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.
Author Remains Undeterred
"For the past ten years, my phones have been tapped and my e-mails and mail intercepted," he said. "I feel as if every word I utter is an announcement to the entire world.
"It's gotten even worse since the 2008 Olympics. In the two months prior to and following the event, six people guarded my home every day."
Yu's longtime friend and colleague, human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, was recently sentenced to an unusually harsh 11 years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power," after publishing a manifesto, known as Charter '08, calling for greater freedom in China.
Yu says that he was detained by police earlier this summer and threatened, after he announced the title of his new book on Twitter.
But he is unwavering in his commitment to his cause.
"The police have already threatened me but I'm an author, freedom of speech is as important to me as my life," he said.
"There can be no hesitation or backing down when it comes to my rights. ... Despite the tremendous risks, I will continue to work towards establishing freedom of speech here in China."