Translation: A Critique of Premier Wen Jiabao

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao.Writer and blogger Dr. Yang Hengjun is a respected social commentator and an unrepentant internet fan. As such, he was watching with interest as Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao engaged in another internet chat with China’s netizens. When the chat was over, Dr. Yang posted his criticism of Wen’s responses, which we translate in part below.

Translation: Old Yang Critiques Netizen Wen Jiabao

Wen Jiabao said: I also know the flavor of Dwelling Narrowness1 . From when I was small to when I left home, my whole family of five lived in a house of only nine square meters. Of course, it’s a different era today and we should improve the people’s living situations according to [modern] standards.

Old Yang’s critique: I wrote a review of Dwelling Narrowness, but friends tell me it’s already been banned from TV. I don’t know whether Comrade Wen Jiabao knows about this or not, but he obviously knows the words “dwelling narrowness”. I mainly want to comment that when Premier Wen talks about his past misfortunes, he doesn’t use the “your troubles are nothing” tone that other CPC leaders have used in the past. Instead he says “of course, it’s a different era today” to show that the people’s requests aren’t excessive. This kind of attitude is worthy of praise.

Wen Jiaobao said: There are many problems with education today; one is that trends in educational administration need reform, and it would be best if colleges didn’t found new administrative levels.

Old Yang critiques: The Premier should grasp the moment and give the orders to reform, and get all those secretaries, directors, and department heads move to the work units they ought to be in. Right now, in colleges, the administration, etc. is the grandfather, and they’re deciding that in education, the professors, teachers, and even the students have all become grandsons.

Wen Jiabao said: When I said I “want common people to live with more dignity,” I was meant mainly three aspects: first, every citizen should enjoy the freedom and rights they are entitled to under the constitution and the law. Regardless of who it is, in the eyes of the law, everyone should enjoy equality. Second, the ultimate goal of Chinese development is to satisfy the increasing material demands of the people, there is no [goal] other than this. Third, society’s complete development must be based on people’s individual development. We want to give people freedom and complete development to create profitable conditions, let their wisdom and skills compete to burst forth. That was what I meant by dignity.

Old Yang critiques: Although Wen’s explanation is much the same as something I wrote several years ago, sadly, the words of the lowly carry no weight. To sum up the Premier’s words: the constitution safeguards the people’s freedom and rights. Everyone is equal in front of the law, the spirit of the rule of law — I can’t keep from pausing here to praise a bit. Continuing: the eight words at the end of his second point show both resoluteness and the deep meaning [of the point]. In principle, there are “other” [goals], but many people place these other goals above the nation’s function to serve the people, [yet] Wen Jiabao bafflingly emphasizes this. As for the last sentence, he’s obviously just mechanically applying Marxist thought’s “Each person’s free development is obviously a condition for the free development of everyone.” Old Yang also often perpetrates frauds like this, tricking the readers ^_^

Wen Jiabao said: I often say: a society where wealth is collected in the hands of a small minority is destined to be unequal, and also unstable.

Old Yang critiques: We [common people] also often think like this, and say things like that, but the leaders above us don’t listen. Today, China’s money is more and more concentrated in the hands of the elite, but they’re using other means to keep the country “stable”, taking the incidental as fundamental and not listening to the Premier. But I want to remind the Premier, resolving phenomenon of the disparity between rich and poor and the small minority of those who’ve gotten rich quickly, he must put his hand on the system and move forward (deepen systemic reforms), and must not go back (no returning to the old system). Using cultural revolution egalitarianism, the peasants’ fondness for attacking the rich, and ‘the nation forward, individuals back’ ideas to cut the “cake” again will [only] resolve problems on the surface; actually, it just makes things worse.

Wen Jiabao said: Books themselves can’t change the world, but they can change people, and people can change the world. Books affect the ideological level and skills of a person, they affect the quality of a nationality, they affect the growth and development of a nation. A person who does not read has no future; a people who do not read have no future…I recall I once said in an interview that in this country, if we saw all the young people on the subway holding books, it would be like a breath of fresh air.

