After WildChina founder Mei Zhang met Melvyn Goh of Chinese National Geographic at the C100 Gala Dinner in December, she wanted to know: what is Chinese National Geographic’s new English edition about, and what perspective on China can it bring to foreign readers?
WildChina recently spoke to Melvyn Goh about Chinese National Geographic International (CNGi), why it was launched during a period of economic uncertainty, and what the English-language magazine hopes to bring to foreign readers unfamiliar with China.
WildChina: Can you give us some background on Chinese National Geography, English Edition (CNGi)? When was it first published?
Melvyn Goh (MG) : Published by M Media Group and supported by Chinese National Geography (CNG), CNGi is the first Chinese geographic magazine to break borders to reach out to an international audience, showcasing China’s diverse culture, heritage and geography to the world. Successfully launched in May 09, the inaugural issue attracted wide international media interest and generated a PR value of more than US$900,000.
CNGi’s uniqueness lies in the richness of its extensively researched content and spectacular images which are sourced directly from an authoritative Chinese source, CNG. CNGi magazine is distributed worldwide at airports and major bookstores in Hong Kong, mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand.
WC: CNGi and WildChina are very similar in that both aim to give people unfamiliar with China a sense of the country’s history, culture, et cetera beyond mainstream notions and stereotypes. How does CNGi accomplish this?
MG: We are the local storytellers who bring you the stories from China. Drawing from a wealth of well-researched and reliable information from an authoritative Chinese source CNG, we reach out to our readers through evocative narratives, stunning images, and other forms of communication from a local, more personalized perspective.
CNG is one of China’s most successful magazines with an unbeatable 60-year track record since 1949. Backed by the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR) under the directive of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), and the Geographical Society of China, CNG is an authoritative magazine brand written by the Chinese for 60 years, containing gems on China that competitors outside the country may not have access to.
WC: Why launch an English version, CNGi, during an economic crisis? What is important about bringing CNG to the English-speaking public at this time?
MG: Some might question the sanity of launching a magazine now. Reader habits are shifting from print to online, with some print titles abandoning the medium to go print-digital only. But print has faced tough times before, and the right publication can still find a niche and succeed. Just look at Fortune magazine. It’s famous for having launched a mere four months after the 1929 crash.
Also, CNGi is more than just a magazine. It is a magazine brand, going beyond print to online, events, books and social networks. CNGi is the definitive authority on China. And China is the country to watch.
In this current economic crisis, it’s a rare country that can claim a 6 to 8 percent GDP for the next 5 to 10 years. China can. Every respectable global brand in the world has a presence, or plans to have one, in China. It is the “IT” country—a place and people that have demonstrated phenomenal innovation, growth and industry. Yet it’s one that still has that sheen of exoticism that many want to demystify.
That’s why I believe this to be the right time to launch a magazine brand about China’s culture, heritage and geography from a respected source: Chinese National Geography (CNG). While many publications claim their expertise on China, none have ever claimed this—a Chinese brand written by the Chinese for the Chinese for 60 years, and now brought to the world in English.
WC: What, in your opinion, is the key to increasing the English-speaking public’s knowledge of the ‘real’ China?
MG: Content comes first. To achieve this, CNG has an independent editorial office to maintain integrity of content, to stay free from the pressures of the market. However, this does not mean the editors are blind to the outside world—they must remain aware to the needs of their readers. We must not be afraid to cover controversial issues without fear or bias, in order to get people to think about such issues.
Next is relevancy. Our readers must be able to relate to our stories. We tackle real issues that affect China and the world. Moreover, China is indeed a fascinating place for the world to know about, with its varied natural environment and a civilization that spans five thousand years. As China rises as a global power, more and more people will be interested to learn more about China and its culture. So we want our magazine to be an invaluable— and impartial—source of knowledge on issues in China.
WC: What is your vision and what are your goals for CNGi?
MG: CNG English Edition was launched with the mission of “Bringing China to the World” and to foster a greater understanding of China’s rich history and culture amongst readers across the globe.
CNG English Edition is currently distributed to retailers across China and the Asia Pacific region and subscribers worldwide. Through working with licensing partners, we hope to expand retail sales to cover Europe and the US. In addition to the English Edition, we hope to launch local edition in the US, and French and German editions in Europe first before extending to Italian and other Western languages subsequently.
CNGi is more than just a magazine. It is a magazine brand, going beyond print to online, events, books and social networks. Our goal is to leverage the content of the Chinese language version and extend the magazine brand to multi-media platforms such as programming such as TV and films, customized book licensing, merchandising, mapping, merchandising and digital content distribution such as e-magazines and other mobile applications.
Photo credit: MadisonBoom.com