After seven years building up a magazine empire in China, I had it stolen by the state. I lived in the grey zone that is China’s media business and, despite my commitment to the country, paid a high price
“I have good news,” said Mr Yuan of China Intercontinental Press. He removed his glasses and looked hard at a spot below my right shoulder. “My leaders have agreed, in principle, to create a joint venture with you.”
It was early 2004 and we sat in a bare villa-style apartment, an hour’s journey by taxi from downtown Beijing, near the old Summer Palace.
As Mr Yuan spoke, I could not believe my ears. His publishing company was controlled by China’s State Information Council, the Communist party’s propaganda machine. No one had got this far, not even Rupert Murdoch. (Indeed, within a few weeks of my meeting he would admit he had “hit a brick wall” in China.) The only partial exception was Li Ka-Shing, Hong Kong’s richest man, with massive property investments in China and a symbolic media joint venture with a mainland magazine. I had built a “mini media