RFA’s Mandarin Service

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 July 2011 08:39 Written by augustins Thursday, 14 July 2011 08:39

RFA’s Mandarin Service

The 2011 QSL card, designed by an RFA listener's daughter.

Thank you for visiting RFA’s 15th Anniversary site. This month we’re featuring RFA’s first broadcast service, RFA Mandarin.

Please scroll down to explore the unique features of RFA Mandarin including fast facts, photos, history, special programming, awards, listener comments, the media environment in China and awards won by RFA Mandarin journalists.

You can also listen to audio from the first broadcast in 1996 as well as view major news events and exclusive stories covered over the past 15 years.




Fast Facts

First Broadcast: September 29, 1996.

Languages: Mandarin, Wu dialect.

Special Programming: RFA Mandarin airs its Asia Pacific Report, the service’s flagship hour-long news show featuring in-depth reporting, interviews, and updates, four times a day. In addition, the service has close to 10 hours each week of call-in programming, enabling listeners to voice opinions and discuss a multitude of topics with expert guests. The service also broadcasts listener feedback, discussions with experts on Chinese political and economic reforms, and interviews with Chinese democracy activists and well-known expatriates, as well as programming related to global current affairs, China’s uncensored history, banned and censored books and literature, children, China’s legal system, physical health, and Chinese cultural topics every week.


BBG Governor Kaufman and Former RFA President Richter inspect the new transmitter in Saipan in 1999.

First Broadcast: RFA’s Mandarin Service was RFA’s first service. It began broadcasting on September 29, 1996 from Washington, DC to China. The first broadcast aired at 7 AM Beijing time and lasted 30 minutes. The broadcast was repeated during the following half hour and again the same night at 11 PM Beijing time. The initial broadcast included regional news and feature stories including news reports on a territorial dispute between China and Japan, protests in Burma, a review of China’s most favored nation status, and U.S.-China trade relations. Liu Binyan, China’s most famous investigative reporter in exile in the United States, spoke about challenges facing China’s Communist Party. Click here to listen to RFA’s first broadcast.

Reaction From China: The Chinese government reacted to the initial broadcasts with strong words of opposition to top-level US officials, as well as editorials in major Chinese newspapers claiming that the CIA was behind the broadcast operation. One government spokesperson called the broadcasts “meddling” and warned that they were “not advantageous” to US-China relations. The official People’s Daily denounced RFA as “disgusting Cold War static” funded by the CIA and carried a cartoon of the gossip-spewing “Mr. Long-tongue”.

RFA journalists Feng Xiaoming and Arin Basu meet President Clinton at the White House.

Listener Comments: A steady stream of letters to RFA’s Hong Kong mailbox arriving from throughout China and from Chinese living abroad showed that listeners were tuning in. Men and women, and younger people, from all walks of life, including high school students, retired military officials, peasants, intellectuals, wrote in expressing overwhelming support. A few made appeals for help and asked that their letters be forward to human rights organizations. “Concise and powerful” is how one of the first listener letters received summed up RFA Mandarin’s broadcast.




Media Environment in China

Xiaoming Feng of RFA's Mandarin Service covering the APEC meeting in Shanghai, October 2001. It was the first time that RFA reporters were allowed to travel to China to cover international events after visas were denied in 1998.

Freedom House Freedom of the Press Ranking: Not Free (165th/196 countries ranked in 2010)

Committee to Protect Journalists Report on Number of Journalists Imprisoned: 34

Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Barometer 2011 calls China “the world’s biggest prison for journalists, bloggers and cyber-dissidents.” Most of the around 100 prisoners have been sentenced to long jail sentences for “subversion” or “divulging state secrets” and are held in harsh conditions, with journalists often being put to forced labor. The local authorities, fearful of bad publicity from reports on corruption and nepotism, continue to arrest journalists. There are 76 imprisoned netizens.

Excerpt from Human Rights Watch’s 2011 World Report: “The government continued to restrict the rights and freedoms of journalists, bloggers and an estimated 384 million internet users, in violation of domestic legal guarantees of freedom of press and expression. The government requires state media and internet search firms to censor references to issues ranging from the June 1989 Tiananmen massacres to details of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.”

Service Highlights

RFA Mandarin Broadcasters Bai Fan, Tang Qiwei, Rao Yiming and Shi Shan.

