The Orwell Prize for Journalism 2024: Anna Chen’s entry

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What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.

George Orwell

Okay, how could I possibly resist having another go at entering The Orwell Prize in these most Orwellian of times? I knew I’d be one challenging voice on the wrong side of the consensus but, hey, that’s what’s George is for. Having been both longlisted and shortlisted in the past, I submitted my four pieces in March with no illusions except a faint hope for expansion of a strangled discourse and a useful litmus test of its limits in the current climate.

The Orwell Prize for Journalism is awarded to a journalist for sustained reportage and/or commentary working in any medium.

It’s disappointing to find that The Orwell Prize has dispensed with the longlist which used to be a showcase for a rich breadth of views that softened the elitism inherent in the upper echelons of the media. Instead of taking the temperature, they’ve now gone straight for a shortlist of establishment finalists and their specialised investigations. Out of the standard perspectives on Ukraine, October 7 and Hamas, and views from The Economist, FT and Guardian which largely feature, only Kavita Puri’s Three Million BBC podcast series on the Bengal Famine stands out as breaking new ground in the mainstream media.

Orwell Orwellianised

A hundred flowers no longer blossom. Orwell has been Orwellianised. Narrowing the scope of the journalism prize — much as Winston Smith did to language in his Newspeak job, removing words and thereby the concepts behind them — seems to me doubleplusungood. They’ve even removed his photo from the website banner.

You may recognise the title of my entry as a quote from the man himself; his sardonic warning containing a deep understanding of the state and how its organs function to uphold it has come to pass. Irony multiplies within ironies as the media machine marches us off to another catastrophic conflict in Asia.

Some might consider our rush to war (possibly World War 3) with a much-maligned nation rising out of the wreckage inflicted on it over a century and a half, as the biggest threat to this planet, along with the climate change only China appears to be taking seriously. A threat that requires Orwell’s sharp, discerning eye instead of a forest of dead bats and deaf ears when we’re not being assailed by a relentless Case for the Prosecution.

In continued defiance of the airbrushing out of the topic, here’s my submission (without submitting in spirit), including a supporting statement.

Supporting statement


Chinese British writer, horrified by the revival of anti-Chinese tropes in the turn to war on China, seeks balance and reappraisal of propaganda remaining unchecked and unchallenged. 

If the Fourth Estate’s role is to hold the other three pillars of the democratic state to account, then it has failed in this task, slipping instead into a dangerous false consensus. Ever since former President Trump shifted against China and we followed, critical thinking and investigative skills have been lost to stenographic regurgitation of state narratives in a single relentless case for the prosecution, with no defence or right of reply allowed. 

It’s disappointing to see how British journalism jumped on board the USS Titanic with such drunken glee.

What happened to thesis, antithesis, synthesis in thrashing out the truth?

When did you last see, read or hear a dissenting view put by a Chinese person? Or anyone at all?

No-one should still need to demystify and humanise the Chinese as a counterweight to the prevalent Yellow Peril stereotypes so embedded in the culture.

As George Orwell wrote ironically: we have always been at war with Eastasia.

Articles submitted to The Orwell Prize 2024

1) We’ll always have Beijing

West in a hot and fast u-turn on any positive popular culture portrayals of Chinese

14 August 2023 

We'll Always Have Bejing - Anna Chen in Asia Times. Orwell Prize for journalism 2024

2) Zoo time at Operation Circe: How the Wolf Warrior was invented

5 September 2023 

How the Wolf Warrior was invented: Zoo Time at Operation Circe - Anna Chen in Asia Times. Orwell Prize for Journalism entry 2024

3) Don Quixote in the White House: Hollywood deconstructs the narrative
29 September 2023

Don Quixote in the White House - Anna Chen in Asia Times. Orwell Prize entry 2024

4) America blames China for its opioid epidemic 

5 October 2023

Madam Miaow (Anna Chen) makes the Orwell Prize shortlist – 15 April 2010

Video: Orwell Prize 2014 launch panel – Internet and the modern self with Anna Chen. Recorded 21 October 2013

Anna Chen teaches Poetry Against the Cuts at the Orwell Prize Wigan Pier workshop – 11 October 2013

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