A whiff of race-traitorhood: Sohu readers eviscerate a Global Times editorial

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Huanqiu Shibao (Global Times), on the front cover of Renwu Zhoukan (Personalities Weekly)

The PRC’s internet users frequently serve us with reminders of just how much scepticism we should have regarding the purported market imperatives of the Huanqiu Shibao (Global Times), published by the People’s Daily.

In February 2010, according to a Wiki-leaked cable written by Jon Huntsman, a Huanqiu Shibao editor told a political officer from the US embassy that their newspaper was “market-driven” and therefore had to “reflect public opinion in order to make money”.

The same day, a Beijing University academic told embassy staff that “the Global Times’ more ‘hawkish’ editorial slant [is] ‘consistent with the demands of the readers and normal for a market-driven newspaper.’ ”

This view seems to be shared by some liberal Chinese intellectuals, such as Michael Anti, who has been quoted as saying “its position is to make money — nationalism is Global Times’ positioning in the market”.

Susan Shirk, a highly influential US analyst of PRC foreign policy, even claims that Chinese officials somehow see the Huanqiu Shibao as representative of popular opinion, and that they read it to understand the population’s views on hot-button issues. At least, that is what Shirk’s sources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs tell her, and she raises no questions as to this information’s veracity.

Other analysts, however, like those interviewed in this excellent Asia Sentinel article, suggest at least four different domestic and international purposes that Huanqiu may serve — none of them involving monetary profit:

  1. Shaping outsiders’ impressions of what “the people of China” think (this certainly seems to work, to the extent that outsiders believe the paper is run on market principles).
  2. Reducing pressure for concessions in international negotiations (the audience-costs, or “nationalism card” theory).
  3. Safety valve allowing nationalist bluster to find expression.
  4. Increasing the perceived risk for foreign energy corporations considering cooperating with China’s co-claimants in territorial disputes. (This is a compelling explanation for the timing of the “Long Tao” articles by Dai Xu of the China Energy Fund Committee last year, which coincided with Indian state energy company ONGC Videsh’s agreement with PetroVietnam to jointly explore for oil and gas in the South China Sea.)

The paper’s impressive daily circulation figures — 2.4 million as of 2011, making it the 3rd-largest Chinese newspaper — work to support the images of the Huanqiu Shibao as a semi-commercialised media outlet. But as the response to ‘China should be both determined and patient‘, the paper’s editorial on the South China Sea yesterday (June 27) illustrates, mass circulation by no means implies mass credibility.

The editorial self-summarises as follows:

The Huangyan Island incident has already shown clearly that [those who] brashly provoke China will inevitably be subject to counterattack, and the consequences will not be anything like what the provocateurs want to see. If the Philippines and Vietnam think they have a way of making China contain its anger and swallow its words then they are seriously mistaken [大错特错]. There is a saying in China, “It’s not that it won’t be paid back, it’s just that the time hasn’t come yet.”

The chances are, someone in the Anglosphere is typing the words “stridently nationalist” in relation to this piece right now. But in reality, although it attempts to strike a menacing tone, it really takes quite a soft stance — that’s certainly how the vast majority of the 25,000+ participants in the comment thread at Sohu interpreted it. The most popular comment was this rant against the newspaper, which directly accused its writers of race-traitorhood 汉奸:

Rebuttal of the Huanqiu Shibao:

1.) “[If they think they can] make China contain its anger and swallow its words then they are seriously mistaken”. Dozens of islands in the South China Sea have already been taken. This alone has broken China’s bottom line on sovereignty. This is not [China] containing its anger and swallowing its words, it’s a forfeit of sovereignty and a national humiliation. It’s us who are seriously mistaken.

2.) “It’s not that it won’t be paid back, it’s just that the time hasn’t come yet.” What do you mean, the time hasn’t come yet — under what criteria will the time be considered to have arrived? There has been neither long-term calculation nor powerful action. I’m afraid that when the time arrives we’ll have no strength to put things right. Making that “prefecture-level administrative department”, just think for a moment, and who will respond to the “9 joint cooperation blocks” given there are already people doing joint development within them! Does this united fist have any force? These are actions that even the Chinese people feel ashamed of, and you’re talking about united fists while others are just snickering away.

