Like many young men who have earned a Master’s degree in journalism, Mitch Moxley wants to be in the world, tell engaging stories and get paid for it.
Moxley’s first book, Apologies to My Censor: The High and Low Adventures of a Foreigner in China, is a funny and strange account of life as an ex-pat Canadian in pre- and post-2008 Olympics China.
The ambitious Saskatchewanian studied journalism at the University of Western Ontario, graduated, moved to Toronto and found his employment options limited.
One cold winter day in 2007 he answers a posting on an online journalism job board. China Daily needed a writer-editor for their business section. The Communist government-owned newspaper, based in Beijing, is hungry for Western-trained talent to beef up their international image.
Moxley signs up and he’s immediately thrust into the gaping, polluted maw that is China’s bustling capital city, working alongside both ex-pats and Chinese employees who grew up under Communism – and accustomed to government-sanctioned truth. Because of Moxley’s height, they dub him Mi Gao or “Tall Rice.”
The new arrival soon finds out that journalism isn’t what he’s being paid to do at China Daily: “I was essentially accepting a job as a propagandist for the government of the People’s Republic of China.” He quickly learns not to mention riots in Chinese-occupied Tibet, the breakaway country of Taiwan or anything else that might paint the Communist government in a negative light.
Moxley gets entrepreneurial and pitches freelance ideas and finished stories to markets outside of China. “In the days after I was offered the job,” he writes, “I pictured myself cracking A-list publications, maybe even writing a book about my experiences at China Daily.”
The 2008 financial meltdown dried up job opportunities around the world, even in China. After sharing some revealing stories about his post – China Daily accommodations, his love life and his calls home to Canada for money, Moxley hooks up with Tom Mackenzie, a UK freelance journalist, and Jim Wasserman, an American freelance photographer.
Moxley, Mackenzie and Wasserman travel to Guangzhou to report on government racism against African traders. They also head to Macau, a former Portuguese colony, to investigate the casino island’s prostitution scene. Erlian, a rich oil city in northern China, is found to be a major human trafficking hub that exploits young Mongolian women.
Their trip to Mongolia, a former Soviet satellite north of China, is a particular eye-opener. Moxley interviews neo-Nazi leaders in the land of Genghis Khan who blame ethnic Chinese and other non-Mongolians for all the country’s problems.
In Ulaanbaator, the Mongolian capital, Nazism is often fetishized. “After all,” Moxley notes, “Ulaanbaator was a place with a Nazi bar, where the only chain restaurant was a Kenny Rogers Roasters, a town where you risked a beating just by stepping out your front door.”
Apologies to My Censor is an honest tale of living and working abroad in 21st century China. Moxley has a flare for creative non-fiction, with succinct dialogue, engaging narrative and, thankfully, very little earnestness.
D. Grant Black is a Saskatchewan freelance writer-editor and travel author.