Outspoken, humorous and personable are descriptions that seldom spring to mind for Communist Party cadres - unless it's the Guangdong party secretary, Wang Yang.
His imperfect Putonghua, laced with a strong dose of his native Anhui accent, has proven to be no obstacle for Wang, a rising political star, in establishing his popular image of a hard-nosed reformist.
Wang is also a media icon for the new generation of leaders. His liberal and transparent approach in quelling social unrest such as village land disputes or factory strikes is a sharp contrast to conservative officials, who tend to react to unrest with violence or suppression.
Wang has stepped up his push for a smarter, leaner form of government in what is being seen as an attempt to bolster his support among the liberal camp.
'We must hasten the development of small government and a great society,' Wang told a provincial social development meeting.
He reiterated such calls during the annual parliamentary congress, urging the government to surrender more of its grip on economics and social affairs, and to encourage greater involvement of civic organisations. 'I want to see if we can get backing from the relevant departments to grant power to [Guangdong] to pioneer reform. If there is a legal obstacle, let's all petition against it,' Wang said.
As a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee, Wang is a strong contender for promotion to the supreme Politburo Standing Committee at the leadership transition expected in the autumn.
Wang is also considered a close political ally of President Hu Jintao. He was involved in a long-running ideological debate with the maverick former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai, who was his political rival until Bo's dismissal last week . That rivalry pitted Wang's more liberal 'Guangdong model' against Bo's more conservative, state-centric 'Chongqing model'.
Wang celebrated his 57th birthday this month, and his belated birthday present was no doubt the sacking of his rival. David Zweig, a Hong Kong-based expert on mainland politics, said Wang would have been 'popping the champagne' to celebrate Bo's downfall. Wang and Bo were seen as two keen contenders for a seat on the Politburo's standing committee this autumn. With tacit backing from Hu, Wang's chance of getting a seat on the supreme executive power body has been significantly boosted.
Wang, a native of Suzhou, Anhui province, rose through the Communist Youth League, Hu's political power base. His popularity is likely only to rise, even after a year of volatile events that repeatedly caught the attention of international media, including protests by defiant Wukan villagers, and by migrant workers in the world's biggest denim producing centre in Xintang.
Professor Guo Weiqing of Sun Yat-sen University's school of government said Wang was successful in resolving several major crises, which boosted his record for quelling social tension through a liberal approach: 'He put his public relations strategies to good use during the annual parliamentary sessions, but he has been known for this sort of thing for years.'