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US journalist aims to help the world understand China

By Xing Yi | | Updated: 2021-07-20 10:40
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Erik Nilsson [Photo provided to China Daily]

Erik Nilsson, an American journalist who works at China Daily and a recipient of the Chinese Government Friendship Award, held a talk to promote his new book in Shanghai on July 16 .

Titled Closer to Heaven: A global nomad's journey through China's poverty alleviation, the book was published in Chinese and English by China Intercontinental Press in January.

Divided into four parts, the book chronicles Nilsson's experience of reporting on the Sichuan earthquake, his volunteering stint in Qinghai province, China's poverty alleviation projects and the country's economic progress along the Yangtze River.

"These journeys have been adventures. They've brought me from the darkness of the quake zone toward the light, from the United States to the 'roof of the world' and closer to heaven," Nilsson told audiences at the talk.

"And they've been a firsthand exploration of how China, in turn, has lifted so many people from the hell that is poverty and closer to heaven, as it exists on this Earth."

Nilsson first came to China in 2005 for an internship program in China Daily when he was studying journalism at Central Michigan University.

A year later, Nilsson returned to Beijing and joined the newspaper.

"I love the food, the culture, the history, and above all, the people," he said. "I returned to 'do my year in China', and I never left."

In 2008, Nilsson was among the first journalists to report on the disaster relief efforts in the aftermath of the 8.0-magnitude Sichuan earthquake.

"The quake zone looked just like a war zone," he said. "Witnessing the recovery miracle firsthand transformed my understanding of China and its capacity to make the impossible not only possible but also reality, and it inspired me to start a volunteer initiative in Yushu's quake zone in 2011."

Nilsson and other volunteers first helped to install solar panels in the local schools before providing books, clothes and other resources to the poor Tibetan students and families.

Due to China's poverty alleviation project, the facilities in schools in Qinghai province have improved significantly in the past decade, he noted.

"Our volunteer project has gradually shifted from providing the 'hardware' to 'software' — student scholarships, teacher training and school principal leadership programs," he said.

Erik Nilsson, an American journalist who works at China Daily and a recipient of the Chinese Government Friendship Award, held a talk to promote his new book in Shanghai on July 16 . [Photo provided to China Daily]

Because of his exemplary journalistic works and volunteering stints, Nilsson was in 2006 awarded the Chinese Government Friendship Award, the highest honor that can be conferred to foreigners who have contributed to China's development.

Nilsson, who was then aged 33, was the youngest-ever winner of the award. During the Spring Festival reception in 2017, he delivered a six-minute speech on media development at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was among the audience.

"China is making greater strides toward the center of the global stage. Unfortunately, misunderstandings are compounding, largely because of misrepresentations, particularly in Western media...China has such a unique history, culture, and even geography that I think it's difficult for many people outside the country to understand," Nilsson said.

"Many Western readers said that they gained a more balanced and positive understanding of China after reading my book. Many Chinese readers also said they achieved a deeper understanding of their own country. This is what I'm happiest about," he said.

"There's an extraordinary value in helping the world better understand China."

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