Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping and premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang visited respectively poor farmers in northwestern Gansu and struggling migrant workers in Inner Mongolia yesterday, a week ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday.
"Life was equally arduous when I was living in the northern part of Shaanxi province more than four decades ago," Xinhua quoted Xi as saying during his trip to Weiyuan county in Gansu's Dingxi city, one of the poorest areas in the nation.
"The living standards [in Shaanxi] have since improved. We, the party and the government, will care for you and help you. So let's jointly strive for better and more prosperous days in the years to come."
Yesterday also marked "Little New Year", which falls about a week before the Lunar New Year and is also known as the "Kitchen God Festival".
Xi reportedly came bearing gifts for the nearly 450 households in the village. Noodles, cooking oil, pork, sweets, melon seeds and cotton-padded quilts were among the items distributed to each household.
Dingxi often suffers from drought and is well known as an underdeveloped area where farmers earn not more than 2,000 yuan (HK$2,460) a year. As a result, tens of thousands of local farmers have left to become migrant workers, earning annual wages of about 10,000 yuan, official figures show.
Li yesterday also went to a railway station in Baotou , Inner Mongolia, where he met migrant workers who were heading home for the Lunar New Year.
"It's no easy task for you to leave your hometowns and work somewhere far away," Xinhua quoted him as saying to the workers. "I was once a peasant, so I understand your hardship. I'm now working with the government, which means I'm serving all of you."
Pundits said Xi and Li were trying to address the hardships facing many people to build an amiable image for themselves.
Professor Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a political scientist at City University of Hong Kong, said "popularity is important" to officials.
"Similar to what their predecessors Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao have done, Xi and Li like to be seen as being close to the people and understanding of the problems they are facing," Cheng said.
Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said discontent among ordinary people was running high, particularly as the wealth gap has reached an alarming level.
"By making such visits - talking to those disadvantaged people and expressing sympathy for them - both Xi and Li are trying to pacify those living at the bottom of the social strata, even though the effect may be uncertain," Lau said.