Mary Kay Magistad

Mary Kay Magistad

Mary Kay Magistad is formerly The World’s East Asia correspondent. She lived and reported in the region for two decades. Mary Kay is now based in San Francisco.

During her time in Asia, she traveled regularly and widely throughout China and beyond, exploring how China’s rapid transformation has affected individual lives and exploring the bigger geopolitical, economic and environmental implications of China’s rise. She stepped back every so often to do an in-depth series on such topics as the China’s urbanization — the biggest and most rapid move from the countryside to the cities in human history, on the potential for innovation in China, and on the ripple effects on Chinese society of the One Child Generation coming of age. Mary Kay’s seven-part series on that subject, called “Young China,” won a 2007 Overseas Press Club Award, one of several awards she has received.

Mary Kay started out in Southeast Asia, based in Bangkok, as a regular contributor to NPR, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and other news media. She covered the Cambodian civil war and the UN peace process, the Burmese army’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and the United States’ wary rapprochement in the early ‘90s with Vietnam. Mary Kay also reported farther afield, covering the aftermath of genocide in Rwanda, tensions with Iraq in Kuwait, and other stories.

Mary Kay became NPR’s full-time Southeast Asia correspondent in 1993, and in 1996 she opened NPR’s first Beijing bureau. She took time out for two fellowships at Harvard — a Nieman and a Radcliffe fellowship — enough time to realize China was too interesting a story to leave — before going back to China for The World.

Mary Kay graduated from Northwestern University with a double major in journalism and history, and has an MA in international relations from the University of Sussex in England, completed on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship.

Recent Stories

Conflict

How the Vietnam War shaped my life and my career

Journalist Mary Kay Magistad grew up thinking about the Vietnam War, and it helped launch her career as an international correspondent. The former World China correspondent and host of Whose Century Is It? talks about how Vietnam shaped her.

Global Politics

Are young Chinese liberalizing as China's political leaders crack down?

Young Chinese have grown up in a time of epic change, as China has become more prosperous and powerful, more urban, more educated, more connected with the world through technology, travel, television and more. Chinese have also become more connected with each other, with some 800 million of them online. And despite an ongoing government crackdown on free speech, especially dissent, and even the discussion of Western ideas such as democracy, human rights and rule of law, attitudes and expectations are radically different among young Chinese than for many previous generations in China, in ways that could affect not just China, but the world, in this century.

Economics

Brazil defies (positive) expectations

Roiled by two years of recession, the impeachment of one president and indictment of another, and its worst corruption scandal ever, Brazil is not exactly on the path predicted at the beginning of this century, when it was hailed as one of the globe's most promising rising economic powers. What happened? Inequalities and imbalances at home may have been papered over in boom times, but they didn't go away, and now Brazil's leaders face the challenge of finding a more sustainable and equitable way forward.

Economics

South Africa's cautionary tale

It wasn't so long ago that South Africa was seen as the natural leader of its continent, with bright economic prospects and a nascent, post-apartheid democracy. It developed strong trade ties with China, and, in 2010, was named one of the BRICS countries — with Brazil, Russia, India and China, the economies seen by some investors (the term was coined by a Goldman Sachs executive) to be the era's dynamic up-and-comers. But it hasn't quite turned out that way. This year, South Africa dipped into recession, with unemployment near 30 percent. What happened?

Culture

Chinese Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo remembered

At a time when a surprising number of young Americans say it's not important to them to live in a democracy, when honest journalists are accused of pedaling fake news, while purveyors of actual fake news are too often taken seriously, spare a thought for a man who thought democracy, freedom of speech and a just society are so worth fighting for, he spent four terms in Chinese prisons and work camps, and died in custody, of liver cancer. Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is being remembered for his tenacity and principled focus, and for believing in the power of peaceful protest and the possibility of change, in the face of authoritarian repression.

Economics

It's carpe diem time for China. What that might mean for the world.

China's rise has been fast, impressive, and a little intimidating to some. Howard French, author of "Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China's Push for Global Power" argues that while this rate of growth won't go on forever, the next 10 to 20 years is a potentially dangerous time, as China's leaders consolidate their gains before growth slows, the population ages, and already thorny problems at home demand more attention. Building islands in the South China Sea, a new infrastructure investment bank, and an ambitious new Silk Road network of regional infrastructure may just be the start of a shift of the global center of gravity, back to what many Chinese see as its rightful, historic place.

Economics

Why China's embrace of renewable energy matters, and is more complicated than you think

China's former leader Deng Xiaoping once said that it doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice. A new twist on the theme might be, it doesn't matter if China's leaders are committed environmentalists, or acting in pragmatic self-interest, if China's rapid ramping-up of renewable energy and easing away from coal yields a net benefit of reducing climate change-causing emissions, and helping to slow the rate of climate change. A look at what China is doing and why, as President Donald Trump declares an American retreat from global leadership on climate change

Business

Bringing the world into focus for some of the 2 billion people globally who need glasses but don't have them

If you wear glasses, you're in a majority in most developed countries. In developing countries, few have them, but many need them. By some estimates, two billion people in developing countries need eyeglasses, but don't have access to them. One of the groups working to bridge the gap is VisionSpring, a social enterprise that has already sold 3.7 million pairs of glasses, at affordable prices, to people in Africa and Asia making $4 or less per day, helping improve learning, work productivity, and quality of life.

Media

How a shortwave radio network is helping to counter Boko Haram

Boko Haram hasn't given up, but it's on the ropes after a push by the Nigerian military last year, and vigilance by regional peacekeepers. Also countering their influence is a regional shortwave radio network, Dandal Kura Radio International, started just over a year ago, as the world's first network to broadcast in Kanuri — the language spoken by 10 million people in the region, and by most members of Boko Haram. Anyone with a cellphone can call in and share information and ideas. This plus news, current affairs, radio dramas and other programming has started to help counter Boko Haram's power to attract, and is helping a bruised and fractured region move toward a less fraught future.

Global Politics

If money can't buy happiness, many Chinese now seek spiritiual meaning

A search for meaning is underway in China, after generations grew up with the Communist Party destroying temples and churches, persecuting the religious, and telling the young that religion was the opiate of the masses, and counter-revolutionary to boot. Now, with many Chinese feeling that a moral and ethical center is missing from their increasingly materially comfortable lives, a growing number are seeking meaning in religion and spiritual practice. Host Mary Kay Magistad explores why, in conversation with fellow former China correspondents Ian Johnson, author of "The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao," and Jennifer Lin, author of "Shanghai Faithful: Betrayal and Forgiveness in a Chinese Christian Family."

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