Hu Xijin became leading voice of strident nationalism with millions of social media followers
Last modified on Fri 17 Dec 2021 00.26 EST
A controversial Chinese state tabloid editor who became a leading critic of the west’s China policy, emerging in the past decade as a prominent voice of strident nationalism, has announced his retirement.
Hu Xijin, a self-described former pro-democracy protester turned outspoken newspaper editor, has helped usher in a new era of brash, assertive nationalism since taking the helm of the tabloid Global Times in 2005.
In a social media post on Thursday, Hu announced he had stepped down as editor-in-chief of the Global Times, which is owned by the ruling Communist party’s flagship newspaper the People’s Daily. He said he would continue to be a special commentator for the paper.
The 62-year-old wrote to his 24 million followers on Weibo that it was “time to retire”. “I will continue … to do everything I can towards the [Communist] party’s news and public opinion work,” he said.
Hu has regularly invited controversy through inflammatory tweets and strident columns, inside and outside China. Last year, he likened Australia to “chewing gum stuck on the sole of China’s shoes” after Canberra joined Washington’s call for an inquiry into the origins of Covid, and he called the UK a “bitch asking for a beating” after British warships sailed through contested waters last summer.
As well as drawing tens of millions of readers in China, Hu built a substantial social media presence internationally on Twitter – which is blocked inside China – with more than 460,000 followers, making him one of the most prominent pro-state voices on western social media.
This week, in a Twitter response to the US senator for Arkansas Tom Cotton, who criticised China for having “betrayed” America’s trust, Hu responded: “I particularly like to see US politicians like you can only talk tough toward China, but can do nothing.”
I know how much you want to strangle China’s growth. Unfortunately, the US of you doesn’t have such strength. I particularly like to see US politicians like you can only talk tough toward China, but can do nothing. @SenTomCotton https://t.co/RUJnBS27P4
Hu claims he participated in the 1989 pro-democracy protests at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square before becoming a reporter, although later his ideological leanings hardened towards wholehearted support of the Communist party line.
“Hu defined Global Times as a newspaper that simultaneously pleases the party leaders and wins the market,” said Fang Kecheng, a media researcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Without Hu, the newspaper might only be a mediocre paper unknown to the public. He is the major figure who started the commercial nationalism in China.”
Since Hu took on the top role in 2005, the Global Times has acquired a combined 67 million followers on Facebook and Twitter, helping Chinese propaganda reach a wider international audience while domestic restrictions on online debate have tightened.
Outside China, Hu’s commentaries are often cited by journalists as messages from Beijing’s decision makers. But Hu is always ambiguous about his connection with China’s leaders. “To be honest, I myself don’t know for sure to what degree I reflect the authority’s voice,” he told the Guardian recently. But he admitted that the newspaper’s English edition received government funding for providing overseas propaganda.
Last month, amid speculation over the wellbeing of the Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, he tweeted video footage saying sources had told him Peng was alive and well. Earlier, Peng had written a long Weibo essay making sexual assault allegations against a top official.
In China, despite Hu’s large following, he is a controversial figure who divides opinion. In recent months, he was alleged to have had extramarital affairs with two female colleagues. He has denied the allegation, saying in a blogpost that he was being blackmailed by the accuser, a deputy editor at the newspaper.
It is widely rumoured in Chinese media blogs that the People’s Daily commentary writer Fan Zhengwei will replace Hu.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse