The award-winning stories were reported over the course of 2019, on topics ranging from use of a hidden military base in Tajikistan as an entry point into Afghanistan, a clandestine Twitter crackdown, and the disappearance of student activists at Peking University. He also told stories of the damage caused by a chemical disaster in Xiangshui County, 200 miles north of Shanghai, and ex-laborers in Shenzhen, whose efforts to build a Chinese boomtown left them dying of lung disease. He also reported on the oppression of the Hui minority, in China’s heartland, as expansion of the repression begun thousands of miles away against another Muslim minority, the Uighurs, in Xinjiang province.
The independent jury that selects the Oz Prize winner said in a statement:
“Gerry Shih’s reporting on China epitomizes the clarion role of independent journalists in a tightly controlled, technologically empowered authoritarian state. He explored important topics Beijing is in no hurry to publicize, from its quiet military encroachment in central Asia to the state’s suffocation of the Hui people and culture. He lifted above the single-minded din of economic growth the voices of people who have surrendered their health, their homes and their access to the world in exchange for development of mega-cities, globalized industry, and a rigidly policed, digital society.”
The jury also recognized the work last year of other foreign journalists in China. In particular, the jury cited Reuters, for its “exceptional” work covering the massive popular protests in Hong Kong against proposals backed by Beijing that undermined promises made when the city was returned to China in 1997.
Gerry Shih is a China correspondent for The Washington Post. He previously covered China as a correspondent for The Associated Press. Before that, Shih was based in San Francisco, where he wrote about Silicon Valley and California politics for Reuters and The New York Times. Shih attended Stanford University.
Gerry Shih and the Washington Post will be honored at a discussion and awards ceremony held virtually on May 19. Jury Chair Marcus Brauchli will lead a discussion with Shih on his stories, and on the challenges of reporting in China now and in future.
The jury’s statement also addressed the issue of foreign journalists in China in light of that country’s recent decision to expel foreign journalists from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, including Gerry Shih. This action was taken in response to new U.S. restrictions on the number of Chinese citizens who could work for state-run Chinese media in the United States. The Oz Prize jury stated:
“Foreign journalists have played an ever-more-important role in China over the last generation, as this prize competition has seen over the years. They have uncovered corruption by the families of Beijing’s leaders. They have revealed fraud by Chinese companies raising capital abroad and environmental and human-rights abuses by factories serving the world’s consumers. In the last two years, foreign reporters in China have documented the government-ordered incarceration and indoctrination of the Uighur minority in western China. They also have told the stories of China’s justly celebrated economic expansion, of the emergence of a new class of brilliant, entrepreneurial leaders who are rethinking how societies can operate, and the scientific and technological achievements that have followed.”
“The jury for the Osborn Elliott Prize deeply regrets moves by both the United States and China to restrict the access of journalists and media to the other’s country. The outstanding nominations the Jury reviews every year and the winners it has chosen for this prize are a reminder of the important role of journalism and open information flows in global development.”
The Oz Prize jury is chaired by Marcus Brauchli, managing partner of North Base Media and the former top editor of both The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. The jury includes Dorinda Elliott, SVP/Director, Center for Business, China Institute; Mei Fong, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Director of Communications and Strategy at the Center for Public Integrity; and Alec McCabe, Senior Editor, Emerging Markets, Bloomberg News.
Asia Society’s “Oz Prize” is the premier honor bestowed for excellence in journalism on Asia. The $10,000 cash award is presented annually to the best example of journalism about Asia during the previous calendar year. It honors the late Osborn Elliott, legendary journalist, author and former editor-in-chief of Newsweek. Elliott was a leading figure in the field of journalism who became one of the earliest practitioners of “civic journalism”—the deliberate focusing of the journalistic enterprise on urgent issues of public policy.