Chinese state tabloid editor Hu Xijin, who became a leading voice of strident nationalism with millions of social media followers, announced his retirement Thursday.

A self-described former pro-democracy protestor turned outspoken newspaper editor, Hu helped usher in a new era of brash, assertive nationalism under President Xi Jinping.

Global Times editor Hu Xijin. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

In a social media post, Hu said Thursday 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 Chinese social media platform Weibo that it “is time to retire”, but that he will 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 over 460,000 followers, making him one of the most prominent pro-state voices on Western social media. 

He says that 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 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 that sources had told him tennis star Peng Shuai was alive and well, after she disappeared from public view in the wake of her sexual assault allegations against a top official. 

Hu also denied allegations of extramarital affairs with two female colleagues earlier this month — claiming in a blog post 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 People’s Daily commentary writer Fan Zhengwei.

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