Graham Earnshaw is an entrepreneur with many years of experience as a journalist in China and other parts of Asia. He was born in England in 1952, and went to school in Britain and Australia. He started his journalistic career as a copy boy with the Daily Mirror in Sydney in 1972, moved to Hong Kong in 1973 and learned Cantonese, then got a job as a junior reporter with the South China Morning Post, earning a pittance.
He covered everything from dog shows to the beginning of the Vietnamese Boat People crisis in 1975. He taught himself to read Chinese in order to be able to compete in the SCMP newsroom against local reporters. In his spare time, he compiled a Cantonese-English dictionary, did kung fu movie dubbing, and started his career as a singer/guitarist in bars and restaurants, which continues. In 1976, he went to Taiwan to learn Mandarin, and spent several months there, during which time he improved his Chinese and made a small living as a movie extra. On his return to Hong Kong in mid-1976, he applied for and won a position as a reporter with Reuters HK bureau, just in time to help with the coverage of Chairman Mao's death. He also moonlighted as a record reviewer and the Desserts Editor for the Hong Kong Standard under the name Anton Graham, in which capacity he wrote what is still considered to be the definitive guide to Hong Kong cheesecake. He also wrote a series of vaguely political songs about Hong Kong which were well received by the raucous crowd at the Old China Hand in Wanchai on a Friday night.
In 1978, he was posted by Reuters to London, and recorded an album of self-penned songs called The Memorial Album, issued as a cassette that was sold to help fund the HK Press Club. Anton Graham continued his career as a record reviewer for several publications. In early 1979, China began its process of opening-up which remains today incomplete, and he was posted to Beijing as the most junior of the three Reuters correspondents there, the youngest foreign correspondent to have been posted to that city. He lied his way into the job. He was asked by the Reuters editor if he spoke Mandarin fluently, and he said yes. In fact, he spoke Cantonese fluently and could read and write Chinese, but his Mandarin was ropy. But he quickly got to grips with what was an extraordinary opportunity and became (he immodestly believes) one of the top China correspondents of that era. Democracy Wall, the desperate battles in the politburo between conservatives and reformers, the gradual opening of Chinese society and culture after being battened down for so long. His best scoop of the period was the release of the Wei Jingsheng trial transcript.
In the middle of it all, he started translating a Chinese kung fu novel which was finally published by Oxford University Press in 2004. He helped found and fronted China's first rock and roll band, the Peking All-Stars. There were other firsts during that era: the first person ever to play the kazoo on the Great Wall of China and the first person to perform in a bar in Shanghai since the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1956. The Peking All-Stars played the first-ever rock concert in China, with Graham as the lead singer and compere, at a Peking university (a photo of this event can be seen in Liu Heung-shing's book "China After Mao"). In 1980, he resigned from Reuters to become China correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph, which provided an opportunity for him to travel as widely in China as was then possible. He was with the first group of foreign journalists to visit Fujian and Hainan, spent a week in Tibet in 1982 and was the first foreign journalist to witness and report on a sky burial. He lugged his guitar onto the roof of the Potala Palace but did not, as he often claimed, sing "Hello Dalai" there. He rather sang Chuck Berry's Maybelline. It seemed to make sense at the time.
He published his first book, a travel guide called "On Your Own in China" in 1984. After a short break in Hong Kong, he returned to Beijing in 1985 as Reuters China bureau chief, a position he held for two years. He ran a couple of bands during those years including the China Mugs, a rock ensemble, and a jazz grouping called the Tiananmen Squares. He visited Mongolia, and North Korea, which accused him of being a spy, and was in the second group of foreigners (for decades) to travel by land from Kashgar, across the Kunjerab Pass and down the Kharakoram Highway into Pakistan. The first group, the week before, were diplomatic spies. In 1987, he was posted to Tokyo as Reuters Chief Correspondent for Japan, and founded a rockabilly band called Rock House in which he sang and played bass, doing songs with names like "Black Slacks" and "My Gal is Red Hot (Your Girl Ain't Doodley-Squat)" in bars around Tokyo.
In mid-1989, he spent a number of months in Beijing, reporting the student demonstrations, and was on Tiananmen Square the entire night of June 3-4, detained for six hours on the square after the tanks rolled in. He was one of only a couple of foreigners to view the tanks roll onto the square. He was then posted by Reuters to Hong Kong as Asian news editor, and was promoted to editor for Asia in 1990, a position he held for nearly five years. During those years, he was responsible for all Reuters news coverage from Pakistan to Wellington, and also had business responsibility for Reuters media and television products in the Asian markets.
