Writer challenges premier not to throw him in prison

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 August, 2010, 12:00am

A dissident writer has challenged Premier Wen Jiabao to prove he is an open-minded leader.

Yu Jie says the answer will be known in 10 days if he remains free after a controversial book he has written characterising Wen as 'China's best actor', rather than the sympathetic 'Grandpa Wen' portrayed in mainland media, hits the shelves in Hong Kong.

He said China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao would go on sale in Hong Kong on August 16 despite a warning by Beijing police last month that he would be jailed if publication went ahead.

'I am concerned about my personal safety of course ... but the authorities have banned me from publishing on the mainland since 2004,' Yu said. 'I don't want my scant freedom to publish in Hong Kong to also be lost.

'If the central leadership decides to put me in jail because of my book, it would ruin the image of an open-minded administration that both President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen have pulled out all stops to build up over the past eight years.'

Yu, 36, was interrogated for 4 1/2 hours by Beijing secret police on July 5. He said his interrogators told him that Wen was not 'a normal citizen' and any book criticising him could have 'grave consequences' because it would endanger 'the ruling power and the interests of the nation'.

Yu was told he could end up in prison like Liu Xiaobo , the writer and former professor sentenced to 11 years in prison on subversion charges in December, a year after he co-authored Charter 08, a bold manifesto calling for political reform on the mainland.

'Even without this book, the authorities still could find so-called evidence to charge me over the 1,500-odd critical articles I have written in the past decade,' Yu said.

Yu's book contains 51 critical articles in five main chapters based on Wen's public performances and speeches carried by official mainland media outlets and international newspapers over the past eight years, the writer said.

In one of the articles, he describes Wen as a mediocre technocrat who climbed his way to the top by avoiding political conflicts and manipulating public sentiment.

'Among all previous directors in the General Office of the Central Committee ... Wen is so far the only one to be promoted as a top leader who holds real power without a background of outstanding achievements,' Yu wrote, adding that Wen's ability to avoid being implicated in the downfall of former bosses - Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang , who were forced to step down in party power struggles - had played a key role in his promotion.

'Compared with Wang Zhaoguo and Hu Qili , the two former rising stars who lost opportunities to become top leaders ... Wen grabbed the chance because he is the master of political manipulation ... from the very beginning, he realised that Deng Xiaoping was his real master, not Hu and Zhao.'

Yu cited Wen's refusal to sign off on a telegram to Zhao that could have led to an emergency session of the National People's Congress over the legality of imposing martial law in Beijing before the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, an incident mentioned in Zhao's memoirs.

In another article, Yu highlights the role Wen has played as the human face balancing Hu Jintao's serious style.

'Hu has a personality that is impersonal and cold; he prefers to give orders behind the scenes because he is not good at performing in public,' Yu wrote. 'Wen's character fills the gap because he likes going down to coal mines, visiting farmers and expressing emotions in public.'

Hong Kong-based political commentator Poon Siu-to said politicians both in China and overseas needed to be good performers in public.

'The difference is, politicians in Western countries are elected by the public but Chinese leaders like Wen and Hu were anointed by their predecessors,' Poon said. 'That's why all Chinese officials should learn how to please their superiors.

'Western politicians have more space to maximise their acting abilities, as they are also directors of their shows. But, under one-party rule, there are so many directors, such as the Central Publicity Department, to conduct Wen's act.'

Poon said the sympathetic image of 'Grandpa Wen' and 'the People's Premier' may be a product of the party's publicity department.

'I don't think we can see the real face of a top leader from news reports, because on the mainland all official reports about performances and speeches by a leader would be strictly censored and embellished before being published,' he said. 'Wen is playing a role, which the mainland public has expected since ancient China, while the party also needs such an image to maintain power.'

Bao Pu , founder of New Century Press, which is publishing the book in Hong Kong, said 30 per cent of it was articles Yu had already published in Hong Kong, Taiwan and overseas or on the internet over the past six years, while the rest was new.

'We plan to print 5,000 copies in its initial edition,' he said.

Bao's father - Bao Tong , the highest-ranking official jailed over the Tiananmen crackdown and a senior adviser to late party general secretary Zhao - had written an introduction for the book.

'The leaders and the led, everyone is passing their days inside a contradiction,' Bao Tong wrote in the introduction, titled 'The Virtual China and the Real China', saying Wen's role was the best example.

Yu said Wen's visit to Sichuan after the massive earthquake in 2008 reflected that.

'Wen was the first top official to arrive at the scene, where he cried, comforted families, and told parents of children who died inside crushed schools that the government would investigate why buildings collapsed,' he said. 'But already two years have passed and there's nothing ... Instead, volunteers who investigated the collapsed buildings, including Tan Zuoren and Huang Qi , have been arrested and jailed.'