The Global Times, a tabloid offshoot of the People’s Daily group that is routinely described as “strongly (or some varioation thereof) nationalist” recently launched an English-language edition. I have enjoyed reading the Chinese edition, which is mostly devoted to foreign affairs (obviously, I guess) and so covers issues I am familiar with, making it easier to understand than, say, an article on beekeeping in Hebei. It also does indeed provide a good insight into the occasionally splenetic nationalist/anti-foreign views of some Chinese intellectuals. The English language edition is obviously aimed at a completely different set of readers: foreigners and visitors from overseas. In order to claim some credibility with its target audience, the English-language Global Times has evidently made a conscious decision to run stories on topics that are taboo in the Chinese media, allowing some credulous foreigners to point to its stories and say, “wow, you see how liberal the official media is getting. All that stuff about strict censorship must be western media hype.”
A few weeks ago, for example, the English edition ran a sympathetic two-page spread about the plight of petitioners (though the reporter did manage to find a petitioner who had actually been successful in getting her case resolved, truly one in million). Last Friday, the English edition ran a front page piece on the bridge collapse in Hunan that killed ten, er, that’s to say nine people. (Latest developments here). The story focuses on the discrepancy in the number of dead reported by the local government and speculates that an initial announcement that the number was ten, subsequently changed to nine, was suspicious given that the higher number changes the classification of the incident, making it much more serious and drawing in the central government. (Mine owners often go to great lengths in the wake of fatal accidents to avoid breaching the ten dead figure for the same reasons, sometimes spiriting away corpses to morgues in neighboring counties to keep the numbers down). As the two front pages shown above demonstrate, the same story didn’t appear at all in the Chinese edition, which lead with a story about Premier Wen Jiabao refuting claims that China and the U.S. could set up a “G2″ organization. This double act (split personality?) is fascinating to watch and, as Austin points out, could set the paper up for a bizarre situation in which the Chinese edition is criticizing “western media” for their coverage of something (that happens fairly often), only to have the English-language side running exactly that same sort of coverage. Stay tuned.