Telum Talks To... Hatty Liu, Managing Editor, The World of Chinese

Telum Talks To... Hatty Liu, Managing Editor, The World of Chinese

Could you tell us more about your role as Managing Editor of The World of Chinese? 
It’s a great party trick: Name a story from our magazine or website from the last five years, and I can probably tell you which issue it appeared in, who wrote it, and any typos we found after it was published.

In all seriousness…it means I have reviewed almost all the content that you read on our print and digital platforms, down to the last photo caption. The only exceptions are the English-language books we publish on food, travel, and the Chinese language, where I share the role with my colleague Liu Jue. I am responsible for making sure all of our content is error-free, of interest to our readers, and consistent with our editorial values.

Of course, a lot of the heavy lifting before we get to that point, such as assigning a story, writing it and copy editing, is done by our talented and dedicated full-time and freelance writers and editors, so another part of my job is to find exceptional people for our team. We are run in a non-hierarchical and self-directed fashion, with writers and editors pitching their own stories and seeing them through largely independently in terms of the angle they take and the research they require; and everyone is encouraged to make suggestions in initiatives such as our website’s redesign or our social media strategy. In that sense, my role is often more one of a sounding board, resource, mediator, and sign-off person on big decisions.

You have been with the magazine for more than five years. How would you like to describe the journey? Is there anything you would like to highlight?
Honestly, it doesn’t feel like it has been that long. Every issue we produce, every story we write, is a new challenge, and we move at an incredible pace for the size of our team—everyone is always juggling between multiple stories and ideas, and we’re working on the next issue before the previous one is on the shelves. The World of Chinese is going to be 15 years old as of December this year, which is quite old for both an English-language magazine in China and a print magazine in the 21st century. I think much of the staying power comes from our team members who’ve spent many years in China, if not at TWOC itself, and built the connections and cultural insights that make us sensitive to new trends in Chinese society and able to bring fresh angles that our readers will appreciate.

Topics the magazine covers range from traditional Chinese culture, history, books and travel to Chinese life and society. Any must-read stories and features you want to share? 
I think all our features are worth reading! Allow me to plug them here: 2000+ words of deep dives into topics ranging from the billion-dollar pigeon-racing industry (“Ruling the Roost,” 2021 Issue 3) to the lives of long-haul truck drivers (“Wheels of Fortune,” 2020 Issue 5), featuring original quotations from the people directly affected, and reported on-location with high-quality photography. We’re also one of the few English publications that consistently review Chinese indie art, books, and films. And I like to think that our language sections excel at not talking down to Chinese language learners—we believe our readers can appreciate strange Internet humour, ancient poetry references, and niche social interactions (2012 Issue 1, “How to Speak Fluent Buddhist”…I had to look this one up) in pinyin.

New readers might want to check out “No Time to Waste” (2020 Issue 1), our feature on rural waste management that won a SOPA award for Excellence in Environmental Reporting; and “Of Ice and Men” (2020 Issue 2), a travel feature on ice-fishing that won an honourable mention at the same awards for photography.

How does The World of Chinese witness and reflect upon the transformation of Chinese society? 
One of our aims is to push the definition of “Chinese culture.” Food and handicrafts are a part of the culture, but so are things like Chinese consumers’ mistrust of GM foods (2020 Issue 2, “Unnatural Selection”) and MSG (2020 Issue 1, “A Question of Taste”) stemming from a lack of science education and a history of food safety scandals; or an epidemic of eating disorders among Chinese youths (2020 Issue 3, “Hunger Games”) that partly derives from beauty and health stereotypes coded in pop culture. So much of what is written about Chinese culture in English, positive or negative, presents a rather static version of that culture: as a set of objects, norms, and values, usually stemming from 2,000 years of Confucianism (or 30 years of Maoism for an edgier take). We nod to our history in our analysis, but are mainly interested in culture as it operates in a contemporary Chinese context—in the ways the people within the culture actively take influences from their environment, debate that culture’s pros and cons, and make sense of its contradictions.

Any differences in the content agenda between The World of Chinese's podcast and the magazine?
At the moment, we are only actively updating the “Middle Earth Podcast,” which is an independent brand that its creator Aladin Farré produces under our umbrella. While most of our magazine content are deep dives into multiple sides and perspectives on the issue, “Middle Earth” is focused on the creators and consumers of cultural products. It shares TWOC’s philosophy of exploring little-known cultural phenomena in China, such as “blind boxes” or casinos, but usually offers an industry and business-oriented perspective that’s distinct from the rest of our content. As our team grows, we also hope to bring our language, fiction, arts, and feature content into podcast form.

Any new changes or future developments we can share of The World of Chinese?
Our team is growing fast, as are the multimedia channels we are hoping to bring our content into. While we don’t plan to stop printing the physical magazine, as it is a huge part of our identity, we’re developing a video series about unique people and cultural practices we meet around China, a new website, a newsletter, offline events, and the aforementioned podcasts. We’d love to be better connected with other people in the China storytelling field as well, perhaps by co-hosting industry events or offering courses on writing and editing—write to us if you’re interested in connecting!

Do you welcome story pitches from PRs? In what areas?
For editorial (non-paid) content, anyone is welcome to pitch TWOC, but they must be able to justify why it is in our readers’ interest—and by extension, the broader public interests—to read about this topic. We do not run any stories that serve the personal or commercial interests of any individual or organisation, or that reflect the values and wants of only narrow slices of consumer society. To send us a pitch, please have a look at our print issues or website to get an idea of the subject areas we cover, and email me at hattyliu@theworldofchinese.com or one of our other editors through the “About Us” page of our website.

To pitch sponsored (paid) content, please write to our advertising department at marketing@theworldofchinese.com. Our team will review the pitch to make sure it fits broadly with TWOC’s values, and we will clearly identify the piece as “sponsored” in the published version.

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