Zhu Rongji (朱镕基), China’s former Premier (the second-ranking leader), was a popular statesman praised for high moral standing, general truthfulness, resolute behavior, work ethics, dedication towards the economic reform and intolerance of corruption. He attempted, with much success, to resolve many deep-seated problems in China. For instance, under his leadership, a large number of state-owned enterprises were modernized, remarkably without creating huge amount of unemployment or major social disorder. His style of speech was also memorable, as he was one of the few Chinese leaders who did not stick to a script. As a result, frank, memorable and even touching moments abounded in many of his press conferences.
On September 2, more than six years after Zhu retired, a book titled “Zhu Rongji in Press Conference” (朱镕基答记者问) was published. It presented the archived transcriptions of all major press conferences Zhu attended during his term as the Vice Premier and the Premier. The book immediately became such a hit, that the publisher announced that sales would soon top one million, an enviable feat in the printing industry.
For the record, Zhu deliberately avoided public attention after his retirement. For instance, even as a former Premier, he did not attend either the opening or closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. He refused to read the biography his cousin had written for him. As for the current collection, he requested that his name on the book cover should be printed in a less noticeable format than “in Press Conference” (答记者问), as has been done. All these acts gave people a strong impression of his self-discipline and humility.
However, the new book has propelled Zhu back into public’s gaze. Both the market reception and internet interest in this book have proved that even though Zhu has retreated from the limelight for so many years, his popularity is far from waning.
This can be reflected in blogger Jia Junjun's summing-up of Zhu Rongji's life:
Zhu Rongji is a true leader and his reputation will stand the test of time. I believe as time moves on, the legacy of Zhu Rongji will become more obvious. Zhu Rongji was once a refreshing breeze in the current political system. He was a class of his own. His courage, his close interaction with the common people, his incorruptibility, his self-composure in front of the public, his steadfast managerial style and his lack of mercy for the corrupt and mediocre officials — all of them regrettably do not belong to this age, or in this age's China. Zhu Rongji was a great man who was situated before his time.
Another netizen commented that:
At present, nobody can surpass Premier Zhu’s courage, wisdom, sense of humor, ability and vision!
In addition, shorter praises such as “He was a great Premier” and “People love you” float everywhere in the online community.
Why is Zhu Rongji so popular after so many years? Why do people still think so highly of him even though they did not technically vote for him? Best explanation seems to be that his is so special.
In a way, Zhu Rongji, embodies people’s aspirations for a type of politician that Chinese bureaucracy so seldom produce. Zhu’s best qualities, such as frankness, openness and responsibility, run counter to most people’s perception of Chinese government officials. So in truth, the continuing enthusiasm for Zhu Rongji not only stems from a degree of nostalgia, but also from the wish to have more people like him in the government now! In an indirect but obvious way, such enthusiasm shows the strong popular support for deeper, braver and more substantial reforms, for more transparency, for the fight against corruption and for more government accountability.
In ending, I would like to translate some of the most memorable quotes from Zhu Rongji, so that you may have a better picture of who he is and why people still miss him.
In the war against corruption, we should beat the (stronger) tiger before beating the (weaker) wolves. As for the tiger, we should never show mercy. Let us prepare one hundred coffins, including one for me. The worst case is only a destruction of them and me, but what is that is in exchange is the long-term stability and development of our nation and people’s confidence in our cause.
As for when will I retire and what I will do after my retirement, I already spoke about that in 1998. I said I would march on courageously. I would not look back. I would work hard and would not cease till my death. Today, I am still keeping that promise! However you should not misunderstand me. “Not cease till my death” does not mean that if I am not dead I will stick to this chair of premiership. This is not what I mean! I only want to say that as long as I am alive and have one more breath, I will “work hard and will not cease till my death”.
I only wish that after my retirement, people from all over the country could say, he is a good official, not a corrupt one. Then I will be more than satisfied. If they could take it easier, and say, Zhu Rongji really did something, then I will thank the heaven and the earth!