THE EX FILES: Journalist Mark Bourrie’s behind-the-scenes account of his two years in the employ of Xinhua

When journalist Mark Bourrie began working for the local bureau of the Chinese news agency Xinhua, he was excited by the prospect of informing China about Canadian politics. But a questionable request during the Dalai Lama’s visit in April was too much for his journalistic conscience. He quit. Now Bourrie gives a behind-the-scenes account of his two years in the employ of Xinhua

Illustration by Anthony Tremmaglia.

IT ALL BEGAN  at a Parliament Hill Christmas party in 2009. My wife, kids, and I sat with a nice Chinese family who were just a few weeks away from moving back to Beijing after a four-year stint in Canada. Yang Shilong was bureau chief for the Chinese news agency Xinhua. We got to chatting. The agency, which until then had been staffed by Chinese nationals, was looking to go mainstream, he told me, and planning to hire Canadian journalists to write about national politics and finance for Xinhua’s rapidly expanding audiences in China, the West, and the Third World. The job sounded interesting and the prospect of a steady gig was happy news, given that I’d just recently finished two years of teaching in the journalism department at Concordia University, returning to freelance writing just as the recession started to bite hard and magazine work dried up.

When I expressed interest, Yang immediately offered me some freelance work. A few months later Xinhua dangled the prospect of a full-time job as head of the agency’s English-language bureau in Ottawa. The cynic in me wondered if the offer might be too good to be true. Indeed, when I mentioned Xinhua to friends, their first reaction was often to ask whether this meant I would be a spy.