Overview: The largest of Radio Free Asia’s nine language services, RFA Mandarin has been providing its listeners with a variety of programming since its launch in September 1996. The service, which broadcasts close to 86 hours of programming weekly, delivers breaking news coverage on demonstrations, human rights abuses, tainted food and drug products, media freedom restrictions, censorship, land disputes, and factory strikes, in addition to an array of other topical programming. It also airs in-depth reports on ongoing environmental and health threats; China’s legal, economic, and political reforms; and business and government corruption, among other important topics. Through its extensive and often exclusive coverage, RFA’s Mandarin service has been frequently cited by major news sources worldwide for its first-rate journalism. Since its inception, the service’s broadcasters have garnered many prestigious awards and honors including the prestigious Gracie Allen Award.

RFA Mandarin Service Senior Editor Laura Juan Huang and Korean Service Broadcaster Jin Seo Lee were honored as co-recipients of a 2010 David Burke Award for distinguished journalism.

Some recent notable moments include: covering the jailing of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, the plight of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Chinese rights advocate Liu Xiaobo and the Oslo, Norway ceremony in December 2010, the 2008 Beijing Olympics from the ground and the crackdown on free speech in the lead up and after the games, and authorities’ use of mental institutionalization as a means to deter petitioners. Not only does the service’s news coverage get picked up outside the country, it also drives news within.

When the service broadcast exclusive coverage of a violent government crackdown in the town of Dongzhou that left villagers dead, China’s state-controlled Xinhua news was forced to report on the incident that otherwise would have gone officially unacknowledged. In addition, the service’s five call-in shows enable listeners to participate in a free-speech forum in which they can voice opinions and discuss ideas otherwise forbidden or discouraged by authorities.

Major News Events Covered By RFA Mandarin

RFA's Jill Ku interviews one of the few petitioners who dared to show up at one of the special protest parks set up by the Chinese government during the Olympics. Police quickly appeared and escorted the woman away.

1997 Hong Kong Sovereignty Returned to China Ceremony
1998 Exclusive interview with President Clinton prior to his China trip
1998 Chinese president Jiang Zemin’s US visit
1999 Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji’s US visit
1999 WTO summit meeting in Seattle, Washington
2000 Taiwan’s Presidential Election
2000 Sydney Summer Olympics
2000 Nobel Literature Award Ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden
2001 Events related to September 11 terrorists attacks
2001 Shanghai APEC meeting
2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics
2002 President Bush’s Beijing trip
2004 Presidential election in Taiwan
2004 Athens Summer Olympics
2005 President Bush’s Beijing trip
2006 Turin Winter Olympics
2008 Taiwan Presidential Election
2008 Beijing Summer Olympics
2009 Tianamen Square 20th Anniversary
2009 President Obama’s China trip
2010 Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony in Oslo, Norway

Recent Exclusive Coverage

Here are some recent exclusive interviews by RFA Mandarin:

RFA Mandarin correspondent He Ping.

The Mandarin service routinely breaks stories on religious persecution in China. In an exclusive report, Mandarin reporter Qiao Long detailed crackdowns on Christian services during the Christmas season, from the central province of Hubei to the northwest Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Wuhan-based award-winning novelist Hu Fayun visited RFA during his 2010 tour of the United States. Speaking to Mandarin reporter He Ping in an RFA studio, the author of the bestseller Ruyan@SARS.com attributed literary mediocrity in contemporary China to political repression.

Jung Chang, author of the international acclaimed book Mao: the Unknown Story, shared her insights into the “Mao myth” in a one-on-one interview with Mandarin reporter Han Qing.

RFA aired Bao Tong's 20th Anniversary narration of the June 4th crackdown in Beijing in 1989, in which he condemned the killing in Tiananmen Square and called for parliamentary democracy.

Former top official Bao Tong, living under house arrest in Beijing, regularly calls for political liberalization in China through RFA’s Mandarin broadcast. Bao Tong is the most senior Chinese official imprisoned during the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen democracy movement. He served a seven-year sentence for “leaking state secrets” and spreading “counter-revolutionary propaganda.”

In an internal document, the Fuzhou city party committee cited a Mandarin report verbatim and instructed lower-level cadres to take timely and effective measures to prevent social unrest as a result of land expropriation schemes. Mandarin reporter Ding Xiao, whose report on clashes over land grabs in Fujian was cited in the internal circular, received a hard copy of the document sent by an anonymous person to RFA’s PO Box in Hong Kong.

