CCTV host goes from ‘Lady at the back’ to stage setter

By Zhang Yiqian Source:Global Times Published: 2015-1-9 5:03:01

Tian Wei hosts a show on CCTV. Photo: CFP

Despite having interviewed a number of leading foreign government officials and hosting prestigious meetings, Tian Wei, a China Central Television (CCTV) English Channel host, is surprisingly low-key and maintains a humble attitude.

Even though she has interviewed elite political players, such as Hillary Clinton, she says her grandmother, who passed away two years ago at the age of 100, is her role model.

Her grandmother had bound feet  and lived in a small village all her life, but she taught Tian "As women, we depend on ourselves."

Tian said that her grandmother's inner strength and strong will have been a constant source of inspiration and vitality for her.

In recent years, as China grows, Tian has witnessed many changes. She constantly used her grandmother's example to motivate herself and make changes as well.

Lady at the back

Tian began her career as a reporter working for China Radio International. She was sent to Washington DC as a correspondent in 2001, immediately after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

At that time, China hadn't become the hot topic of discussion in the west that it is today. As a result, very little attention was paid to Chinese journalists. When she went to press conferences at the White House, she sat in a room that could accommodate hundreds of people.

Journalists from renowned American media outlets always sat in the front few rows, followed by journalists from media outlets such as the BBC or Japan's NHK. But there were no fixed seats for Chinese journalists, and Tian had to sit in the back row.

In order to grab the speaker's attention, she had to put on her brightest dresses and raise her hand high. Whenever the spokesperson called on Tian, they said, "Lady at the back, please."

Over time, "Lady at the back" became her nickname.

Tian said things have changed dramatically now, compared to her early years as a journalist. She feels that China has gradually become the center of attention.

China sets the stage

Tian says China has experienced a "triple jump." At first, not many people wanted to know about the country. Then as China developed, it tried to open up itself to the world. Currently, China is trying to be the facilitator.

"In the past, we used to set a stage, start talking and ask others to come and listen to us talk. But now we are setting the stage and inviting everybody to express their views," she said.

As China becomes more prominent on the international stage, as a journalist, Tian also tries her best to change her role and style.

On December 30, 2014, Tian started hosting a revamped version of the show World Insight.

When the show was first launched, it was like reading from a script, Tian said. It was broadcast on the weekend and the host would read out all the news that had taken place that week.

The new version takes the form of a global debate, interspersed with exclusive interviews and is shown Monday through Friday.

The changes are apparent. In a recent show on Monday, Tian moderated a panel of experts discussing the movie The Interview, where people expressed sharply contrasting views.

Tian finds that these changes correspond with her personal changes as well.

She was a columnist in the Global Times in 2009, expressing her views on issues related to her work. Some topics covered included China-US relations and climate change. But now, she deliberately holds back on her own viewpoints as a host.

"You need the ability to contain all viewpoints and to balance the platform, so that people can give more of their viewpoints," she said. "I think this is the different demand made by a different phase, it requires learning and it's a different experience."

Staying humble

But some things have remained the same throughout her career.

Over the years, Tian has interviewed many people in positions of  power. In 2009, she followed the American press corps covering US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's trip to China. She has hosted several World Economic Forums around the world as well as the APEC CEO summit held recently.

But she says she wants to be humble, and always stays focused on specific people when covering these abstract topics, focusing all her questions on individuals or a group of people.

"For example, when you are talking about medical reform, what do you talk about? How the government made the policy, or how people like my neighbor can treat their illness under the new system?" she asked.

She said her rule through all those years of interviewing was "never to look up or down, but only across the table." Only when you do this can you get to know your interviewee, she said.

Tian takes this attitude with her outside of her work as well.

She is the special China advisor for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), doing philanthropic work for the bureau.

Currently, there is a project that focuses on the Mosuo ethnic group, who live near the Lugu Lake in Yunnan Province. The group are traditionally matriarchal, but their way of life is facing extinction because many, from the younger generation  are migrating outside the society to look for work.

Tian's role in the project requires her to get in touch with the common people.

"I went to the women's houses and talked with them face to face to find out what they needed," she said.

The project helps these women sell their embroidered scarves outside of their hometown through big companies. This way, the women can stay in their homes and help build their community.

The process involves giving as much as learning, Tian said. Through this project, she witnessed the persistence and strength of these women, which will certainly empower her in her own work, she said.

Newspaper headline: The triple jump

Posted in: Profile

blog comments powered by Disqus