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Emily Feng
Emily Feng, based in Taiwan, has covered many of the big stories coming out of China. Photo by Courtesy of Emily Feng

China From the Inside

NPR's Emily Feng is finding compelling stories in a challenging locale

You’ve likely heard her voice on the radio over the past few years: “NPR’s Emily Feng reporting.”

It is a phrase that has confidently punctuated the end of compelling stories spanning from protests in Hong Kong, to semiconductors and a growing tech war between the United States and China, to the outbreak of a mysterious respiratory virus in Wuhan in 2019. It’s also a phrase that turned heads when Emily Feng ’15 became one of the first foreign reporters to cover the forced separation of Uyghur children from their parents in the Xinjiang region of western China.

Expertly weaving storytelling and reporting, Feng, 30, has traveled throughout China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The whirlwind of travel and reporting heavy content could unbalance even the most seasoned of journalists, but Feng has remained grounded and centered in her mission.

Feng, who grew up in Bethany, Connecticut, exhibited balance amid a fast-paced lifestyle when she was a student at Duke. Guo-Juin Hong, one of Feng’s professors and mentors from the department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke, fondly remembered how she would zip between her various classes and other responsibilities as a student on an electric scooter, carrying her helmet with her as she arrived for his class in Smith Warehouse each week.

Emily Feng conducting interview
Emily Feng interviewing a polling expert in China
Emily Feng conducting interview

Above from left: Feng in Taiwan interviewing Indigenous people about their July harvest festival; interviewing a polling expert in China; interviewing an exercising Chinese citizen in 2020 as China was coming out of COVID lockdown.

Learn more about Emily Feng's work

“She would just buzz around campus,” Hong smiled. Despite moving quickly, “she was always very focused. She struck me as someone who actually had a very clear idea about what to explore.”

It was Feng’s other department of study at Duke, Public Policy, that funded her first trip to Beijing for a summer internship while she was an undergraduate. There, she met several journalists and, intrigued by their work and picturing herself as one of them, she decided to pursue freelance journalism after graduating.

“I figured that if I realized halfway through that I'm really bad at this, or that journalism is not for me, then it can only open doors rather than close them,” she said.

As it turned out, Feng was really good at reporting, and she found doors opening for her in a place where they were usually closed to foreign journalists. After a short stint as a freelancer, Feng worked as a reporter for the British newspaper Financial Times before joining National Public Radio in 2019.

At NPR, Feng’s storytelling skills have shined through in some of the biggest headlines to come out of China over the past few years. Her work landed her the 2022 Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize, awarded annually to journalists 35 years of age or younger, as well as the 2022 Shorenstein Journalism Award for excellence in coverage of the Asia-Pacific region.  The Schorr Prize was for one of the stories she has covered the longest – the treatment of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

“I was among the first to work on the Xinjiang story,” Feng shared, describing the formative experience. “It’s also just been fascinating to see how this story has been picked up all around the world because it is very much a global story.”

For Feng’s former professor, her successful career has been unsurprising. He credits her work ethic, as well as her confident, calm demeanor, as being critical to her success.

“There's a certain sense of being poised that comes from, I think, true confidence,” Hong said.

Now based in Taiwan, Feng is excited to continue her work with NPR, and is especially looking forward to covering the 2024 Taiwanese presidential election. No matter what the next few years bring in terms of breaking news or exciting endeavors, Feng plans to continue to explore the places and situations around her and tell compelling stories about the people she encounters.

As Hong put it, “She is living her life.”