In-depth Coverage Of Charter 08

During a three week period in 2008, RFA provided exclusive in-depth coverage on the signing of the Charter and subsequent arrests. Below are some of the highlights of our breaking news exclusives:

On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 303 prominent intellectuals and human rights activists in China jointly released, on December 10, a manifesto titled “Charter 08” calling for greater political freedom in the world’s most populous country. Proposing 19 specific areas of reform from freedom of expression to property protection, “Charter 08” is modeled after “Charter 77,” the civic initiative circulated in Czechoslovakia in 1977 criticizing the government for failing to implement the human rights provisions of a number of documents it had signed.

On December 8, two days before the planned launch of “Charter 08,” Beijing-based dissident writer Liu Xiaobo, an RFA Mandarin commentator and widely believed to be the author of the charter, was detained by police. The Chinese government responded to international condemnation of Liu’s detention with the harassment and interrogation of more Charter signatories. Undaunted by the heavy-handed actions, more than 6,000 people (many of whom based in China) subsequently expressed support for “Charter 08” and called for the release of Liu Xiaobo. In addition to interviewing many of those summoned for questioning over their involvement with the document, Mandarin’s coverage of “Charter 08” included several exclusives:

RFA Mandarin Staff Alex Tseu and Jennifer Chou with renowned Chinese author Yu Jie visiting RFA in Summer 2010.

On December 10, dissident writer Yu Jie, a co-signer of the Charter, told RFA Mandarin in an interview that his Beijing home had been surrounded by helmet-wearing police and police cars since December 8, the day Liu Xiaobo was detained. Yu Jie was attending a conference in California at the time. His wife was home with their eight-month-old son and Yu’s aging parents. On December 11, Yu’s father said in an interview with Mandarin that hours after RFA first aired the interview with Yu the police and police cars pulled away and that Yu’s family members were then allowed to “come and go freely.” Yu’s father credited the removal of armed police and police cars to the timely reporting by RFA.

  • On December 13, RFA Mandarin aired an essay by Bao Tong, former political aide to ousted late premier Zhao Ziyang, written exclusively for RFA in response to the detention and interrogation of the charter’s signatories. Bao Tong was the highest-ranking CCP official to be imprisoned for expressing support for Tiananmen democracy protesters in 1989. He has been under house arrest in his Beijing home since his release after serving a seven-year sentence. In the essay for RFA, Bao Tong, a co-signer of “Charter 08,” reiterated the peaceful nature of the charter and blasted the authorities for detaining Liu Xiaobo.

On December 24, citing two separate sources, RFA Mandarin broke the news that China’s Central Propaganda Department has ordered a crackdown on Chinese media workers who signed “Charter 08.” An executive at a state-controlled media outlet in Beijing told RFA Mandarin that Chinese media had been barred from interviewing anyone who signed the charter and from carrying articles penned by signatories. Some signers have been warned “not to go to extremes.” A journalist at a state-run media organization who signed “Charter 08” also told RFA Mandarin that he had received a phone call from his superior, telling him not to bother submitting any more articles. The English version of this Mandarin report was republished by the popular Web portal China Digital Times as its lead story on December 24 and 25.

Recent Web Highlights

  • In January 2011, RFA Mandarin began live webcast production.
  • RFA Mandarin launched their online Citizen Dropbox feature in September 2009, which allows citizen journalists and listeners to get news leads and pan video files to RFA. Also that month, the service began producing TV news-style video webcasts with presenters, graphics, and video footage, made available online.
  • RFA Mandarin began implementing interactive comment features on stories in August 2009.

Listener Comments

Listeners letters sent to RFA's Mandarin Service.

