Another now-infamous Global Times editorial ran on April 6, 2011. While most of China's state-run media initially kept mum on the uncomfortable fact of artist Ai Weiwei's detention, Global Times jumped in to argue that Ai had brought it upon himself by crossing a red line: "History will make its own judgment of such a person as Ai Weiwei. But before this happens, they will sometimes pay a price for their own peculiar decisions, as happens in any society." And the kicker: "No one person has the right to make our entire people accommodate their personal views of what is right and wrong."
Given how much of what Global Times prints is obvious anathema to liberal Western readers, it's worth noting that another recurring topic is criticism of China's own culture of official corruption (so long as no Western government is allowed to look good by comparison). In April, the paper blew open a salacious story about the inhuman liquor bill of an official at Sinopec, China's state-owned petroleum giant, in a smart investigative piece cited by the New Yorker's Evan Osnos on his blog. A team of Global Times reporters confronted the general manager of Sinopec's Guangdong branch, Lu Guangyu, about whether he had really purchased 480 bottles of vintage Moutai and 696 bottles of red wine for personal consumption (total cost: $243,604), as his expense reports indicated. Might not the money have been spent instead on gifts, banquets, or bribes? Lu claimed he had drunk every last drop. "But there's mass public skepticism about Sinopec's claims that one man was responsible for its booze bill," an April 27 Global Times article duly noted. "Many believe that the case reflects rampant abuse of power and public funds among State-owned enterprises."
How does fear-mongering about foreign policy mix with muckraking about outrageous official behavior? "I think Hu is opportunistic and trying to be sensational … in the vein of the New York Post," says Richard Burger, a former PR professional based in China and former editor at Global Times's English edition. According to Burger, shortly after the English edition launched, Hu announced in an editorial meeting that he was determined to publish an article at least referencing the June 4, 1989 massacre -- a date on which, according to China's official media, nothing happened. Global Times did manage to twice break that taboo, albeit in passing references in articles devoted to the development of Chinese intellectual thought. "He's out to win attention for his newspaper," says Burger, "he relishes controversy."
Hu Xijin's freewheeling tendencies probably represent the most energetic effort in China to actually win readers for party papers. Of course, Global Times's rising profile may also be the product of limited alternatives: Beijing allows no national newspaper devoted to international news to publish on the opposite end of the political spectrum, with a more liberal slant. As a former reporter at Beijing Youth Daily told me: "Why do people read Global Times? There are few options … there's no real news in China. We have such limited choices."