The journalist Hu Shuli has often been called "the most dangerous woman in China." And she may become even more so. As the pioneering editor of China's most influential business magazine, she managed to publish groundbreaking stories on official ineptitude and financial malfeasance despite China's tight control of the media. She may be on the verge of even greater freedom after cutting her ties with the owners of her magazine. On Monday, Hu announced that she was resigning from Caijing (Finance and Economics), the publication she built into one of China's rare voices of journalistic autonomy. Instead, she and a core group of reporters and editors are going to form a new magazine.
Hu's Beijing-based bimonthly, with a circulation of 200,000, had a reputation for groundbreaking coverage of stories like the 2003 outbreak of SARS and shady dealings in China's financial markets. Her connections and feel for the permissible limits of sensitive issues have been credited with helping Caijing score repeated "edge balls," the Chinese term for a Ping-Pong serve that's within the lines but just barely. "We always try to find a way to [publish] something," Hu told TIME in a 2008 interview.
Hu, 56, had been dueling with the magazine's publishers, the Stock Exchange Executive Council, over the distribution of revenue. She had been at loggerheads with the owners, who have recently been accused of taking a more conservative approach to the news and trying to rein in some of the magazine's more aggressive reporting. While the 11-year-old magazine had been a cash cow for the media group, it had received a smaller share of the revenues, according to current and former staffers. "The parent company milks it for a huge chunk of their revenue," says a former staffer. "She's been cash-strapped trying to do new projects."
Hu's departure follows the walkout last month of more than 60 members of the magazine's sales and advertising departments. For several weeks, Hu had been negotiating with Caijing's publishers over issues including retention of Caijing's name. The new publication she's expected to form will be called Caixin, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news of Hu's resignation.
Managing editor Wang Shuo also said he was leaving the magazine. Staffers were told on Monday that they had until Wednesday to decide whether they wanted to leave to join Caixin, which will be a weekly magazine. The extent of the exodus of Caijing staffers is unclear, although people close to the magazine indicate a strong support for Hu's move and confidence that the new venture would be built on the independent model of the old one. "We were told that we will be doing the same thing, just with a different name and a different office," says one staffer. "We will continue to do reporting, talk with sources and continue to find stories. It's just that there will be a change of ownership."