It’s difficult to pinpoint a single catalyst to our current geopolitical situation — be it Covid-19 and the economic turmoil it has created or the Trump presidency and the significant rise of protectionism and nationalism worldwide.
Still, there is little doubt our world is more divided and more tribal than a half-decade ago. Nowhere is this divide greater than in the relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China — the world’s two largest economies.
This is why, as RADII turns 4 years old, we believe our mission to create mutual understanding between the new generation of globally-minded youth in the East and West has never been more critical — and urgent.
Chinese-American Brian A. Wong, who has lived in China for more than two decades and witnessed the incredible changes that have taken place here, realized in 2014 that China-focused media coverage was increasingly missing the mark. What he was reading in mainstream media puzzled him because it didn’t compute with what he witnessed first-hand.
“What I’ve been observing in China in my 20-something years here versus what I read internationally has become more and more disjointed,” says Wong. “I felt that this issue needed to be addressed, and that the media needed to focus on the similarities between the West and China — to help people understand that there isn’t that big of a difference in what people aspire to.”
It was from this realization that RADII was born.
From left to right: Chaai Wu, Brian A. Wong, Josh Feola, and Adan Kohnhorst
When RADII first went live online on July 2, 2017, it was thanks to the vision and hard work of Wong and his team, then composed of Anthony Tao, Adan Kohnhorst, Calvin Kung and Monica Lee.
Compared to the current incarnation of radiichina.com, the original site was relatively basic and text-heavy. But what the website lacked in glitz, the RADII team more than made up for with their passion.
RADII’s website header circa January 2018
“It’s been a journey to see how RADII has grown. When we first launched, I had to call in a friend from college to design the website,” says Kohnhorst. “I set up a simple Facebook page where I uploaded videos taken on my iPhone. It was a basic operation, but we knew we wanted to show a different side to China, the side that we saw every day, up close and on-the-ground.”
“There was a lot of excitement [when the website launched], but it was a lot of work in the beginning — just like it is when launching any product. But there was this great swell of energy to fill the website up,” adds Tao, recalling the early energy of the RADII team.
It was a lot of work, but it was not directionless because Wong had a target audience in mind.
The RADII team in 2018
Before launching RADII, Wong examined surveys and saw a clear break between those with a more open perspective on China versus those concerned about China’s rising global position.
More importantly, Wong felt that young people saw opportunities that China could offer for their career development. This arguably held personal significance to Wong, who arrived in China in 1999 to work alongside Chinese tech titan Jack Ma in the early days of Alibaba. He would eventually climb to the role of vice president at the company.
Brian A. Wong (third from right) with Jack Ma (center) and the Alibaba team during his early years with the company
As such, Wong positioned the company to connect with Millenials and Gen Zers, sharing stories of young China with their counterparts in the US and the larger Western world. It’s a logical approach when aiming for cultural understanding: By 2017, when RADII launched, the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers in the West had already formed their opinions about China — views that were outdated in many cases and unreflective of the country in the 21st century.
Millennials and Zoomers on both sides of the Pacific, however, have much more in common. To Wong, their shared interests in fashion, sports, art, and music — and shared global challenges such as climate change — meant a focus on young people was the key to fostering thoughtful communication and lighting the way in an increasingly complex world.
In the years following the company’s founding, the RADII crew would see growth and transformation, with well-respected writers and editors such as Josh Feola and Jake Newby, and producers like Alison Toy, all playing an active role. And of course, RADII’s website has evolved considerably, both in design and coverage.
In the early days, editorial staff organized the content into three categories — innovation, culture and life. Today, the platform’s main content categories are music, entertainment, lifestyle, art and design, and society.
RADII also has videos, podcasts and a well-curated collection of social media accounts.
The RADII team circa 2019
“I’m very impressed by how the website looks now and how far the platform has come. It’s not easy building a media brand, and I think RADII has been very consistent in what it has done,” says Tao, who now serves as the managing editor at SupChina.
The efforts of RADII’s growing roster of staffers have also not gone unnoticed abroad, and the publication has been cited by more than 50 international media outlets, including BBC, The New York Times, Bloomberg, The Guardian, VICE, and Variety.
In 2019, The Alternative UK profiled RADII, concluding that the platform “is an experiment with the Chinese future worth following.”
China Week 2019 in LA. From left to right: Brian A. Wong, Bohan Phoenix, and Wes Chen
Looking back on the past four years, RADII has a lot to celebrate: It has more than 3,300 published articles, has grown a readership spanning 200 countries, and tripled its social media reach in the past 12 months. Perhaps most impressively, web users viewed RADII’s video content 1.3 million times in July 2021 alone.
The publication has also connected with readers through offline events, perhaps most notably the china.wav concert series. In addition to music showcases across China, china.wav debuted in Los Angeles in 2019 with a killer lineup of innovative artists from China’s cultural underground.
“Over the last few years, I’ve had the chance to work with RADII many times. One of my favorites was when we did an amazing showcase in Los Angeles that sold out and brought many different communities together,” says China-born, US-based rapper Bohan Phoenix, recalling china.wav LA.
“RADII is one of the few media platforms showing us what contemporary life in China is really like. Most Western media coverage stops at geopolitics and markets. Therefore the understanding of China in the West is limited and distorted,” says RADII investor Jake Fisch, a China-based business leader and entrepreneur. “With its stories about the wonders and challenges of life in China today, RADII helps us recognize that these features of modern life are universal.”
MC Tingbudong performing at china.wav in Los Angeles
As RADII enters its fifth year, staff are more aware than ever of the urgency accompanying the work they do. In the coming months, RADII’s editorial team will expand its coverage, bringing more consistent travel, digital-focused and health and wellness content to readers (in addition to the range of music, entertainment and culture stories already on offer).
“RADII is simply the best source out there for coverage of China’s music scene in English,” says Matt Sheehan, author of The Transpacific Experiment and a fellow at the Paulson Institute’s think tank, MacroPolo. “It’s the place I look for the best new Chinese music and for really thoughtful explorations of the culture these artists are building.”
The company’s editorial and production teams are also excited to debut several new podcast series and multimedia storytelling projects before the end of the year, and relaunch RADII’s new mobile-centric platform.
In completing these novel projects, RADII will stay true to its commitment to offer readers bold and unbiased China-focused coverage.
“I think the work RADII is doing is super impressive. I’ve worked with many media companies trying to tell China’s story right now, but many of them feel like they have their own agenda, where I think RADII’s only agenda is to tell it unbiased,” says Bohan Phoenix. “I truly feel aligned with the content and information they are sharing.”
RADII staff in July 2021
“As the world faces critical global issues — such as the pandemic, global warming, income inequality, and food insecurity — cooperation between China and the US is more important than ever. RADII, which focuses on connecting the world’s young global thinkers, can play a paramount role in building bridges across the Pacific through enhanced collaboration and understanding,” says RADII investor and founder of Roche Enterprises Robert Roche.
The world may be changing fast, but RADII is still committed to offering thoughtful China coverage from unseen perspectives. There’s a lot more to cover and more people to connect with, and it’s going to be a big job, but RADII is up to the challenge, and the whole team welcomes you along for the ride.
All images via RADII
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