China and the BBC have both played a huge part in my life. Straight out of university, I spent a year teaching in provincial China. The students of 1985 were hungry for contact with the world after the isolation and paranoia of the Mao years, and they were as fascinating to me as I was to them. Back home, I joined the BBC as a trainee journalist, learned my craft and embarked on a Chinese degree at night school.
By the time I returned to China as a reporter in 1991, the mood had darkened. The Tiananmen Square democracy movement had ended in a massacre and the ruling communist party was determined not to go the same way as those in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Despite routine surveillance and police harassment, China was still a gripping place to be for a young reporter. So gripping that I stayed for most of the ‘90s. But by then I had two small children and decided to return to the UK to bring them up. I worked as a TV presenter on the BBC News Channel, hosted an interview show on BBC World Service and made annual reporting trips to check up on China. One story, White Horse Village, turned into a ten year project.
Gradually what had long been clear to me became clear to my bosses in BBC News... that China’s rise was one of the biggest stories of our time but also one of the hardest to tell. In 2014, the BBC created a new role as China Editor and asked me to take up the post. I have been a BBC journalist for 30 years and I have an abiding fascination for China. You won't be surprised to hear that leading the BBC's China coverage for four years has been the greatest privilege of my career.