Wen Jiabao

The man in the party machine

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 September, 2011, 12:00am

Former premier Zhu Rongji, considered by many the architect of the country's economic boom, published his fourth book last week, giving a glimpse of his unique work style and the personal likes and dislikes that made him unlike any other communist leader.

At more than 2,000 pages long, the four-volume collection of his speeches, remarks and letters from his time as China's economic tsar and premier offers further insight into why he was regarded as such a fierce individualist, with few allies and plenty of enemies within the bureaucracy but plenty of fans overseas and among the grass roots on the mainland.

The Record of Zhu Rongji's Talks, containing 348 articles from 1991 to 2003, also sheds some light on the life of a top communist leader - something usually deemed top secret.

Zhu became executive vice-premier in 1991 and premier in 1998. He retired in early 2003.

He was popular for his high moral standing, general truthfulness, resolute behaviour, work ethic and dedication to economic reform - at least in the eyes of the grass-roots populace. He was unpopular among some officials and state enterprise managers for his intolerance of corruption, incompetence or red tape and his hatred of official indifference to people's grievances.

His comments on his first day as premier give some clues that confirm that reputation. At the first State Council meeting he chaired on March 24, 1998, he advised cabinet members 'to be troublemaker, not a yes-man'. He said they should be the people's servants, enjoy no privileges, speak the truth, be troublemakers who dared to offend anybody, be clean officials and be hard working and down-to-earth in solving real problems.

At that meeting, Zhu, now 83, also set down three rules to improve efficiency and reduce red tape - although they seem to have been forgotten nowadays.

He wanted to simplify formality and reduce, if not scrap, receptions and entertainment for state officials on regional inspections. Never one for socialising at public expense, Zhu decreed that business lunches should not exceed 'four dishes and one soup', be held at canteens rather than five-star hotels, and without accompanying local officials.

He also rejected the common practice of regional party chiefs and government heads accompanying state leaders on inspection trips. That has also gone by the board, with daily television footage of regional party chiefs and government heads at the side of visiting state leaders, from President Hu Jintao to Premier Wen Jiabao and other Politburo members.

Zhu wanted to reduce unnecessary meetings and functions. He ordered State Council leaders and ministers not to attend functions unrelated to their duties and to save their time and energy for solving real problems in their jurisdictions.

At that first meeting he also ordered the streamlining of the State Council, cutting the number of central ministries and agencies and halving the State Council's staff.

Under his stewardship, the State Council also shed two vice-premiers, three state councillors, and five deputy secretaries-general.

On the mainland, power struggles are often amplified when party factions fail to reach consensus on personnel. Senior positions are sometimes added to make every faction happy but it also makes the streamlining of top government organs a daunting task that risks offending various factions and vested groups.

Zhu also reveals his inability to get things done in the face of bureaucratic indifference.

'My eight years of experience tell me that you should hold eight to 10 meetings to settle one thing,' Zhu said. 'And it could be hailed as a success if you have achieved 20 per cent of what you sought to accomplish.'

He said top officials should not just give instructions and fail to make frequent trips to check the implementation of the policies or decisions they made.

Zhu was known to disdain the promotion of personal status, refusing propaganda designed to glorify him, to put his name to books, or give inscription to landmark architecture and major projects.

In one letter to a party historian and two of his former classmates, Zhu flatly rejected their suggestion that they write his biography.

He compared the biographies of top leaders to the feudal practice of glorifying a retired official by 'erecting a monument to him'.

'What I hate most are those who flatter and what I respect most is those who dare to offend and resist my mistakes,' Zhu wrote in a letter to several ministers and regional leaders after learning that some people had used his name to influence a local court case.

Zhu promoted a middle-ranking ministry official to become minister even though they had argued fiercely over a major policy issue.

At the last cabinet meeting he chaired, Zhu expressed concern over issues ranging from the widening income gap to regional officials' crazy overinvestment in infrastructure and industrial projects and property development, which Zhu feared would lead to economic overheating, environmental damage, soaring bad loans at state-run commercial banks and, worst of all, increasing corruption among officials.

All his concerns are still major problems today, and they're getting worse, not better.

Since Zhu's departure from the political stage, according to some overseas analysts and economists, the central government has either abandoned the former premier's reform programmes or put them into a state of virtual hibernation.


The minimum number of meetings needed to settle any one issue in government, according to the meeting-averse former premier Zhu Rongji