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China: Why Zhu Rongji remains popular

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:

朱熔基是那种真金不怕火炼的实干家,经得起时间检验。相信随着时局推移,朱熔基的价值和意义会更加凸显。朱熔基是当今政坛的一股清风;他的出现,是体制内的异数;朱熔基的干才胆魄,朱熔基的亲民作风,朱熔基的清廉志洁,善于面对公众,雷厉风行的行政风格,对贪官庸吏的不留情面,仿佛都不属于这个时代,不属于这个时期的中国。朱熔基是超出于时代的伟人。

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:

朱总理的胆略、智慧、谐趣幽默、能力、视野在当今世上无谁能敌!

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.

反腐败要先打老虎后打狼,对老虎绝不能姑息养奸,准备好一百口棺材,也有我的一口。无非是个同归于尽,却换来国家的长久稳定发展和老百姓对我们事业的信心。

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.

至于说我什么时间退休,退休以后干什么,我在1998年的时候就讲过,我将勇往直前,义无反顾,鞠躬尽瘁,死而后已。我现在,还是这样做!不过请大家不要误会,死而后已不是说我要是不死就老赖在这个总理位子上,这不是这个意思啊!只是说,只要我活着,还有一口气,我就要为人民鞠躬尽瘁、死而后已。

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”.

我只希望在我卸任以后,全国人民能说一句,他是一个清官,不是贪官,我就很满意了。那么再看开一点说,朱镕基还是办一点实事,哎呀,我就谢天谢地了!

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!

8 comments

  • […] von Robert Woo. Quelle: Global Voices Online. Vgl. 朱鎔基答记者问 (Huashang […]

  • Ying Jia

    China Briefing just did a piece on his involvement in getting China into the WTO eight years ago which is interesting: http://www.china-briefing.com/news/2009/08/28/china-remembered-china-joins-the-wto.html. That is probably his real lasting legacy. It was all going pear-shaped until Jiang Zemin brought him back in from the cold to sort it out.

  • […] Beitrag erschien zuerst auf Global Voices. Die Übersetzung erfolgte durch Ingrid-Fischer-Schreiber, Teil des “Project […]

  • Can I just copy your post?

  • april

    我倒没那么待见朱熔基
    国有资产的改革不见得那么成功,国有资产的流失和至今因为国企改革而莫名其妙下岗的人,真不见得是少数。

    个人观点:
    他之所以受中国大众的欢迎,一方面是他个人为人品性方面不错,大众在他做人这方面挑不出什么毛病,不会开什么类似于开李鹏啊江泽民之类的作风的讽刺玩笑。另一方面,他自己也喜欢喊这种受大众欢迎的口号,比如什么反腐之类的(你post的就很明显看出来,我甚至觉得他和俞敏洪在这一方面都是想像的).他说过的话,都是中国人现在关注以及不满的问题,也都是符合民意的。中国人在对于自己中国政客政治失望的同时,对于各种社会不公、腐败现象不满的时候,自然就想起来了这个喊过很多表达他们心意口号的退职的老领导人。他在位的时候,有现在这种一浪一浪的充满个人崇拜主义的粉丝么?
    至于说为了他这些口号,他所采取的措施,我倒觉得没像大众说的那么好,照样是留下一个现在的烂摊子。他的粉丝大多都是年轻人,都没经历过国企改革的时代,不是受之波及的一代,他们对于中国经济的现状的了解和不满很多甚至都是肤浅的,都不是亲身体验的。这种崇拜,在我看来,一方面是肤浅的,一方面,也的确映射出社会所存在的问题。就像是人们的不满总要有一个发泄的通道,而朱熔基就在这个时候成为了这样一个通道。
    倒有点六四的味道?

    可惜,很多年轻人,连六四是什么都不知道。

    一句话,朱熔基是个不错的人,但不一定是个不错的总理,是个不错的总理,但也不是现在大众私下吹捧那么好的总理。
    做人做的好,讲话讲的好,不代表总理做的好。

  • […] economy to real competition and entrepreneurship. Now all Beijing needs is a twenty-first century Zhu Rongji to ram such a reform […]

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