't call yourself SGT. SLAUGHTER and whine like a little girl. It's confusing.

"You can't call yourself SGT. SLAUGHTER and whine like a little girl. It's confusing."---STINKY

Bring it pal.

Please nobody bring it.

Danwei: Has it any similarity to the popular US magazine National Geographic? Is it a knock-off version?
MG: We complement. National Geography's mission is to preserve the planet and covers world geography while CNG's mission is bringing China to the world. It is China-centric.

DANWEI SHOULD HAVE PRESSED HIM ON HIS MAGAZINE'S ENGLISH TITLE AND ITS LOGO - MOST CERTAINLY A "KNOCK-OFF". AND HE WONDERS WHY THE REST OF THE WORLD KNOWS SO LITTLE ABOUT CHINA....


HELLOOOOOO OVER THERE....and Nihao:

I wrote / e-mailed a few weeks ago to order the magazine and was
told to to 'wait' until you folks sorted out the pricing,coming from
over here.
I'M STILL WAITING....where and how are you?Still there?Still putting out
that fabulous CNG?May we here please have one also - if it isn't too
much trouble?Sorry,we can't quite come to Beijing to buy one there,
so you have to mail it - AFTER I pay for it,huh? Shie-shie,C.McLuckide

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