Premier Wen Jiabao need not worry about national elections and coalition politics. But when there’s a crisis, and there were many this year, China’s engineer turned Prime Minister hits the campaign trail as Grandpa Wen, the son-of-the-soil in an old overcoat or cardigan.
“Chinese youth worship Premier Wen just like they worship a pop star,’” Shi Anbin, a specialist in crisis communication and professor of media studies at the Tsinghua University, told the Hindustan Times in Beijing.
Last weekend, the Premier chatted with workers in blue overalls on a three-day tour of duty and photo-ops, to maintain calm in the made-in-China factory towns as lay-offs continue.
On November 20 and 25, Wen invited CEOs, technocrats and economists inside Beijing’s Zhongnanhai leadership compound to discuss China’s ailing economy before it enters a year when growth will slow to a 19-year low. It would be difficult to make the right decisions by relying only on ‘past experience’ or the ‘wisdom of a few,’ State media quoted Wen saying at the meeting.
“This is very unusual from traditional Chinese mentality, which relies on a big brother who is very powerful and has the final say,’’ says Shi, who places Wen among the world’s most successful image management leaders.
“This is very successful, persistent crisis and image management,’’ says Shi. “Premier Wen is a very smart leader, because he is adapting to what I call Internet ecology.’’
The leader of Chinese netizens — the world’s largest online community — has a Facebook cult and tracks daily online opinions about his government. But when disaster strikes, Wen is on Ground Zero. He wept in the rubble with victims of the 8.0 magnitude Sichuan earthquake in May and cuddled babies who drank toxic milk sold in China’s worst food-safety scandal that swept the nation this summer.
But this week, barely two days after his tour, sacked toy workers smashed police cars in China’s richest province of Guangdong. Grandpa Wen will have a hectic tour schedule ahead when the economic crisis will take a bigger toll next year.
Meanwhile, Indian netizens are watching Wen too. On a Facebook group, ‘Premier Wen lights up my life,’ Manoj Payardha wrote: I really wish that one day India too has a great leader who works for his nation the way Wen does.’’