Leadership, learning and love

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Leadership, learning and love

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Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is a native of Beichen in the city of Tianjin. In the village where members of the Wen family have lived for generations, there is a genealogical record of the Wen family. In the genealogy, however, Premier Wen’s name is absent, a fact that was confirmed by the Chinese press. The reason his name is omitted is that Wen’s great-great-grandfather was an outsider. Although his ancestors could enter their names on the family register, their status was not good enough to add to the genealogical record.

Wen’s great-great-grandfather, a wise man, reasoned that the only way for his descendants to survive was for them to concentrate on learning. He educated his offspring, and it became the family tradition.

In 1948, Tianjin was swept into the Chinese Civil War. The whole village, including Premier Wen’s house, was turned into ashes and his family had to move into a small hut. In spite of that, 6-year-old Wen was still made to study Confucian classics as well as modern sciences.

Later, at his first press conference in March 2003, he employed his knowledge in a moving speech. He began his speech by saying that since taking office he had kept repeating to himself two verses from a poem by Lin Zexu. He recited them: “I would risk my life for my country and will never evade my responsibility, regardless of the fortune or misfortune it brings me.”

When he did an interview with Chinese Central Television in April 2004, he captured the hearts of the people with one line, “The person who knows that the roof is leaking is under the roof and the person who knows the misrule of the government is in a remote village.”

He has maintained his interest in learning throughout his life. Recently, he contributed an article to the People’s Daily honoring the memory of former General Secretary Hu Yaobang. It reads in part: “His earnest requests are deeply embedded in my heart. With his teachings, which he showed with his words and deeds, I never allowed myself to fall into laziness.”

Perhaps it is because he is well-versed in the classics, which emphasize humanitarianism, that he is extraordinarily affectionate to his people. Even now, I can vividly recall the scene in which Premier Wen shed tears while talking to children trapped under a building - “Grandfather will save you. You must hang on until a rescue team arrives” - when catastrophic earthquakes devastated Sichuan Province in May 2008. He has cried eight times at various official functions, which has earned him the nickname of the “crybaby premier.”

The elections of those who will lead the fifth local government were held yesterday. I would like both the winners and the losers to remember the “crybaby premier.” I hope they will emulate him in his pursuit of knowledge and love for his people. If they do, the voters will be sure to remember them four years from now.

*The writer is the chief of an investigative reporting team of the JoongAng Ilbo.


By Jin Se-keun
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