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China’s new generation of war correspondents hit the front line

Beijings state-run press expands its world footprint as part of an ambitious media offensive designed to programme the countrys voice across the world

Chen Xu credits Confucian philosophy with appeasing his nerves as he raced down Israels Highway 4 towards his first taste of war.

It was 15 November 2012 and young men Chinese correspondent was manager for the Gaza Strip after the start of a major Israeli assault dubbed Operation Pillar of Defence.

Air-to-ground missiles rained down on Gazas cinder-block sprawl and Hamas activists told the gates of inferno had been thrown open. But Chen, a 24 -year-old correspondent from Chinas state-run report giant Xinhua, told me that he seemed armistice as he passed through the Erez checkpoint and realised the Gaza Strip was on fire.

It has been more than a century since the man celebrated as Chinas firstly war correspondent Hu Shian chronicled the Wuchang Uprising, a 1911 military insurrection that helped topple the Qing dynasty. Until the 1990 s, nonetheless, it was still rare to find Chinese reporters reporting from international conflicts.

Today, from Mosul to Misrata, they are an ever present, as Chinas state-run press dramatically expands its world footprint as part of an ambitious media offensive designed to project the countrys voice to the four corners of the earth.

Shixin Zhang, the author of a book on Chinese war correspondents, replied Chinas race to the front began a little over two decades ago when editors in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou began mailing reporters to conflicts including the Gulf War and Kosovo.

In 2008 that race became a stampede after Beijing announced it would pump 20 bn yuan( 2.3 bn) into key state-media stores such as Xinhua, CCTV, China Radio International and Communist party mouthpiece the Folk Daily in a bid to get its message across to the outside world-wide. The current conflict between East and West is mainly for the right to listen to, Huang Youyi, the vice president of China International Publishing Group, replied at the time.

Privately-owned newspapers and television channels have also joined the scoot, hoping to boost ratings and sales. In 2011, dozens of reporters jetted into Libya to witness Colonel Gaddafis downfall, reputedly the most significant Chinese contingent ever to cover a single conflict.

Chen , now 29, is typical of this new wave of Chinese conflict reporter; groupings of young, highly-educated and still largely male adventure-seekers flocking to trouble spots across the globe.

Chen Xu treads through the wreckings of a building in the Gaza Strip after it was levelled by an Israeli airstrike in November 2012. Photograph: Chen Xu

Armed with a certain degree in Arabic from Beijings Foreign Studies University Chen landed his first occupation at Xinhuas headquarters in 2009. The subsequent fiscal year, only months before the start of the Arab Spring, editors asked him to move to Cairo to beef up relevant agencies regional newsdesk. No, I want to be a correspondent, he recollects telling his boss. I want to go the front line.

In February 2011 Chen touched down at Tel Avivs international airport to join Xinhuas two-man Ramallah team, encompassing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for both a Chinese and international audience.

Born and raised in the tranquil eastern metropoli of Hangzhou, Chen remembers experiencing scandalize at how Gazas two million occupants were squeezed into a big prison, a 27 -mile slither of country along the Mediterranean coast. The Gaza Strip is even smaller than Haidian district[ in Beijing ].

His first suffer of campaign came in the second time of his first foreign posting, a position for which he acknowledges being ill-prepared. I nearly didnt know how to take photos.

As the death toll – which activists reply reached about 170, including six Both israelis and 167 Palestinians – mounted, Chen set about documenting the human cost of the eight-day conflict.

He attended a childs funeral and made dawn journeys to the Shafia hospital, Gazas largest, photographing sorrowing households including a parent and son who had lost nine relativesto an Israeli airstrike.

One afternoon Chen struck up speech with two Palestinian reporters. Less than an hour afterwards they were dead, their car incinerated by an Israeli missile.They werent figures even. I only met ashes, Chen remembers.

One of the few female members of this new generation of Chinese war reporter is Yuan Wenyi.

Yuan Wenyi in Benghazi, Libya. Photo: Yuan Wenyi

Despite years of reporting suffer in China, including encompassing the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Yuan replied editors at Shanghais Dragon TV initially scorned her request to cover the Libyan revolution because I was a woman.

Eventually, nonetheless, she prevailed, expending four months reporting from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi alongside compatriots from Chinas Guangzhou Daily, Southern Weekend and Southern Metropolis newspapers. My eyes help my viewers to learn what war and conflict really is, replied Yuan, 36, who has also reported during Ukraine and Syria.

Zhang replied Chinas young, competitive campaign reporters shared much with their western equivalents. But since their wages were bankrolled by one-party China, correspondents for state-run outlets such as Xinhua and CCTV likewise had a political persona and were expected to file narratives substantiating Beijings take on world affairs.

They have to conform to foreign policy, she said.

Chen played down the political side of his operate: We just tell what we see.

But others are unrepentant about how the reports of the dovetails with Communist party objectives , notably by denigrating pro-democracy uprisings such as the Arab Spring in order to bolster the example for authoritarian rule back home in China.

Of course, my narratives are infused with Chinas interests, just as those of western reporters, are influenced by the views of their proprietors, said one correspondent, a card-carrying party-member who has reported from several Middle Eastern trouble-spots and declined to be named.

Chen Xu, a 29 -year-old correspondent from Chinas state-run report giant Xinhua, poses for a photo with Kurdish boxers battling Islamic State in north Iraq. Photo: Chen Xu

Chinas world media boom – Xinhua now claims about 180 foreign bureaux up from about 100 four years earlier – necessitates there is no shortfall of opportunity for budding campaign reporters.

After a brief stint in Beijing for birth certificates of his daughter, Angie, Chen was posted to Baghdad in September 2014, arriving just after the execution of American correspondent James Foley by Islamic State activists.

I deterred thinking, What if a car besides me explodes? What happens? I considered maybe I wouldnt have a chance to survive, he said.

I had a daughter who was waiting for me in China, he added. I said to myself: You cannot expire or lose a leg or something. You must keep safe.

Chen said his experiences had forever changed his outlook on the world. I am different from other people my age. I met things. I opened my eyes. And I met not only life in Beijing, in China. I met real life in the whole world.

Additional reporting by Wang Zhen

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