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Home > Publications > Quill > SDX Awards: Newspaper Foreign Correspondence


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Friday, June 30, 2006
SDX Awards: Newspaper Foreign Correspondence

Winner: Joseph Kahn and Jim Yardley — The New York Times

By Chris Speckman

At his most desperate, when he had no more borrowed money for his son’s legal defense, Xie Yujun went to a hospital. He knew of China’s black market in body parts. He wanted to sell his eyes. He was refused.

Mr. Xie, 60, is no stranger to desperate acts, if by necessity. His son was charged with a savage knife attack here in rural Anhui Province that left a mother and daughter badly wounded. The police suspected his son because of a property dispute between the families. But Mr. Xie believed the case was deeply flawed; the victims never identified the attacker. The only evidence was a questionable shoeprint. Police misconduct was blatant.


When New York Times foreign correspondent Jim Yardley told the story of Xiu, an old man willing to sell his eyes to save his son, he helped readers see the fatal flaws of the Chinese legal system.

The story was part of the ongoing project “Rule by Law,” an ambitious undertaking Yardley shared with his colleague Joseph Kahn.

“They form a seamless team that for two years now has won acclaim for getting far ahead of the curve in writing about the toughest and most opaque topics, so readers are equipped to understand the issues even as they emerge into the public eye,” said The Times in its letter to the judges.

The Times tandem already had produced the impeccably insightful series “The Great Divide,” a story that served as a forerunner for rural dissent in China, but “Rule by Law” was likely even more challenging and influential.

“These stories would be difficult to cover in any country, but especially in China,” said The Times. “Most of these cases unfolded in rural areas where reporters technically need permission even to set foot, and neither Beijing nor village officials wanted the stories out. Yet by a combination of inspiration and perspiration, Kahn and Yardley found people who would talk, on the record, in detail about miscarriages of justice.”

Kahn and Yardley’s stories about an oppressive legal system that frequently turned a blind eye to justice were compelling enough that they were well-read in China, a country not normally concerned with the words of foreign correspondents.

“It would be easy for a series about such cases to sink into sensationalism or shrill denunciations of abuses,” said The Times. “But this series aroused a tremendous response in China precisely because it acknowledged improvements in the legal system, because it refused to talk down to the reader, and because it broke new ground.”

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