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[Opinion] Wen Jiabao’s Jacket

Posted February. 25, 2006 03:05,   


The Chinese have been touched by the sight of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao wearing a wrinkled, old jacket. Wen visited a farming family in January wearing a khaki jacket that he had worn at an official event 11 years ago. A netizen who noticed posted two photos of the prime minister wearing the same jacket on the Internet, saying, “I was moved that he set an example of being thrifty.” The sensation of this “wrinkled and old jacket” has spreading to hundreds of thousands of websites.

former Chinese prime minister Zhou Enlai, who died in 1976, is still respected by the Chinese public. His memorial on a monument in Tiananmen Square describes him as a “friend of the people.” It reads, “As the prime minister of the people, he was loved by the people and loved the people. By sharing their joys and sorrows, the people and the prime minister share their hearts.” One of his secrets of winning the hearts of the public was by being thrifty. As a diplomat, he always wore old clothes while making overseas tours. Chinese embassies overseas sometimes had to rush to repair his clothes.

The clothes displayed at the Zhou Enlai memorial are just as weathered, and it is hard to recognize their original colors. His former official residence, where he lived for 25 years, was also old and frequently needed repairs. He once became furious after learning that his aides had luxuriously renovated his official residence, saying, “I will not come back unless you restore everything, including the curtains.”

The photo of Wen in an old jacket is elevating him to the same level as the “friend of the people,” Zhou Enlai. Wen is recognized as a leader who shares the public’s suffering. Confucius taught, “There is nothing difficult if a leader rightly cultivates himself and conducts public affairs.” One hopes that the Chinese example will make North Korea’s leaders reflect on their own behavior. They are “workers of the revolution” who turn a blind eye to their children and fellow Koreans who are starving to death, while receiving bribes and enjoying an affluent lifestyle. One wonders if they will ever share the joys and sorrows of their people.

Kim Chung-sik, Editorial Writer, skim@donga.com