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A decade under Hu and Wen

Thursday, 15 November 2012 - 10:38am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

Great leap forward The economy quadruples, but fears remain over strife and rise of the princelings.

For the Chinese state media, the past 10 years under the leadership of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao have been a "golden age".

The size of China's economy has quadrupled, the country's roads, railways and skyscrapers are the envy of the world, and the standard of life in the Chinese countryside has radically improved.

In Beijing, people were quick to acknowledge the leap forward that China has made. "Development in the past 10 years has been much faster than in the previous era," said Wang Xiaohong, 24, a Russian translator from Hefei in Anhui province. "In my home province, the medical system has improved and salaries have risen by 80 per cent or so."

Mao Yushi, 83, one of China's most famous free-market economists, said: "The biggest change over the past 10 years has been the rapid growth of the economy and the growth of small and medium cities. Ten years ago, small cities were still wastelands."

Min Jianjun, 42, a chauffeur in Beijing, said Hu, 69, and Wen, 70, had hugely improved the city's infrastructure. "There are a lot more subway lines, the traffic is better, and a lot of apartment blocks have been upgraded, which is good because the bathrooms used to be outside," he said. "Personally, my family has done well. We have a bigger house now, and a better car."

But critics of the Chinese leaders argue that reforms have calcified on their watch, as they focused, above all, on keeping China stable.

"Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao's generation could have achieved a lot, but they did not," said Yao Bo, a former columnist at the China Daily newspaper, who is now an entrepreneur with 656,000 followers on Sina Weibo. "They inherited good foundations, but they did not make a difference."

Hu and Wen have weathered crises that would have seen leaders in other countries forced to resign.

In 2008 alone, protesting Tibetans attacked Han Chinese in Lhasa, 80,000 people died in the Sichuan earthquake and 300,000 Chinese infants were poisoned by deliberately adulterated milk. The following year, social tensions between Han Chinese and ethnic Muslim Uighurs boiled over into riots that saw passengers on public buses beheaded and burned.

This year, the transformation of the Chinese government into an enormous kleptocracy has been laid bare, first by the scandalous fall of Bo Xilai - the former Politburo member whose wife confessed to murdering the British businessman Neil Heywood - and then by a series of revelations about the family wealth of senior leaders.

"The most significant change politically is the emergence of the princelings, the children of former leaders," said Yao. "In the past decade, the entire governing class has become more and more closed to the rest of society. The children of retired officials are reaching employment age and being in government is more and more lucrative. Even county officials can support a whole group of their relatives and friends with their earnings."

While the Chinese public has become more connected and better informed than ever before, Hu and Wen are still enigmas, carefully obscured by the censors. "I read the newspapers, but I only believe around half, and while the 7pm news bulletin sounds good, you know that people do not fully believe it," said Xu Chuang, 33, a visa agent.

"This generation of leaders has been more open to the public than the previous ones, who were distant.

"But actually if you ask me for the first thought that comes into my head about Hu Jintao, there isn't one. My only memory is that he once went into Tiananmen Square during a public holiday and talked to some of the performers there."

Yao added: "The last decade has not been lost, but nor has it been golden. It is an unchanged decade. The economy has developed rapidly, but politics has stayed where it was 10 years ago, and that is unbalanced development."

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