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The Life and Times of Graham Earnshaw

In the roll call of those making contributions to the history of Westerners in China, a few names stand out: Marco Polo, Matteo Ricci, Edgar Snow, Norman Bethune, Graham Earnshaw….

Graham Earnshaw, you ask?

Born in England in 1952, by the age of 21 Graham Earnshaw had made his way to Hong Kong, working as a junior reporter for the [South China Morning Post] and, in order to keep up with his native Cantonese-speaking colleagues in the newsroom, was teaching himself to read Chinese. From that position he would go on to become a correspondent for Reuters in Hong Kong, “just in time to help with the coverage of Chairman Mao’s death,” as he puts it. Soon after, in 1979, when China began to re-open to the rest of the world, Reuters posted him as a correspondent in Beijing.

The next year, Earnshaw left Reuters to become the China Correspondent for the [London Daily Telegraph], a position that allowed him greater freedom to travel to places in China that had not been seen by Western eyes for many years. He was one of the first foreign journalists to visit Fujian Province and Hainan Island, and also made his way to Tibet in 1982, where he was the first foreign journalist to witness and report on a “Sky Burial.”

In mid-1989, back with Reuters, he returned to China and stayed in Beijing for several months. While there, he reported on the student demonstrations and, as he recounts, “was on Tiananmen Square the entire night of June 3-4, detained for six hours on the square after the tanks rolled in.” Soon after, he became Asian News Editor in Hong Kong, rising to become Editor for Asia within a year and holding that post until 1995, at which time he went back to Mainland China to become Reuters’ Shanghai Correspondent, tasked with reporting on the developing Chinese financial markets.

In 1997, however, Earnshaw chose to make a career change after realizing, as he says, that “journalists were basically people who wrote about other people doing things, and it was time to do something [myself]” - but he also apparently decided that Shanghai was the place to do his own thing.

Having settled there, he helped launch the ever-popular bar/restaurant “Park 97″ and built a web design company called Eastern Web Services. A series of other projects followed: a city web site for Shanghai that morphed into Shanghai-ed.com; an ill-fated Dot Com venture called “ChinaNow”; a foray into “channeling the ramblings of a hussy named May-May who still styles herself as the Queen of Shanghai Nightlife”; and the first weekly English language newspapers produced in Shanghai for some 50 years, Shanghai Buzz and Travel China - Shanghai Edition.

In mid-1999, Earnshaw went on to create SinoMedia, his present company, which provides translation, design and IT services. Also, his book The Life & Death of a Dotcom in China was published in October of 2000.

Even before his departure from the field of journalism, however, Earnshaw’s life had been far more than “just the news. ” Along the way, he compiled a Cantonese-English dictionary, provided voiceover support for kung fu movies, maintained a steady side career as a singer/guitarist in bars and restaurants, worked as a movie extra in Taiwan, moonlighted as a reviewer and editor for the Hong Kong Standard under the name ‘Anton Graham’, began translating a Chinese kung fu novel to be published by Oxford University Press, and started a few bands, including what he reports to be “China’s first rock and roll band,” the “Peking All-Stars.”

Earnshaw may also have been “the first person ever to play the kazoo on the Great Wall of China and the first person to sing in a bar in Shanghai since the Great Leap Forward,” as he reports. In 1984 he published his first book, a travel guide titled On Your Own in China.

While in Tibet in 1982, the legends go, Earnshaw also toted his guitar onto the Potala Palace roof and belted out a rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline.” He has also produced two CDs of his own music.

The Chinese Outpost unfortunately does not have a “Person of the Year” award, but if we did, we would bestow it here on Mr. Earnshaw for recognition of his successful and many-faceted career as a “Westerner in China” and an “Englishman in Shanghai.”

You can visit Graham Earnshaw’s personal web site at http://www.earnshaw.com/, from which details for this feature story have been gleaned, and his business web site at http://www.sinomedia.net/.

March 2003

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