OPINION / VIEWPOINT
Telling blunt truths: writing Global Times editorials
Published: Jul 12, 2011 10:07 PM Updated: Jul 13, 2011 11:09 AM

Hu Xijin ( 胡锡进), editor-in-chief of the Global Times

It is rare to have the editor-in-chief personally compose a newspaper's editorials. As an exception, I actually feel guilty about it, as it indicates that I am not a good leader since I neglect my own "business" but am devoted to my daily chores as a commentator.

I, however, have no choice but to do that. Since the spring of 2010, I have written the editorials for the Global Times myself. Before that, all I did was to select the title and proofread the final draft.

The departure of Ding Gang, who formerly took charge of the editorials, disarranged our former procedures. As no one could replace him, I, as the editor-in-chief, had to take charge of it myself and revised each commentary carefully.

Lots of words and expressions needed to be revised due to the lack of experience of our young editors. Gradually, we formed a new way of doing things as well as new perspectives and style.

Every morning, the editorial editors and I set down the topic and the basic logic of the editorial. Later on, the editors call our experts for their insights on the topics covered.

The editors on duty summarize various perspectives or even draft the editorial in advance in the evening. After carefully reading the material and experts' views, the editors and I jointly compose the editorial. They type what I say but don't simply record my words. They may also correct my wording when they find conflicts with what the experts had said or what they have learned about in the material.

The final editorial draft will be sent to two or three experts for further directions on perspectives and wording. We draw from a pool of more than a hundred professional readers specializing in various aspects of China and the world.

Afterward, I take their suggestions into account and make major revisions if necessary. Therefore, even though the editorials are written by the editors and I, various people contribute to the articles. To some extent, the editorials of the Global Times reflect the mainstream voice of the nation.

Seeking truth from facts

Some intellectuals label the ideology of our editorials and the paper as "leftist," or even "nationalistic." Personally, I believe that the line between "left" and "right" in China is now elusive. Those who are regarded as the "right" party are actually very "left" and harbored a strong revolutionary mindset.

If insisting on using a tag to portray us, we would prefer to be "truth seekers." We are very willing to speak on behalf of mainstream opinions and the majority. Actually, we are sincerely working on it.

We will neither please the public with claptrap nor promote minority views as mainstream ones.

The circulation and the actual influence of the Global Times have been growing recently. As one of China's highest-circulation newspapers, it signifies that our values and the values of the social mainstream are in agreement.

The paper's writing style, which has formed gradually over time, is prompted by our pursuit for the truth and the desire to tell the truth. What truth do we want to tell? To my mind, the biggest one is: China is complicated.

We often read comments, some of which were excellent writings with distinguished perspectives and values. Some widespread essays online, including newspapers' editorials, were timely, pointed and sharp. However, we may have something different to tell when considering China's history. 

We want to stand higher to perceive the same problem from various angles, find the ignored facts and sense a unique mood that can not be gathered through a single perspective.

Reporting on sensitive topics

One characteristic of Global Times' editorials is that we often discuss some sensitive topics. It is a delicate tactic, as it is difficult for the usual way of reporting or commenting to touch these topics. If the ideas are not clear, it is easy to mislead the public.

For instance, there are two ways to report on human rights topics. One is using Western language, which risk serving as a mouthpiece of Western values. The other one is the declarative language from the Chinese authorities, which is standard and formal, but limited and hard to provide materials for the daily reports.

On human rights, the Global Times tries to use "candid language" and avoid official terms, in order to express the views of the Chinese mainstream.

Gradually, we became the first to write editorials about sensitive issues. We use our voices, instead of silence, to protect the interests of our state and people.

We were the first to write editorials on Google's withdrawal from China, Korean conflicts, the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, the Middle East revolutions, the "Jasmine revolution" in China, and Ai Weiwei's being arrested. These editorials were appealing and controversial, for some of them were the only editorials on the topic in Chinese media that time.

We still can't say whether our editorials struck the right note or not. What we can say now is that no matter whether these editorials are right or wrong, it was a breakthrough that we wrote the hidden opinions of Chinese mainstream society and express them to the public. This is also the way we make a small contribution to China's journalism.

Commenting on the various sensitive topics makes us out of the ordinary in domestic media. Every week some international media quote from the reports, especially editorials, of the Global Times. We feel glad but also under pressure. We know that if we write something ridiculous, many people around the world may misunderstand our meaning. We must transfer this kind of pressure to the motivation behind our work.

Avoiding false and hollow words

Our principle is that every sentence in our editorials must be logical and realistic. So when we write editorials, I always ask the editors "Is that right? Do you agree?" We watch out for writings that only follow their own logic. Sometimes a sentence is very logical in the article, but doesn't match our real feelings.

For example, we once had one sentence "A united, strong European Union fits China's interests." However, when we checked later, we found that these were not the words in our heart. This is diplomatic language, so let the diplomats say it.

Looking back at these editorials, we find that our articles repeat themselves occasionally. For example, words such as "uncertainty" and "complicated" are frequently used in our articles, which means that our thoughts and languages are not that rich. Sometimes, there are some different views, even totally opposite minds, in different articles.

I think one reason is that the emphasis in each article is different. Another reason is that our own minds are puzzled and contradictory. In this period of social transition, this kind of puzzled and contradictory mind is the true state of China. Hesitation and steadfastness both exist in most people's judgments and choices. The ones who appear "firm" and stand for left or right forever act in some other interest, or are extremists.

Seeking the common opinion
The editorials of the Global Times won some praises and encouragement, and at the same times received some criticisms and abuse. The root cause is that we comment on some sensitive issues that others dare not to discuss. When some people want us to be silent, we speak our views.

Except for our own opinions, we try to represent the opinions of most people in China. Sometimes, all the readers are not satisfied with our editorials. This does not mean we are far away from public opinion. We are not looking for the opinion of a special crowd. Instead, we are looking for the greatest common standpoint of the society.

Some of Global Times' editorials criticized the US and other Western countries, and some criticized Japan and Korea in some conflicts. So some people criticize the Global Times as nationalistic. This is a word with strong connotations, which is not good for objective analysis of the news business of the Global Times.

In fact, the Global Times maintains good relationships with the diplomatic authorities of Japan, Korea and the US. Although they have some different opinions to us, they agree that the Global Times truly reports the attitudes of Chinese society on the sensitive issues, which can reduce the misunderstandings of foreigners about China. These factual and truthful editorials are good for relations between China and foreign countries.

The Global Times has had an editorial column for only two years. I was a front-line reporter for a long time and I am new in writing editorials. The colleagues who write editorials with me are also very young. We are still feeling our way while doing our work.

I know that it is unavoidable for us to make some mistakes. However, society is much more tolerant now. We can get more chances to fix our mistakes.

When we collected and published the Global Times' editorials, we did not make any change. These editorials are a kind of experience of our paper, and also an original record of the special period in our country in the past few years.

This article is an excerpt of the preface of A Truth-Speaking China.


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