June 2007

War of words

The future of journalism as a public trust

Australian economy

Wendi Deng Murdoch

"Cheers to Wendi! Gan bei! Drink the cup dry!" It's 8 pm on a freezing night in Xuzhou, and we're having a jolly time in the Overflowing Fragrance dining room of the Sea Sky Holiday Hotel, an oddly named establishment given that this grim industrial city of 10 million people is 500 kilometres west of the Yellow Sea, and no place for a vacation. We're toasting a thriving Chinese export, a girl born of modest means in nearby Shandong in December 1968 and given a politically correct name - Wen Ge, shorthand for ‘Cultural Revolution' - as was the imperative for parents in that dark era. And what a remarkable journey to celebrate: catapulting herself from the anonymity and austerity of communist China to the family, and the family trust, of one of the world's most powerful and wealthy men, and all by the age of 30. Given the heights that ‘Cultural Revolution' has effortlessly scaled - now 38, exactly half her husband's age, she is the mother of two potential heiresses and well positioned for the break-up of a US$70-billion media empire that's wrestling with a tortuous succession from patriarch to who-knows-where - Wendi Deng Murdoch's long march from China has actually been a rather short one; a Great Leap Forward to be sure, but not quite the one Mao had in mind. I'm banqueting in Xuzhou with some of Wendi's old friends and mentors, who've shown me around her home town: her high-school volleyball coach, Wang Chongsheng; her then best friend, Li Hong; and Li's husband, a local policeman. Wendi's high-school supervisor, Xie Qidong, chatted with me earlier over tea. They're all open and welcoming, and we've become instant friends, gossiping over delicacies of beef, chicken, fish, abalone with the texture of a wetsuit, and delicious jiaozi dumplings. The arrival of the noodle course, symbolising longevity, prompts another round of toasts: "Long life to Wendi! Good luck to her!" Delegates from the National People's Congress in Beijing drone away on a TV, but no one takes any notice; we're too busy drinking Wendi's health."Gan bei! Drink the cup dry for Wendi!"


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Illustration by Jeff Fisher.
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

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Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz