Wen Jiabao: “Returning to Xingyi, Remembering Hu Yaobang”

The following is a translation of an editorial written by China’s Premier, Wen Jiabao. In it, Premier Wen waxes nostalgic about the time he spent with then-General Secretary of the CCP Hu Yaobang in 1985 and 1986.

In 1987 Hu Yaobang was ousted from power and from the Party after he was accused of being too lax with critical intelligentsia in the wake of a series of student protests. Hu was a beloved leader with a sterling reputation for integrity and for putting the people first, so when he died on April 15th, 1989, many went to Tiananmen Square to grieve. Some stayed there to express grievances with the current regime, and mouring for Hu Yaobang’s death became the catalyst for the massive student protests that ended in martial law being declared and the government crackdown on June 4th. (For more background on Hu Yaobang and his connection to the Tiananmen Square protests, see this post from last year).

What makes this particular editorial fascinating is that it speaks so highly of a man who, just a year ago, wasn’t mentioned on the People’s Daily website in their “today in history” feature, despite the fact that the deaths of much less important foreign government officials were noted. Around the same time, commenters on some sites found that when they typed Hu Yaobang’s name, the three characters were replaced with “***”. To see such a glowing memorial piece, written by China’s Premier in the Party mouthpiece newspaper a year later is quite significant.

Of course, last year was the 20th anniversay of Yaobang’s death, and big anniversaries are always a volatile time. Perhaps the Party feels it can relax control a bit on this, the 21st anniversary of the man’s death, but Wen Jiabao’s piece feels like a bit more than just “relaxing control”. It is extremely complimentary, and seems a bit like an attempt by Wen to associate himself with those good qualities Hu is best remembered for. Furthermore, it very much glosses over Hu’s removal from power, never saying that he did anything wrong or implying that his relationship with Wen Jiabao changed at all.

Below, we have translated Premier Wen’s essay in its entirety. The ellipses do not indicate omitted text, rather, they are part of Wen’s essay as it was published.

Wen Jiabao's editorial in the People's Daily


A few days ago, I went to Guizhou to see the drought situation firsthand. Walking this earth, thinking of these mountains and rivers, I can’t help but recall following Yaobang as he was investigating here, especially when he sent me out in the evenings to interview rural families about the past. Every time I think of it, I see Yaobang’s sincere, amicable, smiling face before my eyes, and in my heart the cherished memories I’ve been holding back for so many years come flooding in like a tidal wave. It takes a long time for me to calm them down.

At the beginning of 1986, Comrade Yaobang decided to lead 30 cadres from 27 departments of the Central Office as an inspection tour group headed to Guizhou, Yunnan, Guangxi, and other poor areas to conduct research and to visit and comfort the local cadres and people. Comrade Yaobang wanted to use this move to set an example of the Central Office cadres getting more in touch with local government units, strengthening research and investigation skills, and getting closer to the people.

At that time, I had just been transferred to the deputy director position in the Central General Office, and Yaobang made me personally responsible for organizing the details of this trip. On the morning of February 4th, Yaobang led the group as we set off from Beijing for Anshun, Guizhou. Because of a dense fog in Anshun, our plane landed in Guiyang instead. That afternoon, Comrade Yaobang switched the transportation to vans and we made the hurried four-hour trip to Anshun. After dinner, Yaobang held a meeting and split the party up into three teams, headed to Wenshan in Yunnan, Hechi in Guangxi, and Bijie District in Guizhou.

Early the second morning, Yaobang took me and several others from my office on a winding bus trip through the precipitous mountain roads where Guizhou and Yunnan border. Even though Yaobang was already 70, he worked every moment of every day. He would do research while walking, and even used mealtimes to do work. He went to bed late every night. In the few days after we left Anshun, Yaobang heard reports on Zhenning, Guanling, Qinglong, Pu’an, and Pan counties in Guizhou and Fuyuan, Shizong, and Luoping counties in Yunnan. He was always communicating with one ethnic group or another, trying to understand their living conditions. He even kicked off an “Ethnic Unity” dance in Luoping county with Miao, Buoyei, Yi and Han people. On February 7th, already weary from travel, he hurried to southwest Guizhou’s Xingyi city, and took a room the provincial government’s old, shabby guesthouse.

It was already the beginning of Spring, and Xingyi’s weather was still damp and gloomily cold. Because there wasn’t any heating, it was freezing cold inside the rooms. We temporarily found three heaters to put in Yaobang’s room, which raised the temperature to around 12 degrees Celsius [about 53 degrees Fahrenheit]. After a few more days of flat-out investigation and research work, Yaobang was clearly exhausted. We advised him to rest in the evenings, but he persisted and set a meeting with cadres from every ethnic group in the southwest for that very evening.

After dinner that night, he called me over. “Jiabao, I’m going to give you a job. Take some comrades to a hamlet outside the city and walk around. Do some investigation. And remember, avoid the local officials [because they may hide things].” ((Traditionally, Chinese officials would always meet with local officials when traveling.))

Before I came to the Central Office, I’d heard that when Yaobang went into the countryside he would often change his itinerary so that he could meet directly with the people and learn about the real situation at a grassroots level. To use a favorite phrase of his, it was “Checking out a place you [local officials] haven’t prepared [for me to see].” So when he gave me this job, I understood: he wanted to try hard to understand the real truth at the grassroots level.

After it got dark, some comrades and I snuck out of the guesthouse and headed to the countryside. At that time, there was only one big road in Xingyi called Panjiang Road. The houses on either side of it were low, the lamplight dim, and the street cold and cheerless. We followed Panjiang road east for more than ten minutes and reached the outskirts of the city. Farmland was everywhere, and it was black in every direction, we couldn’t tell north from south. We saw some dim lamps not too far away and slowly felt our way over to them. When we got close we saw it was a small village. We entered, and interviewed several rural families. In the dark of night, many of these simple villagers were surprised to see people from out of town, but once they knew the reason for our visit, they welcomed us warmly.

After ten in the evening, we quickly returned to the guesthouse. I entered Yaobang’s room and saw him sitting in a bamboo chair, awaiting my return. I reported everything we had seen and heard to him in detail; he listened attentively and frequently stopped me to ask questions. He said to me that leading cadres definitely must personally go to the lowest rungs of society to investigate; to experience and observe the people’s suffering, listen to their voices, and understand the situation firsthand. As far as the work of a leader was concerned, [Yaobang said] that the greatest danger was separating oneself from reality. Years later, Yaobang’s gravely earnest words often still echo in my ears.

February 8th was the day before Spring Festival. Yaobang came to the Guizhou Southwestern Ethnic Junior College early in the morning, to wish a happy new year to teachers of all ethnicities and to have an informal discussion with them. Then he made an enthusiastic visit to the Bouyei mountain village of Wula to visit with peasants and became a guest in the house of [peasant] Huang Weijia. In accordance with Bouyei customs for receiving guests, Huang Weijia put a stewed chicken head into Yaobang’s bowl. It was like that, Hu Yaobang and Huang Weijia’s family talking and laughing and eating the new year reunion meal together.

Hu Yaobang dances with minority girls
Soon afterward, Yaobang took a hundred-plus km car ride through mountain passes to the construction site of the Natural Bridge hydroelectric station and paid new year’s respects to the people there who were working through the Spring Festival holiday. That night, he stayed in a crude house [there] built by the armored police’s engineering corps. Not long after, he caught a fever, his temperature hit 38.7 degrees [about 102 degrees Fahrenheit]. Actually, he’d been feeling ill since that afternoon, but as ever, he persevered in participating in all kinds of activities, and his morale remained high. That night the sound of firecrackers and people ringing in the new year was all around, but none of us were thinking about the holiday. Me and all the other people who worked with Yaobang were worrying for him. On the morning of the 9th, his temperature hit 39 degrees. Here, we were far from Kunming, Nanning, Guiyang, and other major cities and there was no hospital in the area, so everyone was worried. Fortunately, after treatment from the doctor who came along on the trip, Yaobang’s fever began to recede that evening, and everyone could relax.

On the morning of February 10th, the slightly-better Yaobang ignored everyone’s protestations and left for Baise, Guangxi. After more than 320 km of bumpy mountain roads, he arrived there at 6 P.M. While we were in Baise, Yaobang took us to see the old site of the seventh Chinese Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army [i.e., the Red Army from 1928-1937 – ed] and had informal discussions with eight different county leaders. On the evening of the 11th, we headed to Nanning. In the next two days, Yaobang took a short rest. According to his wishes, I went with some colleagues to the Nanning outskirts to investigate the crops, water buffalo farms, and farmer’s markets. Every time we returned, he was always waiting to hear my report. On the 14th and 15th, Yaobang headed for Beihai city via Qinzhou and inspected the harbor and the construction of the seawall. On the 16th, he returned to Nanning and met up with the third group of investigators. He spent two full days listening to the reports from Yunnan, Guangxi, and Guizhou.

On February 19th, Comrade Yaobang put together his reflections on his own investigations with the reports from the other groups and gave an impromptu speech at the cadre mass meeting. He especially emphasized that central and provincial-level cadres must often go amongst the people to investigate, interview, and close the gap between “higher” and “lower” and the gap between governing bodies and the people. This would not only create a good atmosphere and high spirits, but moreover is instructive to implementing correct governance and reducing the number of errors leaders make. It will increase the quality of cadres and promote sound development and maturity, especially among young cadres.

