'Online, baby, online!'
How did you become interested in China?
By accident. I got out of high school and I joined the army. I come from a very cold place, Minnesota, So when I got out of high school, I wanted to go see the world, and I was a dumb kid and I believed those recruiting posters that said 'join the army and see the world.' So I joined the army and I saw the world. And then they sent me to Vietnam as an infantry soldier, and that led to me becoming a journalist.
So I was at the end of the Vietnam war, and it was a kind of a mess. So I probably thought that journalism could tell us the truth. But I also turned my head towards Asia. So when I went back and became a reporter, I always kept a watch on Asia, and always read about Asia. And the more I read, the more I could see that China was coming alive.
So in 1985, I went with my sister and we backpacked for six weeks around China. We didn't speak Chinese, and we didn't know what we were doing, but I came out of there convinced that this was a country that was going to have the most change than any other country of my lifetime. I went and told my wife that we are go learn Chinese, and so we sold everything we owned and moved to Taiwan with two suitcases each, moved to the YWCA and started studying Mandarin.
And then I set up a freelance news service, since I was a reporter for 10 years already, and then one thing led to another and I became a so-called China expert. Now I live in two places, I have a house in Minnesota and one in Beijing, and I go back and forth. I ended up being in the States a lot to write and promote my book.
Since you also run an Internet service in China, how do you see the future of newspapers?
Online, baby, online.
That's why I am in the Internet business. I like reading a newspaper more than reading online, but I get all my news online. Because I am on the road. I am traveling, I am busy. So if I am ever around I'll pick up a paper, but who has the time to really read the newspaper?
Online, it's quick and efficient. I worry about online, because in a newspaper, you see a lot of articles you wouldn't have thought of. Whereas online I just quickly download what I need to know. And that's the downside of it. But that's modern life.
Just look at the numbers. The Internet is growing and growing, and online advertising is growing exponentially, and print publications, while they are not going to disappear, they are on a long slow slide.
Image: Chinese farmers study computing as they undergo job training at a welfare centre in Xian. A national investigation into land abuse, conducted by China's ministry of land and resources last year, confirmed that many farmers got either no compensation for their lost land or little.
China lost 2.53 million hectares of arable land last year, 50 per cent more than the previous year. The country's total area of cultivated land at the end of 2003 was 123 million hectares.
Farmers are paying a dear price for the country's urbanisation process, which devoured 6.6 million hectares of cultivable land between 1996 and 2003. About 40 million farmers have lost their land in the process.
Photograph: China Pix/Getty Images