A Chinese state tabloid editor who became a leading voice of strident nationalism with millions of social media followers has announced his retirement.
A self-described former pro-democracy protester turned outspoken newspaper editor, Hu Xijin helped usher in a new era of brash, assertive nationalism under the president, Xi Jinping.
In a social media post on Thursday, Hu said 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.
The 61-year-old wrote to his 24 million followers on the Chinese social media platform Weibo that it was “time to retire”, but that he would continue to serve as a special commentator for the paper.
“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.
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-19, and called the UK a “bitch asking for a beating” after British warships sailed through contested waters last summer.
As well as drawing large audiences inside the country, Hu built a substantial social media presence on Twitter – blocked inside China – with more than 460,000 followers, making him one of the most prominent pro-state voices on western social media.
He says 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.
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.
More recently, he tweeted video footage claiming sources had told him the tennis star Peng Shuai was alive and well, after she disappeared from public view after making sexual assault allegations against a top official.
Hu also denied allegations of extramarital affairs with two female colleagues earlier this month – claiming in a blogpost that he was a victim of blackmail by the accuser, a deputy editor at the newspaper.
It is widely rumoured in Chinese media blogs that Hu will be replaced by the People’s Daily commentary writer Fan Zhengwei.