The year in China 2022

In 2022, as war returned to Europe; millions suffered due to costlier food and energy and ever more devastating natural disasters; and America’s vulnerable democracy deepened its confrontation against an array of authoritarian powers, China’s fate was further submitted to the will of one man. 

China’s leaders, whose country’s rise had been facilitated by geopolitical stability and growing economic interdependence, saw both opportunity and threat in the year’s turbulence and fragmentation. While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine failed to break Western resolve, highlighted questions about the battle-readiness of China’s military, and hurt China’s standing in Europe for its rhetorical support of Putin, China nonetheless gained from Russia’s strategic subordination. Heightened tensions reinforced Xi Jinping’s calls for struggle against external threats and his vision of an expansive national security-driven domestic policy and greater self-reliance.

In the year to come, China’s evolution away from a Covid-zero posture may prompt yet more anger and disillusionment as its people confront an inadequately prepared healthcare system. The property sector will continue to be a drag on consumer confidence and economic growth. China may seek to facilitate a face-saving off-ramp for Vladimir Putin in Ukraine as part of an effort to reset its relations with Europe. America’s new, Republican-controlled House of Representatives may flirt with symbolically cheap, but strategically dubious provocations of Beijing. China’s continued intransigence on debt relief may sour relations with parts of the developing world.  

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2022 most influential online China journalists

In print journalism, a story placed on the front page above the fold is a signal of its importance. The journalists whose work is consistently featured there are rightfully considered among the most influential. But what is the equivalent in the digital age, when readers can find reporting aggregated across outlets and disaggregated by topic?

China Books Review has produced a new measure of the most prominent online journalists in China reporting, building on its previous analysis of the leading outlets and coverage trends. The index, based on daily Google News results for China-related stories, considers the author’s share of stories that are in the first position on the platform and the total number of days these leading stories persist in any position, a measure of their impact over multiple news cycles. 

Nectar Gan, a correspondent for CNN, dominated the list with 30 first position articles in 2021 which collectively persisted on the Google News platform for 442 days, earning a score of 15.6 points. Gan was followed by CNBC’s Evelyn Cheng and the New York Times’ Keith Bradsher with 8.6 and 7.2 points, respectively.

Among Gan’s work with the highest staying power on Google News last year were her coverage of China’s belated disclosure of the four soldiers killed during a 2020 border clash with India; Covid and China’s disinformation campaign surrounding its origins; and the extension of the US-China rivalry into space. Prior to joining CNN, Gan was a reporter at the South China Morning Post. Cheng, currently based in Beijing, previously covered markets from CNBC’s New Jersey headquarters. Bradsher, currently the Times’ Beijing bureau chief, previously served in that capacity in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Detroit. 

The index is based on daily pulls of the top China-related stories on Google News in 2021 (results were available for 90% of days); given that Google accounts for a significant share of web traffic, it is considered a useful proxy for an article and journalist’s reach. Both the story position and endurance measures are equally weighted. Co-authors were credited equally regardless of byline order. To be sure, the measure is dependent on a complex set of factors that influence the Google News algorithm. For example, the algorithm may privilege articles produced by CNN over outlets, irrespective of the journalist, topic, or article in question. As ever, a journalist is influential both because of their talent, the salience of their beat, and the reputation of the outlet with which they are affiliated. The index does not consider other potential indicators of influence, such as the author’s count of followers on Twitter or the volume of retweets of their work. 

September news trends

Stories about the trade war and Hong Kong protests continued to lead China-focused coverage in September, according to a China Books Review analysis of Google News data.

CNBC remained the most prolific publisher of stories about the country and this month led with the most number of stories in the top three positions of Google News results.

The stories that were featured for the most number of days included a look at how Hong Kong’s relationship with the mainland has evolved; reporting on how China justifies its oppressive tactics in Xinjiang to other Chinese; and two stories on China’s economy, one refracted through the lens of US politics.

Introduced last month, news trends takes a quantitative approach to understanding the stories and publications that are driving coverage of China. The data is based on the stories that appear during daily queries on Google News for the term “China.”

Who are the most influential China-focused tweeters?

A sample network graph produced by CBR’s analysis

Twitter, at its best, offers immediate, direct, and transparent conversation on the most important issues of the day. But it can also be a driver of polarization and misinformation. To its credit, global China-watchers maintain one of the Twitter communities that most consistently realizes the platform’s positive potential.

But who are the most influential China-focused tweeters? CBR is introducing an index to find out, weighting equally public and elite influence. The former is measured by the number of followers an account has and the latter by an account’s betweenness centrality, a measure used in network analysis that quantifies how connected an individual is to other prominent accounts. Three rankings were produced for individual accounts predominantly tweeting in English or Chinese and institutional accounts in any language.

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Who’s searching about the trade war? Not Trump states.

The trade war took another of its many turns this week as the United States and China agreed to resume talks in October, sending markets higher. The news is presumably a fillip for Trump-leaning states, which have been disproportionately and purposefully targeted by China’s retaliatory tariffs. That is, if they’re paying attention. A new analysis for China Books Review finds that the states that most strongly supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election are the least likely to search Google for information about the trade war.

States that voted for Trump in 2016 are least likely to search Google for info about the "trade war"
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August news trends

Hong Kong was the most frequent topic of articles aggregated by Google News related to China in August, according to a quantitative news analysis by China Books Review. The analysis, which will be published monthly, uses daily Google News results for stories related to China to identify key trends.

Google News is an important aggregator and, for many publishers, it and the Google search engine account for the plurality of their web traffic. Thus, the stories that Google News elevates plays an important role in shaping popular understanding of China. In August, the data set included 1,575 unique articles from some 200 publications. Article titles mentioning Hong Kong constituted 10% of those aggregated, closely followed by the trade war.

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