Global Times is by circulation the third-largest newspaper in China, with a daily print readership of 2.4 million, according to the Sobao Advertising Agency, and reported web readership of 10 million. Even if those numbers are inflated (statistics in China are hard to verify), it's still formidable -- by comparison, in 2011 the Washington Post's average daily print circulation was 550,821.
"Why is Global Times popular? Different people in China have different answers," says Wang Wen, chief op-eds page editor and editorial writer. He has a cherubic face and big brown eyes, and despite working slavishly long hours, radiates a sense of exuberance uncommon in China's newsrooms. "The liberals say it is because GT promotes and sells Chinese nationalism. The others say it is because GT is very sharp and we dare to touch the sensitive issues."
The current incarnation of Global Times is the brainchild of Wang's boss, Mr. Hu. Born in Beijing in 1960 and a teenager during China's Cultural Revolution, Hu studied at Nanjing Military International Relations University and then received an M.A. in Russian Literature and Language from Beijing Foreign Studies University in 1989. That year marked a traumatic turning point in China: The momentum of a decade of optimism and liberalizing thought was gunned down in Tiananmen Square, and a new era of conservatism and patriotic education was anxiously shepherded in by President Jiang Zemin. In 1989, Hu joined the People's Daily as a reporter; from 1993-1996 he was a correspondent in Yugoslavia covering the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He returned to Beijing in 1996, and at age 36 joined the new Global Times newspaper as deputy editor.
Global Times's rising profile over the past two decades owes to new forces in the shifting Chinese media landscape. The Chinese edition of the paper, as its name indicates, focuses on international news. Back when China was primarily inward looking and struggling recover from a Maoist economy, that seemed a backwater beat. "But Global Times has been increasingly relevant since 1999," says Anti, "since the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia." -- i.e., the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy by U.S. and NATO forces, which stirred conspiracy theories in China and happened to take place in Hu's old reporting stomping grounds.
As Chinese readers have begun to increasingly look outward, Global Times has delivered on that hunger for international coverage, albeit often with a claustrophobic worldview that presents China, arguably the world's second-most powerful country, as a besieged underdog. A sample of front-page headlines from October 2011: "Attacking China becomes a new vogue for Washington DC"; "The Senates vote menaces China"; and "India and Vietnam signing contracts provokes China." (As Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a professor of history of the University of California, Irvine, explains this disconnect, "It's linked to the Communist Party's shift in the story it tells about its past. … There's less attention in official historical accounts on the party's role as a promoter of social equality and more on its role in ending the "100 years of humiliation" -- the stock phrase for the foreign incursions of the 1840s through 1940s, the Opium War through the Japanese invasions.")