Controversial New Book Calls Chinese Premier 'China's Best Actor'

A new book claims Wen Jiabao only pretends to empathize with his people.

ByABC News
August 16, 2010, 2:00 AM

BEIJING, Aug. 16, 2010 -- To the Chinese, he is known affectionately as "Grandpa Wen."

Amid a sea of stone-faced politicians, China's premier stands out. He rushes to disaster scenes, pitches in with rescue efforts, hugs the victims and sheds a tear for the dead.

But Wen Jiabao's humane image may be at odds with his true character, according to a controversial book released today in Hong Kong. In "China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao," writer and activist Yu Jie posits that China's premier is only pretending to empathize with his people, in order to maintain their trust in the government.

He draws on the example of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

"Premier Wen was the first high-ranking official to show up and appeared very emotional," Yu, 37, told ABC News. "He offered his condolences to the local school parents and promised to investigate why and how the schools collapsed.

"Two years later, however, he has still yet to issue any comforting reports to the Chinese public. No corrupt officials or developers associated with those officials were punished in any way."

Yu believes that Wen, 67, is no different from China's president, Hu Jintao, and that neither has any intention of implementing political reform in China or of pushing the country in a more democratic direction.

"They are two sides of a coin. ... The Communist party and the Chinese government, in the years since 2004, have done little to resolve the issue of human rights," he said. "In fact, the situation has gotten worse. Freedom of speech has been greatly limited."

The book is being published in Hong Kong, which still enjoys relative press freedoms. But there is little doubt about the sensitivity of its content here on the mainland. Ten seconds into a BBC news piece on Yu's book this morning, the channel suddenly went to black, returning after the offending item had finished, a typical reaction from China's censors.

Yu has written other bestselling books, none of them available in mainland China, in which he has attacked Chinese authorities for failing to protect freedom of speech. A devout Christian, he has been outspoken in his defense of religious freedom and he created a storm in 2003 when he called for the removal of Mao Zedong's embalmed corpse and portrait from Tiananmen Square.

He is well aware of the risks he is taking by publishing the book.