Top honours for Wen's elegy to mentor

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 February, 2011, 12:00am

First a poet, now a prose writer - Premier Wen Jiabao gained more literary recognition when the monthly magazine Beijing Literature selected a eulogy he wrote in April for late reformist leader Hu Yaobang as the best prose written in the country last year.

The state-affiliated magazine said its editorial board looked at the ideological and artistic value of a wide selection of works for its annual Contemporary Chinese Literature Rankings. Five of the best pieces were selected in each of the categories of short stories, medium-length stories, literary reportage and prose, including work by more familiar literati such as Su Tong and Tie Ning.

Wen's penchant for literary expression is well-known. A poem he wrote in 2007, Gazing up at the Starry Sky, was so popular that a Beijing university used it for its school anthem.

But, to many intellectuals, Wen's eulogy for Hu in People's Daily was no mere literary expression of thoughts for a lost mentor - it was a political statement of his endorsement of Hu, and a sign of his frustration with the bureaucracy. The eulogy, published on the 21st anniversary of Hu's death, raised eyebrows because it is extremely rare for an incumbent state leader to discuss the ostracised leader in such a high-profile way. Hu's death sparked the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Titled Recalling Yaobang on my Return to Xingyi, Wen wrote emotionally of his trip to Xingyi, Guizhou, with Hu 24 years earlier, and Hu's concern for the people.

Political commentator Li Datong , a former editor at China Youth Daily, said the magazine's choice probably reflected the political wishes of its editors, rather than the eulogy's literary merit. 'Hu Yaobang has always been seen as a symbol of clean governance, high moral standards and reform,' Li said.