Premier Wen Jiabao called on monks in Yushu, Qinghai, to stay pure when he paid a visit to the earthquake-devastated Tibetan autonomous prefecture on New Year's Eve.
Wen's third visit to the high-altitude plateau, which was hit by a 7.1-magnitude tremor in 2010 that killed at least 2,700 people, is being seen as another attempt to cement his legacy as a down-to-earth premier before he steps down in March.
State-run Xinhua reported yesterday that Wen went to Gyegu township, where new apartments and a square commemorating the legendary Tibetan king Gesar were built as part of post-quake reconstruction efforts.
Wen also visited the ancient Damkar monastery, which was severely damaged in the earthquake, and told the clergy he was concerned about laymen and monks in the quake-hit area.
A number of monasteries were damaged by the quake, and the region has also seen self-immolations among Tibetans.
"A monastery should be a clean and pure place where clergy abide by religious commandments and build a positive social image," Wen said.
Wen first visited the region just one day after it was hit by the earthquake, and followed up with another visit less than a month later.
Observers expect that Wen may visit more disaster-hit areas to shore up his image as a grandfatherly premier who cares for the underprivileged.
For the past 10 years, Wen has usually been the first top official to arrive at the scene of a disaster. In the aftermath of an 8-magnitude earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008, Wen travelled around the quake zone, comforting weeping victims.
"Wen wants to be remembered as a premier who is close to the people," said political observer Zhang Lifan, formerly with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "Wen has not accomplished much through his economic policies and calls for political reform because he is restricted inside the [Communist] Party. Boosting his populist image seems to be the only thing he can do to make himself known."
In January 2011, Wen made an unprecedented visit to the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, the government agency responsible for handling petitions, where he met eight petitioners. The visit gained him praise for caring about the lower class.
But critics decried the visit as a cynical ploy, citing rampant corruption and the crackdown on activists who helped the families of Sichuan earthquake victims seek redress from local government over the substandard school buildings that led to the deaths of thousands of children.
Wen's image was also tainted by a report in The New York Times on the wealth allegedly accumulated by some of his relatives.