“Radio Free Asia is the best present the American people have ever given to the Chinese people. RFA is like an ear-eye-throat specialist. It makes us see and hear, and it allows us to speak. It’s like a magical mirror that reflects what is wrong with the system in China. After 10 years of hard work, RFA is like a torch that leads us on the road to democracy.” – Shanghai male listener in his 70s

“I’ve been a longtime listener of RFA. Your programming is truly good. Chinese domestic radio talk shows do not allow you to touch on sensitive topics. If you even try, you will be cut off. What RFA call-ins air is the true voice of the Chinese people.” — Listener in Hunan, 38, engineer

“Radio Free Asia has made an extremely significant contribution to China. I know for a fact that people from all walks of life listen to RFA. Your listenership consists of civil servants, laid-off workers, college students, and so on and so forth. The importance of RFA is evidenced by the fact that it is severely jammed by the Chinese government. Of all foreign radio stations that broadcast to China, no one is jammed as badly as RFA. That just goes to show that RFA is the best in terms of program content. Why is the Chinese government so afraid of RFA? Because it tells the truth about China. Radio Free Asia has opened the eyes and minds of the Chinese people.” — Retired engineer in his 70s from Jiangsu Province, China

“RFA’s Listener Hotline is like a toll-free super highway. There are no red lights or forbidden zones on this highway. It provides the Chinese people with a wide open space that leads to freedom and democracy.” — Male listener from Hebei Province, China

“To listen to Radio Free Asia, I purchased two short-wave radios in 2000. I used to be able to hear you despite the jamming. But since Hu Jintao took office, jamming has stepped up. It’s as if his full-time job is to jam Radio Free Asia. I think China has set up an invisible web across the country aimed at blocking RFA signals. I just love to listen to RFA—I’ve learned so much from RFA. If everyone in China listens to RFA, China would not be the mess it is today, because by listening to RFA we learn more truth about China, and we would then be able to make the right choices on the road to democracy. While there is RFA, there is hope for China.” —Listener in Gansu, China

Wei Jiesheng thanks RFA staff in May 1998 during visit to RFA after his release by Chinese authorities.

“RFA mainly covers news on common people and the weak. Newspapers I usually read are basically about neutral news in the society. They seldom cover unfairness or international political events. In addition, they seldom cover negative information about China.” – Female listener, 37, Shenyang

“I am a college student. In China, our right to ‘freedom of speech’ has been deprived. Listener Hotline provides a chance for people to express their feelings, their real thoughts, and different ideas.” – Listener from Jiangsu

“I learned from Radio Free Asia that many died in Dongzhou village as a result of the crackdown on civilians. Xinhua (China’s official newspaper) says the villagers had attacked the soldiers first so the soldiers were forced to shoot back. Didn’t the government say that about Tiananmen Square? In Dongzhou village, the government took land from the peasants without proper compensation. That’s the genesis of the dispute. And they say it’s a government of the people and for the people. ” – Male listener, Jiangsu

“RFA coverage is very complete. It’s quite different from the media I use in my life. The latter usually cover meaningless issues. RFA has always been sensitive and professional to news.” – Male listener, 26, Shenyang

Please click here to view more comments from Mandarin Service listeners and readers.


Recognized as a trusted and distinguished source of news from the beginning, RFA’s Mandarin service has won numerous journalism awards and distinctions over the years for investigative and special reporting.

RFA Mandarin correspondents Min Zhang and April Wang were recently named finalists at the Radio Programming and Advertising Competition New York Festivals (NYF). In the best human interest story category, Min’s story is about Shandong blind activist Chen Guangcheng who was freed from years of jail time but is still under house arrest. Covering social issues and current events, April exposed China’s discrimination against Hepatitis B patients.

RFA Mandarin correspondent Tang Qiwei.


Chen Yu Hsin, Winner, Human Rights Press Award co-sponsored by Amnesty International Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club and the Hong Kong Journalists Association.

Tang Qiwei, Finalist Certificate, History Category, NYF for her piece on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, which aired on June 4, 2009. The short audio documentary, which was edited by Feng Xiaoming, used interviews with many leaders, activists, and officials involved with or connected to the Beijing student-led demonstrations.

Laura Huang, David Burke Award For Distinguished Journalism from The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) for her environmental program “Guardian of the River Huai.” This program told the story of Huo Daishan, a photojournalist turned environmentalist, who conducted a one-man crusade to save China’s third-largest river. Laura highlighted Huo’s often lonely quest to halt pollution and put an end to scores of “cancer villages” along the beloved river of his childhood.


Peter Zhong won a Silver Medal at the 2009 New York Festivals Radio Programming Award competition, presented to him by BBG Governor Governor Blanquita Cullum and RFA Executive Editor Dan Southerland.

