One of the leading Chinese voices who was doing his best to work people up prior to Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was a guy named Hu Xijin. If you’re not familiar with him, he’s been a leading state media spokesman for years and was the chief editor at the Global Times. He was recently moved out of that position but still has his job as a commentator and retains a huge following on social media in China and a fairly large on Twitter.
So in the lead up to Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, he was the guy envisioning how the People’s Liberation Army was going to humiliate Pelosi, punish her and make her trip a disgrace. His peak tweet was the one where he suggested the PLA might need to shoot down her plane. He deleted that after Twitter suspended him but here’s a screenshot.
BREAKING: China threatens to shoot down Nancy Pelosi's plane if it crosses into Taiwan, escorted by US fighter jets. pic.twitter.com/LpqbE4EVRz
— Charles Weber 🇺🇸 (@CWBOCA) July 29, 2022
Technically, that threat came from one commentator not from China but again, Hu Xijin is a leading voice in state media so the difference hasn’t always been as clear cut as it seems. The Chinese Digital Times noted an essay on WeChat describing this dynamic:
Hu Xijin has been devoted to creating the persona of the propaganda apparatus off government’s (and even the military’s), so that people mistakenly believe that some of the official statements that cannot be made openly are spoken through him, and news not convenient to be released through official channels are revealed through him.
[…] Such tactics led many to believe that Hu Xijin was leaking information and making harsh statements on behalf of the state and the military for the purpose of deterrence. As a result, when Hu Xijin made predictions about the possible consequences of the Pelosi visit, many people mistakenly thought that he had real insider information about the country’s response package.
As the Great Translation Movement account pointed out, all of the tough talk had some Chinese nationalists envisioning the glorious moment when Pelosi’s plane would hit the ocean.
— The Great Translation Movement 大翻译运动官方推号 (@TGTM_Official) August 1, 2022
But of course nothing like that happened. Pelosi landed safely in Taiwan with no interference from China. Some of China’s online nationalists were very disappointed.
熊本喵：Don’t complain. We can’t go to war. It might not be as simple as we thought. Our motherland is really passive. Sad, but it is what it is!
恬恬大聪明：I could never have imagined they’d beat the war drum so loud and then, in the end, have the whole nation go greet the old lady upon arrival.
未梦与猫：Don’t lay on your comfortable bed and say, “how disappointing.”
拒绝一切内耗的小范同学：I still have faith in the government. War isn’t a game.
Lidangzzz：I just went to the corner store to buy cigarettes. The clerk said they only have Chinese smokes in soft packs. [Chinese]
But some of the backlash was directly aimed at Hu Xijin. After all, he’d been the loudest voice saying Pelosi should never make it to Taiwan. One Chinese blogger who calls himself Chairman Rabbit said it was time to stop taking Hu seriously.
Sensible China Watchers should cease to pay disproportional attention to Mr Hu, and discredit him as a voice of and from the Authority (in broad sense), because he is not. Nevertheless, he does speak for some puopular and populist minds in China. https://t.co/zHkkpl4ZuX
— 兔主席 (@ChairmanRabbit) August 3, 2022
Another writer mocked Hu and suggested that if a war between China and the US started, his family needed to immediately go to the front lines:
My sole wish is that the day the U.S. and China go to war, Old Hu and his entire family, including but not limited to his son, daughter-in-law, nephew, and niece are the first people to enlist in the fight.
After all, you wouldn’t want someone else to actually achieve all the things you once bullshitted about.
The backlash was significant enough that Hu Xijin wrote a response to it.
Pelosi landed on stage. Our diplomatic efforts and public opinion struggles failed to stop her. The common people were a little disappointed, which is normal.
Some people are scolding mothers online and venting their anger. This is also normal. It’s the public opinion field.
Others use me as a punching bag, and I have to listen too…
Pelosi landed on the stage, which of course reflects that our deterrent power is not enough to stop her early offensive, but if you are very frustrated because of this, thinking that we have “lost” and encountered a new “national humiliation”, It’s a bit exaggerated…
The struggle against the United States is doomed to be long and arduous. We must prepare to fight it round by round, and we must not sigh as soon as something goes wrong…
I will not stop advocating that PLA fighter jets fly over the island of Taiwan.
I believe that day will come.
In other words, he was wrong this time but still has hope that one day the PLA will do something truly belligerent and stupid toward the US.
Finally, the Global Times helped him out a bit by publishing this piece about how Chinese “netizens” were fully in support of the government’s response. As usual with state media propaganda, you have to sort of read between the lines to see why this story was necessary. [emphasis added]
Chinese netizens have swarmed to social media to express firm and full support for and confidence in the central government’s measures to tackle the US after Chinese Foreign Ministry on Friday announced countermeasures against the US’ provocation and sanctions against US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi due to her Taiwan island visit…
Though many netizens in the Chinese mainland expressed disappointment after Pelosi landed in Taipei on Tuesday, they came to understand and support the government’s multiple countermeasures in the military, diplomatic and economic areas. The people have never lost confidence in the government, and China fully understands the importance of patience and calmness, observers said…
“It was not honest to say I was not upset after Pelosi landed in Taiwan, but my heart revived after seeing our counterattack!” said a Weibo user.
“Now I understand that the great power game is a long-lasting one. I trust my country!” said another net user.
His heart was revived? Is this a real person or someone on the PRC staff? I really hope there are a lot of Chinese people who aren’t falling for this crap.
Hu Xijin stepped down from his job as editor at the Global Times last December and the reasons for that aren’t very clear. I saw some suggestions that the national embarrassment over the Peng Shuai incident may have played a role in Hu’s demotion. In any case, Hu still has all of his social media accounts and still acts as the leading commentator at the Global Times leading many to believe he can’t be completely out of the government’s favor.