On February 20th, 1986, Hu Yaobang led the group back to Beijing, completing his last half-month trip to the poor regions of the southeast…

Time passes swiftly. But Yaobang leading that group to the southwest to investigate still comes clearly into view, as though it were yesterday. On April 3rd of this year, when I came to Xingyi again, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This low, backward city has become a city with many tall buildings, and the city’s area is four times bigger than it was in 1986. The city’s population has increased threefold.

Seeing this reminds me of Yaobang and strikes a chord in my heart. Yaobang sending me to investigate in the night pops in front of my eyes again, and that once-visited place comes strongly into focus. That night [meaning April 4th, 2010] I secretly took some comrades out of the place we were staying, hoping to find the village we visited so many years ago. Panjiang Road, wide ablaze with lights, was full of people. That village has been gone for some time now, replaced by one of the flickering skyscrapers that has sprung from the ground. I still wanted to visit the outskirts at night, so I brought those coworkers with me to the city outskirts. Eagerly looking forward at those distant lamps, we entered Yongxing village, knocked on peasant Lei Chaozhi’s door, and started chatting with him and his neighbors…

Yaobang has been gone for 21 years. It might console him now to know that the poor southwest he worried constantly about has seen earth-shaking changes. He spared no effort, and used a life’s vigor to fight for the nation following the correct path of socialism with Chinese characteristics and moving forward.

Starting in October of 1985, after I was transferred to the Central Office, I worked by Yaobang’s side for two years. I experience personally his close connection with the people, his concern for the people’s suffering, his excellent way [of being an official] and his unselfishness, his open and above-board-ness, and his moral character. I witness firsthand how completely he threw himself into his work, struggling day and night for the Party’s cause and for the people’s interests. What he taught me in those years is engraved on my heart, and his constant leading by example keeps me from [allowing myself to] be lazy. The way he handled things had a huge influence on my work, studies, and life.

In January of 1987, Hu no longer held the office of the General Secretary of the Communist Party ((Hu was forced to resign by Deng Xiaoping on the wake of some student protests that occurred in 1986, which were blamed partially on Hu’s liberal attitudes and willingness to put up with criticism from the intelligentsia)) , and I often went to his home to visit him. On April 8th, 1989, when Yaobang was sick and there was a struggle to save him, I was always by his side. On the 15th, when he suddenly passed away, I came to the hospital as soon as possible. On December 5, 1990, I took his casket to his burial place in Gongqing, Jiangxi. After his passing, I have visited his home every year for the new (lunar) year, and it is always with a deep feeling of love that I look on his portraits in the living room there. His long gaze and firm expression always give me strength, give me encouragement, and drive me to be more diligent in my work of serving the people.

Returning to Xingyi again to reflect on the past and remember Yaobang, I have written this essay, and placed within it my cherished memories of him.

Also of Interest

There is a new post up on ChinaGeeks Chinese. Check out 青海地震:检验政府透明度, a translation of Evan Osnos’s most recent post about the Qinghai earthquake (or just pass the link along to your Chinese friends).

0 thoughts on “Wen Jiabao: “Returning to Xingyi, Remembering Hu Yaobang””

  1. Charlie, you and ChinaGeeks are on a roll! Glad you did this, and glad that you provided context for readers who might not be familiar with Hu Yaobang. It’s probably worthwhile to mention that Wen Jiabao, after Hu Yaobang’s ouster as general secretary, was closely associated with Zhao Ziyang, and actually appeared with him in the Square on the night of Zhao’s teary and supportive plea to the students. Keep it up!


  2. Good translation. Although I would not say that Wen would probably want to remember Hu Yaobang as a good politician, not Wen don’t want to go to TSM incident.


  3. love the site, thanks for translating this and all the great work you produce. did you consider the title of Wen’s piece might work better in English as “Returning to Xingyi,Remembering Hu Yaobang”? Wen seems to say that he went back to Xingyi to investigate the drought, not specifically to go back and somehow remember Hu Yaobang.


  4. This is the sort of post that stirs deep affection for Chinese people. Actually the sentiments are about being good humans but where ever that surfaces it’s nice to reflect it on the country of origin.

    Great post.


  5. Good piece that raises many important questions, thanks! But I think you shouldn’t have dropped the word “comrade” from your translation so often, even when they make the text a bit awkward. Now it sounds like the two men would have been closer that they probably were, as Hu was nearly 30 years Wen’s senior. But in any case, good work.


  6. @ tna: Yeah. I left it in a few times at the beginning hoping people would realize from that, but leaving it in every time it’s there in the Chinese would sound bad and read awkwardly.


  7. Hi Charlie,

    Greatly appreciate the translation. I was checking your code to see how you did the mouseover showing the Chinese, and noticed you inadvertently cut a paragraph by putting the English inside a span tag. Just wanted to give you the heads up!


  8. Pingback: Anonymous
  9. What do you mean by use it? You can’t just copy and paste it, but you can certainly quote from it as long as you cite this as the source of the translation (you should also be sure to link to the original text)


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