Media & Culture

Hu Xijin

From Tiananmen protester to global nationalist troll par excellence.

Editor in chief, Global Times

Mention the Global Times to veteran China-watchers in the United States, and you’ll often get an eye roll; mention it to Western journalists eager for a story, and you might just generate a headline. The Beijing-based Global Times has long been known within China for nationalist fare, in particular fiery editorials that decry U.S. “hypocrisy” and “hegemony” and even occasionally warn the United States to prepare for war. More recently, the publication seemed to give Trump a boost when it called on North Korea, a U.S. enemy, to halt its nuclear program or face “unprecedented” repercussions from Beijing. Should any of these words engender hand-wringing abroad, so much the better, as far as the Global Times is concerned. (The publication, while influential and state-owned, does not speak for Beijing.)

What the paper’s devoted readers may not know — or would perhaps rather forget — is that its fiery editor in chief was once a student protester at Tiananmen Square in 1989. With his turn to ardent Communist Party support, Hu represents everything China’s leadership hoped to achieve in its bloody crackdown that year: that the nation’s youth would abandon belief in liberal democracy and embrace an economically prosperous authoritarian state.

Not surprisingly, Hu is alternately beloved and loathed among Chinese, depending on whom one asks. Late Chinese diplomat Wu Jianmin, a known moderate, criticized Hu and his paper in April for being “very extreme” and “think[ing] about waging a war.” Hu, for his part, cuts a slightly more ambiguous figure than his most vociferous detractors (or headlines) would suggest. “China should open up more channels for criticism and suggestions and encourage constructive criticism,” Hu posted on social media in February 2016. “There also should be a certain amount of tolerance for unconstructive criticism."

(Photo Credit: VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

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