People: Lolita Hu


Novelist, essayist, editor of Playboy, frequent traveller to India: Lolita Hu life does not match with what you imagine when you first hear her English name.

A native of Taipei and graduate of National Taiwan University (NTU), Hu has spent most of her working life in media in Greater China. After graduating from NTU, she did a masters in drama and theater at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Returning to Taiwan, she did a stint at a TV production company before joining Esquire Taiwan as deputy managing editor.

Not long afterwards, she was approached by Playboy magazine to help launch their Taiwan edition. Despite the nudge-nudge-wink-wink jokes that such a job encourages, Hu says that working on men's magazines is a much more varied and interesting experience than working on women's titles: whereas women's magazines are all about products, most magazine's pay a lot more attention to the quality of the articles. This is especially so in the case of Playboy which has a history of publishing long feature stories written by well known, respected writers from Hemingway to P.J. O Rourke. Playboy, says Hu, is a "magazine with an attitude". Even if she does not identify with that attitude, it makes the editorial experience much more rewarding than putting together a bland consumer magazine can be. Moreover, Playboy gave Hu the chance to see how a globally networked publishing organization worked. She met editors from 22 different countries, and had the chance to shape the new Taiwan edition from scratch.


Aside from the professional challenge, being the editor of Playboy threw her into a controversial, politically incorrect position in society, completely at odds with her student identity as a feminist at the "right school". Her English name, which she started using when she worked for Esquire, had already given her a taste of controversy, and a mechanism for dealing with it: "If you have a perverted smile on your face when you hear my name, well, then that's your problem."

Hu spent a total of three years with Playboy, with a break in the middle to launch TVBS Weekly, a news weekly by a Taiwanese TV network and help launching a financial monthly called Smart by PC Home Group.

After that Hu took three years off from the madding media industry to write. During this time, she completed three books: Traveller (luren), a meditation on travel, consumerism and globalization, She (ta), a collection of short stories portraying Asian women, and Machine Age (jixie shidai, pictured left, a collaboration with Romanian artist Mircea Bochis that is an exploration of the solitude of contemporary life. Hu's fourth book, published in 2002, is The Sentimentalist (lanqingzhe), a book of prose on popular culture and society.

She has recently returned to stresses of the media business. She worked for Morningside, first as senior media consultant to their Mainland media investments, and later as head of their lifestyle print media group, supervising over Star Times, Vision 21 and launching a brand new woman title called Mei Mei. This group went on to launch China National Geographic, Forbes and Harvard Business Review. She left Morningside to join the South China Morning Post's magazine group, where she is now the publishing director responsible for PRC market, exploring magazine opportunities in China's slowly opening market for glossy magazines.

She ends our interview with an apt soundbite for someone who is a serious writer involved in the anarchic world of Chinese media: "Whatever looks intellectual may not be; what seems frivolous and phony may in fact be profound."

- Jeremy Goldkorn

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