The first rule about reporting in China is that the Chinese make up the rules as they go along, depending on what they think you are doing.
Of course, there are plenty of regulations that are printed. But in the real world, the one on the street where news takes place and we try and cover it, foreign journalists are handled much the way everyone else in China is handled - at the whim of the highest-ranking person standing in front of you.
Sometimes the encounters between foreign journalists and local officials, especially in the provinces, can end in violence, beatings and time spent in a jail.
You just never know how it's going to turn out. Let's take a case in point.
We wanted to do a, especially in one small town that calls itself the leather capital of China. As you can imagine, the tanning of leather uses massive and dangerous chemicals. In times past, the usual way to dispose of these chemicals was simply dumping them into the river.
But China is becoming more environmentally conscious. I wouldn't say the government there has reached the level of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the rivers around here can still run filthy with industrial waste. But the government is trying.
So we thought a visit to the leather city would be a good way to illustrate this. First, the problem is pretty apparent - the chemicals and toxic waste run down the gutters and throughout the waterways of the city.
Second, the city is trying hard to clean up.
Our dilemma: go to the city our way, or the official Chinese way.
Our way: book a flight, arrange for a car and overnight accommodations, cover the story. Very American. It's how we would do it in Des Moines, Iowa.
The Chinese way: ask permission. First, you need the permission of officials in the local area, and they will decide exactly what you see and who you interview and they will assign someone to stay with you to make sure you keep to their itinerary.