Meihua Zhou remembers the story well: On Oct. 28, 2005, federal authorities in Los Angeles arrested two Chinese couples in an alleged conspiracy to steal U.S. military secrets. It was a month after Zhou assumed her position as the World Page editor at The Epoch Times, an international newspaper founded in 2000 to meet the growing need for uncensored coverage about China.
The coverage of the arrests by mainstream U.S. media was spotty, at best. It took nearly a week before a first story appeared in the Los Angeles Times. A collection of mostly medium-sized articles that simply recounted the basic details of the case followed elsewhere.
Zhou’s story went deeper. She dug up numerous studies and interviewed intelligence experts to produce a 1,700-word story that not only reported on the arrests but also explored the dynamics of Chinese espionage activities in the United States.
For Zhou, the story embodies the mission of The Epoch Times: To better inform its readers on Chinese affairs with insights that American journalists might lack—all without political censorship. Published in 16 languages and distributed across 41 U.S. states, the paper has a worldwide circulation of 1.5 million.
Zhou grew up studying classical piano in Hong Kong and ran her own music show on the radio while studying at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Zhou took her first stab at journalism by interviewing her guests on the air.
For her master’s, Zhou attended Yale University and later enrolled in the University of Chicago to pursue a doctorate in musicology. While finishing her dissertation, she returned to Hong Kong in 2000 and briefly taught at a performing arts school. She also took up journalism again by covering music as a freelancer for The Epoch Times. In 2003, Zhou returned to Chicago for her degree and decided to make a career in journalism when a position opened last year for an editor in The Epoch Times’ Chicago office.
Zhou recently sat down with The Chicago Reporter to talk about covering Chinese affairs.
Tell me about the history of The Epoch Times.
The Epoch Times started specifically because the media outside of China did not do a very good job of covering news in China. At that time, practitioners of Falun Gong were being persecuted. They felt that the media really didn’t do a very good job. So, this group of Falun Gong practitioners wanted to fill this lacuna, and that’s how they started The Epoch Times. It is the only freely independent Chinese newspaper that is not influenced by any political parties, particularly by the [Chinese Communist Party]. There have been reports on how the Chinese regime has tried to infiltrate or influence different Chinese newspapers. So, as a result of that, The Epoch Times has this very unique value in the United States, particularly in serving the bridge between the mainstream society and the Chinese American communities.
A friend of mine went to Chinatown, and my friend asked a man how to get out of Chinatown by subway. The man replied, ‘I have lived here for four years, and never have left this area.’ So some of the people are very secluded. They only read Chinese media and watch Chinese television. They have no access to the information provided by mainstream media. Because The Epoch Times is free and independent, it really provides an important role.
What did you think when you first heard about the last year’s spy case?
I knew how widespread Chinese spying had been in this country for some time. For instance, the Australian edition of our newspaper interviewed a former Chinese consulate official named Mr. Chen Yonglin, who defected to Australia in 2005. Mr. Chen revealed that there were over 1,000 spies in Australia alone. And there have been other reports about extensive Chinese spying throughout the West. Last year, an [European Union] official was quoted as saying that the Europeans didn’t want to confront the Chinese theft of their commercial and military secrets because they did not want damage the trade with China. This attitude of subordinating all elements of relations with China to trade is too common in the West. The belief is that trade will ‘transform’ China. I think the reverse is true—our engagement with China is transforming Western society, and one aspect of this is the theft of Western technology by the Chinese regime.
My article was an opportunity to add something new to the existing reports of Chinese spying. Chinese leaders see the U.S. as standing in the way of China achieving the hegemony they seek to acquire. It is also the case that the U.S. system of government—with its rights and democracy—is by its very existence perceived as a threat by the Chinese regime. So long as the U.S. exists, it provides the people of the world with a decent alternative to the Chinese regime. The Chinese regime is doing everything it can around the world to oppose and subvert U.S. interests, and the U.S. is becoming increasingly vulnerable as the Chinese regime becomes richer, better armed and more influential. I feel it is regrettable. It is a shame to the Chinese nation to be involved so heavily in such kind of trade, and it is a betrayal of a country that means no harm to China.
Do you think your view of the Chinese government affected your role as a journalist?
I can’t say that, in writing the story, I was not shaped by my own views of the Chinese regime. But, in reporting the spying case, I observed very strictly the ethics in standard journalism in democratic countries. I was not writing an opinion piece; I was reporting some information that I thought should be made available to the public.
How do you think Americans view the Chinese people?
In general, Americans think a lot that China is a growing economy, and it offers a lot of financial opportunities. It is going to be the biggest market for the Internet. But many people still do not see the basic, fundamental problems, and many do not see what the causes of these problems are. In the United States, there is a healthy media, and we have press freedom. It’s guaranteed by the Constitution. There are sometimes abuses which you can point to and argue about it, but, in China, you are not allowed to because it’s a one-party rule. A lot of people in the United States do not see this.
How do the Chinese view America?
An example is when the [Sept. 11, 2001,] tragedy took place. Many Chinese, I am sorry to say, were happy about it. They felt like, ‘Finally, you see, they got what they deserved.’ Why? Because China doesn’t really have freedom of press. China censors the state, and, therefore, the Chinese doesn’t have a really fair picture of what the Americans are like. And, instead, this constant brewing of hatred and antagonism through their part is through the Chinese media. Chinese have been reading a lot of stories of big Americanism and how they want to conquer the world. So they really don’t understand what’s going on. A lot of people have this hatred in them towards the United States.
Where is The Epoch Times going in the future?
We are expanding rapidly mainly as an international paper, with more reporters around the world and growing readership in different languages. Now we think it is time for us to better reach the local communities. Last month, we reviewed our business model here in Chicago and made some hard choices, including [the decision to] stop publishing our Chicago edition for several months for internal reorganization. We are using the intervening months to prepare for returning to the Chicago market with the expectation that the changes we are making now will lay the groundwork for long-term success.