REFORM

Wen Jiabao

Former Premier Wen Jiabao re-appears to praise Xi Jinping’s father

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 12:14pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 October, 2013, 5:06am

Seven months after Wen Jiabao retired from a decade in office as China’s premier, he this week returned to the limelight to praise the father of President Xi Jinping on national television.

Wen praised Xi Zhongxun as China marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of the premier and Politburo member, who died in 2002. “Comrade Zhongxun’s life was full of setbacks, [but] he was honest, generous, straightforward and played square,” said Wen.

 “He worried about the party and about the country, but he never spoke of the injustice he suffered and the persecution he endured,” said Wen.

Xi was purged from his position as vice premier in 1962 and later prosecuted in the Cultural Revolution. After his rehabilitation in 1978, Xi served as party secretary and governor of Guangdong province, where he oversaw the creation of China’s first special economic zones.

Xi then joined the Politburo and led the National People’s Congress law commission in the 1980s, at a time when Wen began his rise through the ranks of the party under then Secretary Hu Yaobang.

Wen’s mentor Hu fell from grace in 1987 after failing to push through further political reforms. In his interview aired on Wednesday, Wen linked the current president’s father to Hu Yaobang’s reformist legacy, saying that Xi “fully supported the work of Comrade Yaobang”.

Video: China’s ex-premiere Wen Jiabao on Chinese president Xi Jinping’s father

For Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University’s Centre for China Studies, the documentary about Xi Zhongxun, which has been three years in the making, served to burnish Xi Jinping’s own credentials. “His father was universally respected, whereas Xi Jinping doesn’t have a track record before 2007,” he said.

“It is well known that Xi was one of the few party elders who defended Hu Yaobang,” said Lam. “People could read Wen Jiabao’s message cynically and say that Xi Jinping has not lived up to his father’s reputation.”

China’s new president has angered liberals, including Hu Yaobang’s prominent son Hu Deping, by refusing to repudiate Mao Zedong’s legacy and resorting to pre-reform rhetoric in recent “self-criticism” and “mass line” campaigns.

“Wen Jiabao is already retired, he doesn’t need to please Xi Jinping,” said Lam. “[Xi] may not be too pleased to read about the Wen Jiabao [interview].”