3.) “China long advocated shelving differences and developing jointly, but Vietnam and the Philippines etc. paid no heed. Each took unilateral aggressive actions, creating the current situation in the South China Sea.” This statement is wrong. China’s policy is: “Sovereignty is ours, shelve differences, and jointly develop.” If the premise of “sovereignty is ours” is absent, then the rest is out of the question. Your avoidance of the premise of sovereignty has a whiff of race-traitorhood about it. And each country’s unilateral aggressive actions didn’t just start the other day, it’s been allowed by us long-term, and that’s what created the current situation in the South China Sea.

4.) “If the Vietnamese and Filipino provocations reach a certain level, overstep the mark, then they must prepare to meet China’s concentrated and powerful response.” Do you really think their actions have not already overstepped the mark? I question whether you are actually speaking from China’s standpoint. These countries are already sitting on your face and shitting, and you say they haven’t overstepped the mark?

The Huanqiu Shibao is an influential newspaper, how could it publish this kind of argument today? Why??? Is it that people like me can’t see the profound theory contained within?

Another reader suggested an answer to this question by way of another question:

Was this written for the domestic or foreign audience?

Actually, as the above list of the Huanqiu Shibao‘s possible domestic and international functions suggest, it’s likely that most of Huanqiu‘s provocative editorials are aimed at both audiences. But this particular editorial seems to have reflected the public mood so poorly that readers were left wondering whether they were even meant to hear it.

The “mandate to attract and actually engage readers” that Christina Larson observed in her Foreign Policy article last year seems to have gone out the window, at least in this case. Why might that be? Well, another comment from the Sohu thread offers a logical explanation:

Certain high levels [of the PRC’s leadership] are tied up with their own contradictions. They fear war, but they also fear that popular anger could get out of control. [They] desperately hope countries like the Philippines and Vietnam will not make any big moves until the next leadership is in place . . .

Larson’s piece emphasised the personal influence of the editor-in-chief, Hu Xijin, whom she found to be a fairly independent-minded and earnest journalist. It seems more likely, however, that Hu Xijin sees himself as a tool of the Party, and in this year of transition that might well mean keeping to the official party line just a bit more closely than usual.

4 Comments on “A whiff of race-traitorhood: Sohu readers eviscerate a Global Times editorial”

  1. ChimericaWar says:

    I’m writing a book called ‘China’s War’

    And it focuses a lot on the anti-foreign militia’s that sprung up around the time of the Opium Wars in southern China. How the Chinese Elites and gentry tried to enflame and contain the popular sentiment against the British. Effectively creating a boiling pot of revolution as the people grew increasingly frustrated at what they saw as the elites conciliation to the foreigners at the expense of the people of Canton.

    The work you’re doing now seems to be explaining a similar phenomenon, concentrating on the para-militarization of the fishing communities and the angry attacks seemingly ‘hardline’ approaches receive from the people – who want more and feel China is already being sold out. needless to say, the ‘traitor’ word was common currency then, just as it will become more popular now as the ruling elite in China attempt to keep nationalism both contained and enflamed.

    My conclusion is that as a military tactic in achieving military aims, it turned out to be a non starter – just like it will be this time round.

    it’s like 1840-1850 all over again, but this time the placards have been replaced with the internet.

  2. […] A whiff of race-traitorhood: Sohu readers eviscerate a Global Times editorial « southseaconversatio… […]

  3. chinawatcher says:

    i tell you this..if hungyang is undisputably china’s, and china’s navy is undisputably stronger than the rival claimants..why has china’s response not been a military response? because china knows that its claim to huangyang is weak. if these were waters off HK or any coastal waters near to china mainland then it would have sank the “invaders” post haste. China is not sure wether it is thiers ( the shoal) but what it is sure of is it can make a claim and use it as a bargaining chip in some future issue that may be even unrelated to the shoal..notice how they can colllide with a usa spy plane because it is in chinese air space, but cannot put tiny ouny philippines in its place when it comes to huangyang???

  4. […] So are they chasing the Maoist market? Are they trying to prove their trustworthiness to the authorities by positioning themselves as intensely patriotic? Is there a staunchly nationalist editor or manager somewhere who occasionally stamps his authority on the site’s coverage? Have they aligned themselves with particular group or individual within the Party, whose preferences they now endeavor to reflect? Or might they really not be that different from the Huanqiu Shibao/Global Times — seeking profits while acting in accordance with particular roles they need to play in the CCP’s media strategy? […]

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