Wen Jiabao 温家宝
Retired from the Politburo Standing Committee in 2012 and as Premier of State Council in March 2013.
Pronunciation: One Jeeyah-bow (as in how) Wen Jiabao
Born: 1942, Tianjin.
Education: Beijing Institute of Geology.
Career: 20 years in Gansu Province. A protégé of Hu Yaobang, Wen survived an association with opponents of the hard-line response to Tiananmen protests.
Prospects: Retired from Politburo Standing Committee and State Council.
Relevance to Tibet: May retain some influence over future promotions and policy, but less than Hu Jintao.
Standing in the Party and Career Highlights:
Wen, assisted by four Vice Premiers, was Chair of the State Council (or Cabinet) to whom the Ministry and Department Heads report, until March 2013. Wen Jiabao had broad areas of responsibility, especially the economy, agriculture and the environment.
As with Hu Jintao, Wen is part of the “populist” school, more interested in reducing economic disparity than in economic growth at all costs.
He is considered to be a liberal thinker but simultaneously a close follower of the Party line.
Wen has been a regular verbal proponent of political reform, but there is little evidence that he has been able to implement change. Examples of his speeches on this topic include August 2010, when he called for political reform, arguing that without such reform, China’s decades of impressive economic growth would be lost. He also called for mechanisms to allow citizens to criticize and supervise the Communist Party. Since the Hu-Wen administration has been silent on political reform, Wen’s speech unleashed considerable speculation. Was this a genuine call for political reform? Have such speeches been Wen’s effort to burnish his legacy in his last two years of office? Did they reflect some hidden split in the Politburo?
Wen spent almost 20 years in Gansu Province, with increasingly more responsible positions in both geologic work and Party activity.
His talent was recognized in the early 1980s by Hu Yaobang, who gave him a “helicopter ride” promotion to the Central Committee in Beijing as the deputy in the Party’s Central Office.
In the Party’s history, he is the only Politburo Standing Committee member to have served four General Secretaries (Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, two of whom were purged).
It remains unclear how his reputation was not damaged when he served as a top aide to Zhao Ziyang, who opposed the hard-line response to Tiananmen protests. (Forbes, June 2009)
On 24 January 2011, Wen visited the Beijing petition office; a visit that “was seen as extraordinary for a senior Chinese leader” according to the Washington Post. The Post went on, “He mingled with the petitioners and urged officials to handle citizen complaints promptly, seriously and in a personal way.”
Quotations By/Comments About
- “When we talk about democracy, we usually refer to the three most important components: elections, judicial independence, and supervision based on checks and balances.” [Unlike others who say China will never adopt such practices.] (2006 to a Brookings delegation.)
- “While it is the government’s responsibility to expand the ‘pie’ of national wealth, it is the government’s conscience to distribute it in an adequate manner.” “If wealth in a society is concentrated in a minority of people, this society will be neither just nor stable.” (Quoted by Willy Lam, Wall Street Journal, March 2010)
- “There is ample fact and plenty of evidence proving this incident was organized, premeditated, masterminded and incited by the Dalai clique … This has all the more revealed that the consistent claims by the Dalai clique that they pursue not independence, but peaceful dialogue, are nothing but lies.” (Reuters, March 2008).
- “Cheng Li, a researcher at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said he agrees that Wen might be feeling more emboldened now to speak out publicly because he is leaving his position soon and has nothing to lose. “He is very solid in terms of his political standing because he does not care,” Li said. Wen “is also frustrated by the lack of serious support from his colleagues,” the researcher said. (Washington Post, 15 February 2011; talking about Wen’s calls for political reform).
- People who have worked with him say he is conspicuous mainly for being fastidious. He lets policy documents sit on his desk for at least three days before signing off, they say, so he can slow-cook the contents in his mind and triple-check the grammar. (New York Times)
- Widely described as being a consummate bureaucrat and technocrat, but with an unusual down-to-earth, folksy style. Since recent disasters (snowstorm, mining accident, Sichuan earthquake), known as “Grandpa Wen” or “Mr. Tears” (since he cries in public, something widely admired but criticized by some). “While the majority of…Internet messages are sympathetic of Wen’s tears, others hold that although a premier’s crying may manifest the ultimate compassion and sympathy for the ravaged and the downtrodden, it also indicates a certain sense of helplessness and feebleness during a time of national crisis when courage, vision, and resolve, not tears, are more needed from a national leader. Yet the sharpest criticism of Wen’s tears has been related to his complete lack of sympathy for the suffering of Tibetans”. (Yu Maochun, Jamestown China Brief, June 2008)
- “He may not be a good leader, but the perception out there is that he’s a good person.” (Cheng Li, Brookings) * “[His political success and survival have been accomplished] primarily by being non- confrontational, unassuming, conciliatory or, some may even say, unprincipled.” (Yu Maochun, Jamestown China Brief, June 2008)
- When asked by Chinese netizens why he didn’t duck when a student threw a shoe at him at Cambridge University, he said he was blinded by a spotlight and didn’t see the shoe, adding, “But I have a conviction even it was a dangerous article, I wouldn’t move a bit because the first thing that came across my mind was to safeguard the national dignity.”
- Demonstrating his wide reading habits at Harvard University: “Descartes, Voltaire, Goethe and Kant, as well as lesser-known figures such as Gottfried Leibniz and Enlightenment thinker Baron de Montesquieu, throwing in American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson and Charles Dickens for good measure.” (The Age, Australia).
Personal Information and Interesting Details
- Married, with two children. Wife is Zhang Peili in the jewellery/diamond business, seen by Taiwan TV wearing a US$300,000 bracelet. His son graduated from a U.S. university.
- He donated 200,000 electronic books to Cambridge University to augment its already expansive collection of Chinese texts. (Information World Review, April 2009)
- He has worn the same green overcoat since 1995 as part of his populist, proletarian image.
- He is the only top leader not to dye his hair black.
Iconic photo: May, 1989, Wen second from right, with Zhao Ziyang in tears, pleading with students to leave Tiananmen Square.
Wen Jiabao’s Contact Information:
- Address: Zhongnanhai, Xi Chang’an Jie, Beijing 100017.
- Website: www.gov.cn
- Phone: + 86 10 6307 0913
- Fax: + 86 10 6307 0900