For much of her long career, Hu Shuli has used her position as a respected financial commentator to push the boundaries of free speech. "If it's not absolutely forbidden," the editor-in-chief of Caixin Media once observed, "we do it." Hu shook up China's media landscape with investigative pieces on corruption and fraud she has long been known as the country's "muckraker-in-chief", notes Forbes. Take Caixin's spat with Anbang, for example.
The magazine's report echoes suspicions about the insurer's finances that have already been voiced outside China, says The New York Times, but the detail of the allegations is unique for a story on a major Chinese firm in the Chinese media. It also chimes with a government crackdown on the sector.
Last month, President Xi Jinping vowed to rid China's banks and insurers of "excessive risk", and placed the country's chief insurance regulator in the hands of "party anti-corruption investigators". Now investors and analysts are waiting to see if the government takes sides in the dispute between Anbang and Caixin.
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Hu, 64, seems as radical as a prominent journalist can be in China, but critics charge that she is fundamentally a member of the elite that runs the country. Born in 1953, Hu comes from a line of Communist Party journalists and intellectuals, says Evan Osnos in The New Yorker. Educated at Beijing's elite 101 Middle School, she was 13 when the Cultural Revolution turned China upside down. Hu travelled the country as a Red Guard, spent several years working in a hospital and joined the army. After China's universities reopened in 1978, she won a coveted place studying journalism at Renmin University in Beijing.
Hu cut her teeth on Workers Daily, then joined the China Business Times in 1992. There, she developed a skill for networking (an early interviewee was a young politician named Xi Jinping) as well as a reputation for "painstaking" reporting. It was a time of nascent markets in China and "I decided to interview all the top financiers", she later recalled. She ended up with "an incomparable Rolodex of names destined for China's highest office", says The New Yorker.
In 1998, she launched Caijing, a magazine that soon enjoyed "extraordinary influence". She left Caijing in 2009, following a dispute with her backers, to run the similarly named Caixin Media, says the South China Morning Post. In 2013, China Media Capital a $833m venture-capital fund with connections to Rupert Murdoch bought a 40% stake in the outfit.
For someone once labelled "the most dangerous woman in China", Hu's career has been remarkably long-lived, says The New Yorker. That she is still working "long after other tenacious Chinese journalists" have been "imprisoned or silenced" is evidence not just of her skills as a journalist, but of her political and business savvy. The battle with Anbang may shed more light on how far her political patronage and protection goes.
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