Old Yang critiques: Well said! Perhaps there’s nothing remarkable about this, but it was what moved me the most. Those who travel abroad often need only to pay attention to see that the number of people reading things on the subway abroad is directly proportional to the quality of that nation’s people and democracy. As to China, for example Guangzhou, on one subway train you might find two people reading, there really aren’t many, and one of them is old Yang. A people who don’t read are hopeless; even if they give you democracy, you couldn’t make it work. And precisely because so many people don’t read, democracy isn’t going to appear on its own. I’m amazed that Wen Jiabao used the subway as an example, he probably hasn’t been on a domestic or international subway in a long time. Again, I approve!

Wen Jiabao said: We paid a huge price for the Sanlu milk powder [scandal], netizens probably don’t know. We investigated over thirty million children to see if they had been influenced; it cost the nation two billion RMB. At the same time, we gave those children who were influenced insurance for twenty years…

Old Yang critiques: This is the first time I have seen these numbers, I was afraid they would be withheld by some government organ. But I’m not at all shocked; the problem must be earnestly approached and buying insurance for the children is the right thing to do. But the Premier may not know, this is something thousands and thousands of netizens have been calling for the government to do this. Now they have done it, which is as it should be, but if you really want to praise someone it should be those adventurous netizens. I will represent Wen Jiabao and express my praise to them — only because in the future we’ll see improvements in the government, in society, and in politics, but the real heroes pushing behind the scenes will be the unknown, anonymous netizens!

Wen Jiabao said: We need people who look to the stars, holding the nation and the world in their hearts, but at the same time, we need down-to-earth people who can do serious and trying work…In a definite sense, a country’s power and prestige isn’t only a reflection of its economic power, but also a reflection of its people’s quality and morality. Moreover, I think the latter is actually more important, in the long-term…I am already “public property”, I belong to the people.

Old Yang critiques: We need people who look to the stars, and we need moral and noble people like Wen Jiabao to belong to the people, but…

Wen Jiabao said: […] What’s most important is democracy, only when we have democracy will the people’s lifetimes of work not be in vain.

Old Yang critiques: I approve, this responds to my speechless “but…” above. If this was a test paper, Wen Jiabao could almost pass just by writing this.

Wen Jiabao said: I will do my utmost, to my dying day, to truly have nothing to be ashamed of, to be true in heart, meaning, and emotions in my communication with netizens. I have a very special feeling [communicating with netizens], because I know this kind of opportunity is rare. I started speaking right from the beginning; I am not nervous but I do treasure today because this kind of opportunity doesn’t come often.

Old Yang critiques: Wen Jiabao is not a man who retires from his post easily, but today when he said the phrase “this kind of opportunity is rare,” it makes people sigh, he only has two years left at his post…even though [he] can only make promises about realizing the ideals mentioned in the netizens’ questions, if he is “doing his utmost, to his dying day,” then at least old Yang can understand and approve.

For another domestic perspective on Wen Jiabao’s chat with netizens, check this ChinaGeeks post out.


  1. I’m not sure who originally came up with this translation, it’s always seemed rather awkward to me. I prefer “humble abode”, or, to be a bit more literal, “Snail House”. Unfortunately, people rarely ask my opinion on these things… []


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  1. optmistic

    “Wen Jiabao said: Books themselves can’t change the work,…”

    I think it actually says “reading books can’t change the world…”

    Actually, when Old Yang talks about how the education system in China is bad and how this is the reason democracy wouldn’t it, it reminded me of an international student from China who responded in a similar manner.

    But I feel that China’s idea of democracy is different from how I, as an American, view democracy, where people get the right to vote and reserve the right to those freedoms in the Constitution. I’m not sure if that’s how they view it.

    If only the Communist party wasn’t seen as a way to secure a better life for the elite but as a way to really participate in bringing change and improvement to China.

Continuing the Discussion