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Faculty profile: Wang Feng shares his international journalism experience, commitment to truth-telling with Global Business Journalism students

Wang Feng is editor-in-chief of FT Chinese and a visiting professor in the Global Business Journalism program at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Wang Feng speaks remotely to the Tsinghua Business Journalism Forum.


Global Business Journalism reporter

It was Christmas 2003 and a young man named Wang Feng walked toward the house of Aung San Suu Kyi. Neither he, nor Aung, nor much of Myanmar would be celebrating this year.

The reason: a military man named Than Shwe. General Shwe was head of the military junta that had been incrementally tightening control over the war-torn nation, deconstructing the rule of law that had been adopted following the British colonial exit in 1962. Allegations of human rights atrocities were plentiful, and international sanctions followed.

Age 24, Wang Feng was on his first assignment in international journalism – a trip to the war-ravaged country whose name had been changed by its military rulers. All in all, Burma (or Myanmar) was a dangerous place for a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Peking University.

Red dusty soil from the path lined the bottom of his shoes, shots could be heard in the distance. It seemed a very long way from the leafy campuses of Berkeley and BeiDa, where this young man had graduated with distinction, being offered a direct fast track to a Ph.D. Instead Wang Feng had opted for practical, in-the-field (quite literally) journalistic experience.

"At time of graduation I was offered an eight-year Ph.D., but I wasn't sure I am made for academia," he recalled decades later. "A friend showed me books on legendary journalists, so I thought, 'Why not? Sounds interesting.'"

In Myanmar, the nation’s roads to were littered with seemingly random checkpoints. Journalistic interviews were conducted in cafés, houses, or on the move, with a high chance of agents from either side listening in. Imprisonment, open executions and chaos gave Myanmar an atmosphere of being on the edge. This was the world young Wang lived in. A world we perhaps more suitable for a veteran war correspondent, not someone whose peers might very well have hosting a pleasant night out in Beijing or San Francisco.

Wang Feng is editor-in-chief of FT Chinese and a visiting professor in the Global Business Journalism program at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Wang Feng: Journalism has a "higher purpose."

But this year of living dangerously set a very different career trajectory for Wang Feng. Exhilarating, electric, edgy – but not without good cause. For younger readers, it can be likened to the history-in-the-making feeling of the Arab Spring, the Brexit movement, or, in the his cycle of professional life, the 2019 Hong Kong protests, which Wang Feng covered for FT Chinese.

Turn-of-the-century Myanmar was filled with bravery, morality and ethical struggle, all themes Wang Feng shared with his readers. These memories remained with him as he rose through the ranks of Reuters, South China Morning Post, Caijing and FT Chinese. This “higher purpose” of journalism, of telling the unfiltered truth, has earned him a reputation, (through professional networks and Twitter, now X) despite journeying into the world of hard financial news coverage.

Today, from his home in Hong Kong, Wang Feng is not chased by Burmese soldiers. But he is "WeChatted" by students from Tsinghua University’s School of Journalism and Communication and Hong Kong University, alongside the team he manages at FT Chinese.

"I enjoy working with young people," he said in an interview. "Coming up with [class] material and research is like full-time writing. So teaching seems quite natural."

In addition to a demanding travel schedule – interviewing CEOs, talking at conferences, teaching the top students in Beijing and Hong Kong – he works full-time to sustain FT Chinese and maintain his high standards of what a journalist should be in the 24/7 digital age.

Among his peers in academia, Wang stands apart. Unlike the (somewhat tortuous) traditionalism of his Chinese counterparts at China’s number one university, Wang Feng, will on occasion use what he describes as a “naughty word.” He does so for emphasis, particularly when it comes to educating on integrity and morality, something many of his students realize he is passionate about… After all, he was actively involved in the story involving American spy agency contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden, who took refuge in Hong Kong en route to his eventual citizenship in Russia.

Renee, one of Wang's Chinese students, described him in interview as “sharp, practical, and different from other Chinese lecturers” because of his sense of purpose. It sets him apart from other academics, she said, perhaps because he does not need to teach, but does so anyway. He is also focused as much on learning from the students as on teaching them, with a forward-thinking curriculum that changes (and is updated) weekly.

Tina, another Chinese student, said Wang Feng's charm and professionalism took her by surprise. Every Thursday evening in class he imparts not only subject matter but industry updates and relevant career advice. The assignments, while challenging, mirror this, with a clear motive to stretch his students.

Emily Dong, a first-year Global Business Journalism student, found herself drawn to his professionalism and teaching prowess. Despite his relative youth compared to other professors, Emily perceives Wang's demanding yet nurturing demeanor as a testament to his commitment to fostering excellence.

“He pushes us hard,” she said. “But that is a good thing. We learn about business news, policy and China… not just journalism.”

Wang Feng's "exceptional ability to share his knowledge"

Professor Rick Dunham, co-director of the Global Business Journalism program at Tsinghua and a veteran American journalist, said Wang has a unique approach to bridge journalism theory and practice in his courses.

“Wang Feng is one of the most innovative journalists in greater China, and he has an exceptional ability to share his knowledge and pass along his passion for news to young journalists,” Professor Dunham said. “Wang Feng is a rare combination of invaluable journalism experience, mature professional judgment and youthful enthusiasm. It was an amazing opportunity for the Global Business Journalism program to bring someone with his résumé, his charisma and his teaching skills into our classrooms.”

Leveraging his extensive network, Wang brings in guest speakers, often industry experts, at an average of one every three weeks. Hannan Gillani, a GBJ master’s student from Pakistan, lauded the “diversity and professionalism” of the visiting lecturers.

Professor Dunham said Wang’s hands-on journalism activity makes his academic performance even more valuable.

“He understands how the journalism world is changing,” the GBJ co-director said. “Unlike many leaders in today's journalism world, he is comfortable with technology and uses it to find better ways to communicate with his readers.”

Such words, both in their meaning and who they are being delivered by is a testament to Wang Feng’s professionalism, character and teaching abilities. In the rap world, this is called “game recognizes game.” In the academic and journalistic universe this might be termed “like attracts like” or “experts recognize excellence.”

Wang Feng is editor-in-chief of FT Chinese and a visiting professor in the Global Business Journalism program at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Wang Feng returned to Myanmar in 2023. (Photo from Unsplash)

Wang Feng knows that his career is far from over, but he’ll never forget where it began. In 2023 he returned to Myanmar after covering Burmese refugees in Thailand. There are in many ways more problems now than ever before, with guerrilla armies waging civil war against criminal militias and the state’s military rulers. Scam and snuff cartels have made Myanmar a natural extension of their territories from Cambodia, and the same hero, once a beacon of democratic hope, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize awardee, former uncomfortable co-ruler with the military, has been arrested … again. The military has declared a state of emergency and dissidents are dying on the streets and in prisons. On his most recent visit, Wang said he spent two to three weeks "hanging out with local journalists [and] getting chased by police, military agents."

Wang views Aung San Suu Kyi, much like he sees his heroes Edward Snowden (who exposed mass surveillance) and Julian Assange (who published WikiLeaks). Having heroes and openly admitting it can only further highlight his vision of truth-telling, which undoubtedly inspires the same trait among his students.

Our media world is cyclical in nature. The current cycle is becoming more intense and more confusing. The media realms (and in turn our daily lives) are besieged by misinformation and disinformation. All of this demands media literacy and ethical, trained journalists.

His own journey, from the Burma of old, to the Myanmar of today, via nearly every other nation (and big story) since, is a strange hyperbole for the transformation of journalism itself… and a microcosm of optimism in an increasingly confusing world.


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