Zhang Jin left us on 5 December 2022. He was a veteran journalist, a committed advocator and social entrepreneur on mental health in China, and the closest person to a saint I’ve ever known.
Zhang’s 56ys of life were divided into two parts: before his depression, he dedicated himself to journalism and later, after his recovery, to advocacy on mental health issues.
He was a founding member of China’s most respected media outlets, Caijing and Caixin, and led China Reform, a magazine of intellectual debates on China’s institutional reform.
I couldn’t have been more fortunate to have spent my early journalism career under his mentorship. As deputy chief editor, he led Caixin’s most idealistic, dynamic & human-centred news desk, covering anything from labour rights to environmental justice.
While Caixin is best known for its extensive coverage of China’s economic reform & market insights, our desk was different. Led by Zhang, we looked into the hidden stories behind China’s economic take-off, from political corruption to marginalised groups left behind in the tides of modernisation.
Zhang and the senior editors weaved a safety net for young investigative journalists like me. At the age of 20, I covered the Yihuang self-immolation incident on social media after press bans arrived and articles were removed. They made sure censorship didn’t prevent us from revealing the truth.
More people know about Zhang for his second career as an iconic figure of mental health advocacy in China. He shared his decade-long fight against depression and reflections on mental health issues in 4 best-selling books. He also created “Do Go” (“渡过”), an online and offline community that has offered companionship to millions.
As former colleagues, we witnessed his journey of illness, recovery, and tireless dedication to destigmatisation. His subsequent advocacy has successfully placed depression on the national public health agenda and, more importantly, exposed the mental struggles of a generation of Chinese journalists to the public.
Zhang was not the first who suffered from depression. We, investigative journalists, are at the frontier of “political depression”. Some of our closest colleagues have been suffering from depression since over a decade. A few interrupted their career for 2-3ys before regaining productivity, and some eventually took their lives.
For many of us, Zhang was a respectful colleague, a dear friend, and a beacon of light in the thickened darkness. He told us not to be fearful nor lose hope, even in difficult times. He led by example, inspiring us to dream, create and foster change, even when the soil for actions has never been poorer.
As I write, it occurs to me that I’m not only mourning the loss of Zhang Jin but also the end of an era. We might have together witnessed – and contributed to – the last “golden age” of independent journalism in China.
I have no idea what the future holds for us. I only hope we won’t disappoint you.
May you rest in peace.
张进不是第一个受抑郁症所困的中国记者。作为调查记者，我们是 “政治抑郁症 “的最易感人群。在我们身边，一些同事受困于抑郁症长达十余年，一些人不得不中断了职业生涯数年直到慢慢恢复工作能力，还有些人最终夺去了自己的生命。
在我写下这些的时候，我意识到：我不仅是在哀悼张进的离去，也是在哀悼一个时代的终结。我们可能共同见证并参与创造了中国独立新闻的最后一个 “黄金时代 “。