For a group of American reporters, attending such meetings day after day creates a peculiar psychological dynamic, one very different from an ordinary journalistic setting. Our sessions typically lasted an hour and followed a tightly scripted protocol. We would enter with business cards in hand, distribute them to anyone of prominence who greeted us, sit for a presentation, and then, time permitting, ask a few questions. At the conclusion of every session, one of us would rise to thank our speaker and to present a small gift from the group (a light-up pen gizmo from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a Seattle Times baseball cap, etc.) and a plaque from the Better Hong Kong Foundation. Finally, we would all gather around for a group photo to commemorate the happy event.
Regularly treated like representatives of the U.S., we could not avoid the feeling that, whatever our professional responsibilities, part of our job was to act as goodwill ambassadors. We were eager to make a positive impression, to show the right mix of curiosity, appreciation, and politeness. When Mr. Huang pointed out this or that Chinese achievement, our inclination was to praise it, as if wanting to let the Ministry of Foreign Affairs know that, yes, we really did like the country. Above all, we did not wish to give offense or to confirm our hosts’ preconceptions about American “China-bashing.”