Wen Jiabao’s Stunning Admission at Train Crash Site

Premier Wen Jiabao showed up at the scene of the Wenzhou high-speed rail crash five days after it happened. When he did, he acknowledged something that is usually taboo for Chinese leaders to discuss publicly: his own poor health. From the Wall Street Journal’s China Real Times blog:

In a striking admission, the 69-year-old leader affectionately known as Grandpa Wen said Thursday that his arrival in Wenzhou had been delayed because he’d been laid up in bed for 11 days. “Over this time I’ve been ill,” Mr. Wen said at a news conference, though he didn’t say what the illness was. “The doctor only today reluctantly allowed me to check out of hospital.”

It is extremely rare for the ailments of China’s top leaders to be discussed publicly, let alone by the leaders themselves.

When rumors surfaced this month that former president Jiang Zemin was gravely ill or possibly even dead, censors on China’s most popular microblogging site went so far as to block all searches containing the Chinese word for “river,” or jiang, in an effort to quash the discussion. State-media later dismissed reports of Mr. Jiang’s death as “pure rumor.”

The admission is even more striking coming from Mr. Wen, who has always gone to great lengths to project an image of vitality.

Tom Lassetter at McClatchy Newspapers digs little deeper into Wen’s admission and points out that Wen was shown meeting a Japanese trade delegation just the day after the crash. He also points out that the Xinhua translation misquoted Wen and that he did not say he had come out of the hospital, rather that he was sick in bed. On Twitter, @MiaInChina and @GadyEpsteinpoint out that Wen appears to say doctors did not “allow me to travel,” not “leave the hospital.” The video of his speech is here (in Chinese).

Chinese leaders’ health is a tightly-guarded secret. Earlier this month, rumors surfaced that former President Jiang Zemin had died after he failed to appear in public at the celebrations marking the Communist Party of China’s 90th anniversary.

Read more about the Wenzhou high-speed rail crash via CDT.


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