John Pomfret of the Washington Post Receives $10,000 Award for His Inside Look at the Historical Changes Taking Place in China


February 25, 2004 (New York City)—Asia Society announced tonight that John Pomfret of the Washington Post is the second recipient of the Osborn Elliott Prize for Excellence in Asian Journalism. Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International and chair of the independent jury that oversees the selection process, presented Mr. Pomfret with the $10,000 award at the Society’s annual dinner. Mr. Zakaria praised Mr. Pomfret for his remarkable ability to present the historical changes taking place in China from uniquely human vantage points. "Pomfret combines high intelligence, boundless curiosity, and fluid prose—the ingredients that make up great journalism," stated Mr. Zakaria to the Asia Society audience.

In the six years that he covered China for the Washington Post, Mr. Pomfret described characters, situations, places, and events with unrivalled familiarity and detail. Whether covering China’s response to SARS or the rise of Chinese businessmen or the changing Communist Party, Mr. Pomfret reported on issues of great complexity from the inside out. With his fluent, colloquial Mandarin and adventuresome spirit, he penetrated far below the surface to join the ranks of pioneering China hands. His prescience and understanding of the tremendous changes taking place in that country could be summarized in a piece he wrote in 1999: “The quest for something to believe in has become so universal and profound that it is one of the unifying characteristics of life in China today. Farmers talk about it, migrant workers in China's cities talk about it. It is a preoccupation of intellectuals, students, and members of the new business class."

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mr. Pomfret received a B.A. and M.A. from Stanford University in East Asian Studies. In 1983-84, he spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies researching the Cambodian conflict. Mr. Pomfret’s positions at the Washington Post have taken him from the Balkans, Africa, and Europe to Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, and China, where he served as Beijing bureau chief from 1998 to 2003. Prior to joining the Post, he reported for the Associated Press in Beijing, Hong Kong, the Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, and Southeast Asia, much of it in conflict situations. In addition to Chinese, Mr. Pomfret speaks French, Japanese, and Serbo-Croatian.

The “Oz Prize” honors legendary journalist and author Osborn Elliott, former editor-in-chief of Newsweek, who set new standards for reporting and editing and became one of the earliest practitioners of “civic journalism”— the deliberate focusing of the journalistic enterprise on urgent issues of public policy. Asia Society announces the $10,000 award every year at its annual dinner. Elisabeth Rosenthal of The New York Times was awarded the prize last year for her groundbreaking coverage of the AIDS crisis in China. Criteria for the prize include consideration for the impact of the work, its originality, creativity, depth of research and educational value in informing the public about Asia.

In addition to Mr. Zakaria, the jury for the Osborn Elliott Prize includes Carroll R. Bogert, Communications Director for Human Rights Watch; Ian Buruma, noted author and Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights and Journalism at Bard College; Henry Cornell, Managing Director of Goldman Sachs and Asia Society trustee; Barbara Crossette, author and contributor to the New York Times; Walter Isaacson, President and CEO of The Aspen Institute; Joe Klein, bestselling author and columnist for TIME; and Joseph Lelyveld, former executive editor of the New York Times.

About Asia Society
Asia Society is America’s leading institution dedicated to fostering understanding of Asia and communication between Americans and the peoples of Asia and the Pacific. A nonprofit, nonpartisan educational institution, Asia Society presents a wide range of programs including major art exhibitions, performances, media programs, international conferences and lectures, and initiatives to improve elementary and secondary education about Asia. The Asia Society is headquartered in New York City, with regional centers in Washington, D.C., Houston, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Melbourne, Australia, San Francisco, Manila and Shanghai.

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