A former top aide to late deposed Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang gave Premier Wen Jiabao an 'F' grade for his last nationally televised press conference, which aired in March at the end of the government's annual legislative session.
In his new book, released in Hong Kong on Tuesday, Bao Tong, a former member of the party's Central Committee who was later jailed and purged from the party over the bloody Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, also lamented that Wen had been unable to push the envelope on political reform, despite the premier's populist image.
A Collection of Essays by Bao Tong was published by Hong Kong company New Century Media and includes more than 100 articles that Bao wrote over the past decade, along with transcripts of his interviews with overseas media.
'I gave Premier Wen's report a score of 59 [out of 100]. He would have received a passing grade if he earned another point,' Bao said in an article dated March 14 - the same day as Wen's televised speech.
Bao's remarks echoed those of other analysts who have said that Wen, touted as the people's premier, has served as the human face of the leadership, which they said had not only put a positive spin on his personal legacy, but also helped defuse widespread frustration over the party's resistance to western-style democracy.
Wen's annual press conference at the end of the yearly session of the National People's Congress in March has long been one of the most-watched events on the mainland and has been considered one of the highlights of the premier's decade-long tenure since 2003.
Although Wen has stood out among mostly conservative leaders and has cultivated his reformist image with occasional eye-catching public remarks on the necessity of political reform, Bao noted that the premier's liberal-leaning views had actually toed the party line, because he knew how to tactfully be politically correct all the time.
'Wen's impromptu comments on political reform are largely a repetition of what late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping said before,' Bao said. 'If Deng could utter those appeals, why can't Wen?'
Despite all the talk of political reform, Bao said the party leadership had shown little intention of carrying out political reconstructing, citing a heightened clampdown on activists and the deterioration of human rights across the country.
'I reckon the leadership has never discussed political reform,' he wrote.
However, some overseas media reports have said that Wen has raised the issue of political reform at Politburo meetings during the past year, including a possible reassessment of the government's handling of the June 4 crackdown.
Bao also cautioned against widespread praise of Wen because of his warnings against the resurgence of Maoist leftists, and especially because of his unusual rebukes of then Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai , who was later sacked following his wife's implication in a murder case and the defection attempt by one of his close allies.