Righteous Zhu

Former premier still popular for anti-graft stance

Righteous Zhu

Serve the people: former premier Zhu Rongji turns author

“I only hope when I retire, the national people will say: ‘He is a clean officer, not a corrupt one.’ I would be happy with that. If they say Zhu Rongji did something for us … Ah, I would say thanks to heaven and earth.”

The words of Zhu Rongji, China’s former prime minister, from a speech in March 2000.

He seems to be getting his wish. Earlier this month, Zhu published a new book. Zhu Rongji at Press Conference is an anthology that contains transcripts of media briefings he gave as vice premier and premier.

It certainly doesn’t sound like a natural page turner, even though Zhu had a reputation for the occasional crowd-pleasing sound bite or two.

But the new book is quickly becoming a bestseller on the mainland, nevertheless. Zhu’s publisher hopes that sales will soon top a million copies (legal ones that is: piracy is still a major problem in China’s publishing industry).

China’s cyber critics have been unusually kind too.

One wrote: “Zhu’s courage, his lack of mercy for corrupt and mediocre officials is unrivalled!”

Another said: “I must buy a copy of your book. The country will forever be grateful for everything you did. We wish you good health and long life!”

Why is Zhu still so popular? Following his retirement in 2003, he has managed to stay largely out of the limelight. But at almost 82 – his birthday is on October 1 – he is still widely admired as upright and honest, with a lasting legacy as a fighter against corruption, which he took on as something of a personal crusade.

Robert Woo, blogging at Global Voices, reckons that this still resonates with the public at large. Zhu’s popularity stems less from a sense of nostalgia, and more from a wish that there were more people like him in government today.

More than 150,000 officials are punished annually for bribery and corruption. Yet despite the repeated promises from the central government to make anti-graft efforts a policy priority, the public is still widely sceptical about progress on the issue.

This can lead to a lot of hand-wringing on the corrupting influence of bureaucratic venality.

The Southern Metropolitan Daily has been much vexed by the issue, for example. This follows the posting of television footage on the internet in which a six year-olds were asked about what they wanted to do when they grew up.

One girl’s answer stood out. Her dream, she replied,was “to become an official.”

Why is that, her interviewer then asks. The girl gets much more specific. In fact, she wants to become a “corrupt official”. That’s because “corrupt officials get a lot of gifts.”

The exchange has prompted a lot of debate. Some say it’s just a naïve comment from a young child, and so shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Others claim the girl’s answer is a more revealing reflection of social corruption in China today.

Still, as the country prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Communist victory, the government is unlikely to let up in its anticorruption message.

The concern is that unchecked graft erodes public trust in the Party, hurts the economy and threatens social stability.

“The public is fed up with corruption,” Gao Quanxin, a senior fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the New York Times.

No wonder they pine for Zhu.

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