2009 was a bumper year for Mandarin at the NYF. The jury of the international competition named RFA “Broadcaster of the Year.” Ding Xiao won a gold medal in the category of Best Investigative Report for her expose on a petitioner from China’s eastern Jiangsu province who was held by authorities without due process in a “law study group” detention center for disciplinary re-education. Peter Zhong took a silver medal for his four-part series on police corruption in Guilin, Guangxi province titled, “Crime without Punishment” in which he exposed the extent of Guilin’s police-run underworld through his extensive coverage on female prisoner abuse.

Jill Ku won a bronze in the category of Best Special Report for her exclusive story, which caught on audio and video Chinese police arresting a petitioner, who was being interviewed by RFA, during the Beijing 2008 Olympics. And Mandarin’s entire current-affairs team won a bronze medal in the Best Newscast category for its story on Chinese lawyers attempting to file a civil lawsuit on behalf of the families of victims of the tainted milk powder scandal that left at least six infants and children dead and 300,000 suffering from related ailments.


RFA Mandarin Correspondent Jill Ku.

RFA Mandarin provided extensive, award-winning coverage of the Chinese government’s crackdown on media and dissent in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, and the media restrictions that followed the international games. The Service won the prestigious American Women in Radio and Television Gracie Allen Award for Most Outstanding Series for its segment on “The Internet and Civil Rights in China.”

Jill Ku received a Finalist Certificate at the NYF for her story “Jailed by the Free World? — Two Womens’ Fight Against Yahoo! and China’s Internet Control.” In Jill’s exclusive interview with these frail but defiant women who are up against the power of a super corporation and an authoritarian nation, they revealed many never-before-heard details of China’s merciless internet control and harsh prison conditions.


RFA President Libby Liu appears on a Mandarin call-in show in October 2007.

Zhu Xingqing, Winner of the Human Rights Press Award co-sponsored by Amnesty International Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club and the Hong Kong Journalists Association.
Min Zhang, Certificate of Distinction Finalist Award, NYF.

Ding Xiao, Winner of the Human Rights Press Award co-sponsored by Amnesty International Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club and the Hong Kong Journalists Association.

Jing Wu, Winner of the Gracie Allen Award presented by Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television.

Peter Zhong, Finalist Certificate in Best Investigative Report category, NYF for covering China SARS story in February 2003.
Min Zhang, Winner, The Edward R. Murrow Awards: Regional.
Min Zhang, Winner, The Gracie Allen Award, Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television.

Han Dongfang hosts Labor Corner from RFA's Hong Kong office in May 1998.


Han Dongfang, Winner of the BBG David Burke Distinguished Journalism Award.
Min Zhang, Winner, The Edward R. Murrow Awards: Regional.
Min Zhang, Certificate of Distinction Finalist Award, NYF.
Peter Zhong, Certificate of Distinction Finalist Award, NYF.

RFA Mandarin broadcaster Zhang Min.


RFA Mandarin correspondent Min Zhang won numerous awards including: The Gracie Allen Award from the Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television The Edward R. Murrow Regional Award and the Outstanding Writer of the Year Award from Chan’s Journalism and Culture Foundation.

Peter Zhong was the winner of the BBG David Burke Distinguished Journalism Award and a Distinguished Nominee for the International Broadcasting Excellence Award from the National Association of Broadcasters.

Drew Liu, RFA Mandarin's web team leader.


April Wang, Distinguished Nominee Award, National Association of Broadcasters. Min Zhang, Bronze Medal, NYF.


Huajie Zhang, Finalist Award, NYF. Tian Li, Distinguished Nominee Award, National Association of Broadcasters.


Peter Zhong, Honorable Mention, Hong Kong Human Rights News Award Ceremony, Hong Kong Journalism Association.


Bei Ming, Finalist Award, NYF.


Huiyi Cao Chen, Finalist Award, NYF.


This year, Radio Free Asia celebrates 15 years of bringing objective, accurate, and timely news to people in Asian countries that restrict free speech and free media.
While much has changed at RFA since we began in 1996, our mission has remained the same: to advance the principles of the fundamental right to the free-flow of information and the right to seek, receive, and impart information.
Please take a moment to explore this webpage where you can revisit important milestones, accomplishments, and moments from RFA’s early days to the present.
—Libby Liu, President of RFA

BBG resolution

On December 17, 2010 the Broadcasting Board of Governors passed this resolution celebrating and commemorating RFA's 15 years of impact broadcasting.

Click here to read the resolution (PDF)

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