He produced two CD's of his own music while in Hong Kong - Just Care in 1994, funded by the Body Shop, and Leap of Faith. Both featured some of Hong Kong's best musicians, and one of them sold at least four copies in Tower Records. He spotted early the importance of the Internet, and in 1994 designed a first website for Reuters Asia which was rejected out of hand by management. He actually built his first website in New York in 1995, a personal home page which the following year evolved into China's first city website for Shanghai, the city he moved to in October, 1995 as Reuters Shanghai correspondent. He reported the developing Chinese financial markets, and simultaneously hosted the best parties the city had seen since the 1930s -- two or three hundred people, live music, local artists and musicians, foreign bankers and diplomats.
He launched live music in a bar in old Shanghai, performances which kick-started the bar and the live music scene in Shanghai as it is today. His re-write of Sting's song "Englishman in New York", "Englishman in Shanghai" sung in Shanghainese, was a huge local hit in the Blues & Jazz Bar (you can hear it in my accent when I lie, I'm an Englishman in Shanghai). Shanghai in the mid-1990s demanded participation, and he decided that journalists were basically people who wrote about other people doing things, and it was time to do something himself. So in 1997 he helped launch a bar/restaurant called Park 97, and built a web design and translation company which morphed over time into an entertaining incubator of entrepreneurial ideas, different bits of which are known under various names including SinoMedia Ltd, China Economic Review, and Earnshaw Books. The city website that the company ran in the late 1990s, Shanghai-ed.com, was possibly the first China website to make money. With costs at close to zero, this was not hard. The ideas and content of Shanghai-ed became the heart of a serious dotcom venture called ChinaNow which almost worked, but not quite. During this period he also channeled the ramblings of a hussy named May-May who styled herself as the Queen of Shanghai Nightlife.
Meanwhile, in 1998 he launched, wrote, designed, sold ads for, distributed and sweated blood for the first independent English weekly newspaper produced in Shanghai for 50 years -- Shanghai Buzz. That and its successor, Travel China Shanghai Edition, were making an operating profit by the end of their lives. He plans, when he has the time, to write a book about the extraordinary life and death of these newspapers, to be called Guerrilla Publishing. His book "The Life & Death of a Dotcom in China" about the Internet in China was published in October, 2000.
He has launched many websites, including earnshaw.com and talesofoldchina.com. He took over China Economic Review in 2003, with plans to make it Asia's best news magazine and "The Economist of China". He believes that this goal has been achieved, and once told the editor of the Economist that the next goal was to have the Economist refer to itself as "The China Economic Review of the world".
From 2001 to 2010, he spent much of his time working on a venture called Xinhua Finance in a variety of roles, which included setting up an independent business news service in the heart of communist China - definitely a first. Two listed companies came out of it, one listed in Tokyo in 2003 and one in New York in 2007. In both cases he almost became rich, I tell you, rich. But not quite.
In 2004, he started a walk from Shanghai to Tibet, always resuming the walk from exactly the last place that he had stopped. He wrote a book on his experiences called The Great Walk of China, published in 2010, but the walk continues, more fitfully than before. As of this update, the start of the next walk is about 130km each of Chengdu. He plans to walk beyond Chengdu, then walk south five degrees of latitude, and turn east, and return to the coast at around Quanzhou, when he will have to decide whether to turn right and walk along the coast towards Hong Kong or turn left and go to Shanghai for afternoon tea. But there is no rush, as this decision point will probably not arrive until the year 2023. He is an honorary member of the Shanghai Fengshui I Ching Association standing committee and under the auspices of Earnshaw Books has published around 100 titles just as the bottom is falling out of the paper book publishing industry. But he believes books will survive and so will small publishers.
In 2009, he started recording a new album, the first for 15 years, which was completed in 2010 with the title Walking West. Songs from this and subsequent albums - The Red Album, The Tao of Music and The Cusp of Karma - can be heard from his soundcloud.com page. None of these songs will ever make any money, and the indications are that very few people wish to listen to them, but he continues to write them anyway in a desperate bid for artistic immortality, plus the sheer fun of constructing the tunes.
He would love to open a Japanese restaurant so he never has to pay for salmon sashimi ever again. He has chased after a myriad other business opportunities in recent years, some of them so whacky as to be hardly believable. He has a million stories, all of them true. That's the bare framework.