Sinica Podcast: Meet Emily Feng, NPR’s newest China correspondent


This week’s Sinica Podcast is now live.

Emily Feng is one of the rising stars among China reporters. She’s about to take up her post in Beijing as National Public Radio’s correspondent after an illustrious run with the Financial Times. In a show taped a few months ago, Emily speaks with Kaiser and Jeremy about her most recent reporting for the FT, covering important topics related to Xinjiang and technology. She also reflects on why, as a Chinese American, she feels like she’s under added pressure to present accurate and balanced reporting on China.

What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:

14:02: Emily discusses the changing scope of topics that have garnered media coverage recently: “This year, rather than having conversations about #MeToo or Black Lives Matter, which, I think, really dominated discussions in the past two years, it’s been about Chinese students [and] Chinese identity.”

She also discusses a scandal at Duke University — Emily’s alma mater — in which an assistant professor at Duke University urged Chinese students via email to “commit to speaking English 100 percent of the time.” “Chinese Americans have always been very politically quiet. And I come from a Chinese-American family, [so] this is what has been taught to me: Don’t stick your head up. But I think that with what’s happening in the U.S.-China relationship, Chinese Americans are going to have to figure out what their stance is to partake more in political discussions happening on campuses [and] at the local government level.”

18:49: Emily, who has reported extensively on Xinjiang, reflects on her trips there in 2017 and 2018, and the rapidly deteriorating conditions for Uyghur Muslims in the region. “It was very, very evident that things were different. People [in 2017] could still talk freely about what was happening. You would talk to people in taxis, in restaurants — I met up with a number of Uyghur friends and they talked quite comfortably, but fearfully, about how their phones were being hacked and people were going to jail because of content they had shared that was vaguely Muslim from four or five years ago.”

Outside of the capital of Urumqi, things were different, she explains. “I went to Hotan and Kashgar in October 2017, and Hotan was just another level. It was a police state. There were tanks and cars on the streets. There were checkpoints maybe every three or four blocks within the city. It was incredibly segregated.”

38:34: Emily wrote a deep-dive story on Hikvision, a Chinese CCTV company, which touches on the moral entanglement that U.S. companies face in supplying authoritarian governments with the nuts and bolts needed to monitor and sometimes oppress or imprison individuals abroad: “There are only a handful of companies out there that can make the type of commercially competitive semiconductors, components, [and] memory hard drives that go into the electronics we use every day — including the type of surveillance technology that China uses. So, that gives American companies a huge amount of power in saying, ‘This is whom we will sell to and this is whom we will not.’ But they’re understandably reluctant in making that distinction and making what they see as political decisions because their focus is the bottom line.”

Listen now to: China correspondent Emily Feng: From the FT to NPR