In an open letter published Thursday in the People’s Daily, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao recalled an enlightening journey with purged and disgraced former Premier Hu Yaobang. The letter commemorates the 21st anniversary of his death.
The letter not only symbolizes affection and respect for Hu, but stands as a clear reminder to a young generation of Chinese leaders not to lose touch with the people and the conditions of the country on the most fundamental level.
Great detail into Hu’s rural surveying techniques is expounded by Wen in his letter. The letter describes a trip to the southwestern city of Xingyi the two leaders took together in early 1986. A continual emphasis is put on Hu’s adamant connection with the common people as a method of accurate governance.
Hu was relieved of his premiership in Jan. 1987 during a cycle of inflation and unrest in the infant years of opening and reform. Conservative leaders such as Chen Yun and Deng Liqun saw Hu’s economic liberalism as a threat to the very ideology that legitimized the party.
Hu’s death on April 15, 1989 led to mass mourning and protest, eventually resulting in the Tiananmen Square Protests. Although a champion of the people, Hu has long since been associated with the party’s greatest loss of face since the Cultural Revolution.
Wen’s letter has received an awesome response from the people. The New York Times reports upwards of 20,000 online responses to the letter within a day of publication.
Blogger Yao Keming reveals the significance of the letter in today’s China.
难得在公开的报纸上，读到领导人写的这样质朴、情真、意浓的好文章 … 文章一开头，就将人吸引住了。
It’s hard to read such a simple, meaningful, and genuine article written by an official in an open newspaper.
Within the echelons of the Chinese government and party bureaucracy, Wen has often been received as a leader uniquely in touch with the common people. In a response to his letter, a blogger by the name of ‘Freedom’ echoes this sentiment.
China Daily is a wind vane of Chinese politics. As a personable political leader Wen Jiabao is remarkable among all classes of leaders, especially during the Wenchuan [Sichuan] Earthquake, especially during the current Guizhou drought, and especially at the side of the people in distress.
Yet Premier Wen’s letter is less a personal reflection on days past and more a wake-up call to the growing estrangement between leadership and common people. The practice of editorializing through publications such as the People’s Daily is as old as the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.
In fact much of the turmoil that led to Hu’s purge was reflected in editorials published in the People’s Daily, the Beijing Daily, and Xinhua News in the closing months of 1986. In 1992 editorials published under the auspices of Deng Xiaoping in the People’s Daily served to remind President Jiang Zemin of the semi-retired leader’s continued hold on power.
Blogger Mo Ce considers the message conveyed in Wen’s letter.
Being deeply involved with the people is one of our party’s main methods of operation. If we sit all day in an office listening to reports, many of the situations might not be real, or even fake.
Mo Ce quotes the closing of Wen’s letter.
After reading Premier Wen Jiabao’s recollection of Hu Yaobang’s journey in the southwest, I conclude with a few sentences, which are that leaders “must often go among the people, go to the basic level and conduct investigations and research, observation and interview, and make intimate relationships between upper and lower level, between leadership structure and the vast masses. Only in this way can a good atmosphere be formed, creating a great strength in character, aiding the realization of accurate leadership, reducing leadership work errors, raising leadership quality, and expediting the healthy growth of leaders—especially young leaders.”