BEYOND THE NEWSROOM
James Chau does not want to be known as just another face on television. As main news presenter for China Central Television (CCTV) for over a decade (the Chinese state broadcaster is now known as China Global Television Network, CGTN), James has had the opportunity to sit down with some of the most high profile global personalities.
As correspondent, he’s made his mark covering breaking news stories such as the Asian Tsunami, SARs outbreak, Sichuan earthquake, among others.
Nobody is truly voiceless, it depends on whether we choose to listen to them or not
But TV personality is just one facade of Chau. The 40-year-old is highly passionate about advocating HIV/AIDS awareness. In 2009, he was appointed as China’s first UNAIDS Goodwill ambassador, and more recently in 2016, as Goodwill Ambassador for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Health.
"The most noble thing is to serve other people, who are perhaps at a more disadvantaged (place) than you are; who have a voice but not heard,” says the 40-year-old on his roles with UN.
“Because nobody is truly voiceless, it depends on whether we choose to listen to them or not,” he adds.
Chau thought he could do much more to champion the HIV, apart from levering his following and presence on TV. And so, he sought out United Nations to offer his help.
“I went to their office and asked if I could volunteer. Then they asked me how much do you know about HIV/AIDS, and I said, 'nothing',” says Chau with a smile.
“But I'm very willing to learn, and so they began to mentor me,” he adds.
James Chau - I Had Never Wanted to Work in China
Beijing-based Chau is currently a special contributor to CGTN, which broadcasts to 85 million viewers. He was also a Guest Presenter on BBC World News for the award-winning show, Horizons. On social media, he has over 1.7 million followers on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.
He hopes to effect a different and more inclusive conversation on the global pandemic and help advocate the rights of HIV positive individuals.
"We need to stop seeing them as being only health challenges. We need to see them as opportunities to transform and fight for social justice. So, for example, when you are affected by the disease, do you have access to doctor? It’s not just a question of health, it is a question of living your fullest potential in life,” says Chau.
"It’s not separate from my work as a journalist. You could say that the two marry together because it all has to do with people. It has to do with what our needs are and how we can construct a safe and more secure global society," says Chau.
James Chau on the Secret to Good Interviews
Born in London, Chau was educated at the City of London School. Growing up, he was subjected to bullying in school.
“I was very unhappy growing up. I was bullied a lot, I think I was discriminated against because not only I was Chinese, I was also different to most of the boys in my school; I was different ethnically, different in what I found interesting.”
At 12 years old, he enrolled into the Royal Academy of Music to study piano. In music, Chau sought refuge. In the academy, he gained a sense of belonging.
I think music saved my life in many ways
“The academy gave me a home, away from that feeling of hatred. Even though I studied there for a short period of time, I always thank them (the academy) because they gave me everything that I have today.”
“I think music saved my life in many ways,” says Chau.
Chau went on to study at Cambridge University where he served as news features editor for Varsity, the university’s oldest student newspaper.
Upon graduating, he landed a gig as intern at Vogue, marking his first foray into journalism. Following that, after a stint at British publisher Mirror Group, Chau moved to Hong Kong for his first newsroom position as reporter.
Since then, the boyish-looking lad has interviewed world leaders such as former Secretary Generals of the United Nations, Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon, former Zimbabwe prime minister Robert Mugabe, towering personalities like Elton John, Arianna Huffington, Bob Geldof and anti-apartheid campaigner Winnie Mandela, to Nobel Peace Prize winners, Aung San Suu Kyi and Muhammad Yunus.
“I think that the secret to good interview is to always see that person not only in their role - as president, prime minister, king, activist, scientific leader - but to also see them just as people,” says Chau.
“When you do that, you can relate to them and they can relate to you,” he adds, “What it becomes then, a seamless conversation as you would have with a friend.”
He says, however, that does not mean, forgoing the hard questions.
Whether they are Mandela, Mugabe, or Ban Ki Moon, they have a story to tell
“As a journalist you have a mandate to ask these questions. You have invited someone to speak with you and they honored you by accepting that invitation. In so doing, you have the the platform to ask them.
“Whether they are Mandela, Mugabe, or Ban Ki Moon, they have a story to tell. And therefore, you have a duty to extract the story by asking them intelligent thoughtful, well constructed question.”
“So what gives me courage, I think, is the combination of humility and coming in with a blank slate that says ‘I don’t know very much, but I’ve come prepared and I would love to know your story’,” says Chau.
James Chau - Preparation is Key
Chau hopes to continue his activism to promote a wider conversation on improving access to healthcare and quality of life among people living with HIV/AIDS.
“I hope that people think I’m kind. I hope that I work hard enough to demonstrate that,” says Chau.
Chau looks up to his late father as role model, living by his words of treating everyone with fairness and compassion.
“I think what he would say the greatest characteristics that makes a person, is to have compassion and patience,” says Chau,
“It’s still a work in progress,” he says of himself.