If you're on Twitter and keep an eye on China news, here's an interesting account to follow: @HuXijinGT. Hu Xijin is the editor in chief of both the English and Chinese editions of Global Times, a state-run tabloid noted for its nationalist tendencies.
For the average Chinese person, accessing Twitter is impossible. China's online censorship regime blocks the site and other social networking platforms that it cannot control. To get on Twitter, users here must purchase Virtual Private Network software that opens a portal allowing them to skirt those restrictions.
Apparently, the chief of a newspaper run by the state that imposed those rules in the first place has done just that.
Hu bristled when a Wall Street Journal blog item pointed out his appearance on Twitter and described him as "a staunch defender of China’s need to censor the Internet."
Responding via Twitter, Hu wrote, "That's overstated."
Posting at 11:40 p.m. last night, Hu said that, "I understand China’s current Internet censorship but I support the gradual lift of it. I believe speech freedom is inevitable in China."
Something about the tone of that remark reminded me of an editorial the Global Times ran last month with the headline "Self-imposed exile reflects one’s waning influence." Commenting on the departure of dissident writer Yu Jie to the United States, the unsigned piece said in part that:
"China's environment for writers cannot achieve Western standards overnight, as some seem to require. This would mean, with many urgent tasks facing it, the nation should prioritize the needs of a few intellectual elites. This is impractical.
Such a requirement also indicates their selfishness in politics - their judgment on China's path depends on their own social clout, rather than whether the total benefits for the huge population could be improved. Once they find their own interests violated, they spare no efforts in advertising their personal feelings as 'public pains,' and try to attract various forces to help them combat the authorities."
Yu Jie held a press conference in Washington a few weeks ago in which he said his mistreatment by Chinese security officials included being beaten about the head, kicked on the chest and made to cower naked as he was photographed and taunted. A state security officer reportedly informed Yu Jie that he could have him buried alive and no one would ever know.
Other Twitter users have sought to remind him. After Hu described an essay that complained about conditions at the U.S. Embassy visa hall in Beijing, an influential blogger and journalist here, Charles Custer, asked him how long artist and political provocateur Ai Weiwei was detained by the Chinese government.
Ai responded with the answer: 1,944 hours.
Hu Xijin had no response.
His profile picture makes clear that he's proud of his days as a reporter in the field. It has him sitting on a sidewalk, his shoes dirty and a notebook in hand. It's marked Sarajevo. From 1993 to 1996, Hu was a People's Daily correspondent in Yugoslavia and covered the war. I imagine there were political directives about coverage in Sarajevo, but the image he chose for Twitter is that of a man who seeks interviews and opinions.
But as of this writing, Hu is following only one account on Twitter: the Global Times.