A Former Premier of China Speaks

At The Atlantic, Damien Ma translates some “classic quotes” from a new collection of Zhu Rongji’s speeches and letters:

“You (referring to cadres) are neither diligent nor independent. You go out drinking and eating at banquets, then arbitrarily approve projects.You put cronyism first, cultivating guanxi (networks) everywhere, not giving a damn about the state’s money and assets. When you’re sitting here reporting to the chairman, how can you expect people below you not be disgusted?” –speaking at financial work conference in 1993

“My only hope is that after I leave public service, the Chinese people will think of me in one way: that he was a clean official, not a corrupt one. I will be immensely satisfied with that judgment alone. But if they are feeling particularly generous and say that Zhu Rongji got some real things done while in office, then I’ll thank heaven and earth.” –speaking to press at a national legislature session in 2000

Ma then focuses on a speech Zhu gave towards the end of his premiership. After recapping the achievements of his time in office, Zhu issues a series of warnings for the future:

I want to remind those cadres who are staying on the job beyond me: my biggest worry right now is an overheating economy, I’ve already worried about this for a year now. I wouldn’t say this publicly, but only bring it up to the top leadership, that overheating is the one thing that preoccupies my mind. Many signs seem to have emerged, and if we’re not vigilant, the economic situation will be difficult to rein in. I’ve had 50 years of macroeconomic work experience and I can sense deeply this creeping “national syndrome”. Every time things improve just a little bit, people start to adopt an exaggerated swagger, become blindly self indulgent, randomly complicate things, and ignorantly devise policies. I’ve already commented that I think the property market is overheating, but I notice that the majority of my colleagues have not internalized the gravity of this issue. They always tell me “the overall conditions are quite good” as their bottom line and only spend little time discussing the problems. That’s a bunch of malarkey …!

Zhu’s other concerns include unsustainable urbanisation, traffic congestion and the rampant development of theme parks. (“Why the hell are you doing that??!! We’ve got millions of farmers to feed and all you want to do is build theme parks!”)

See also, via CDT: China’s Retired Leaders Don’t Fade Away, The Economist’s take on the build-up of increasingly outspoken former leaders, in which Zhu features prominently; and China’s Puzzling Numbers, Tom Orlik’s explanation of China’s murky economic statistics, which Zhu attributed to “a wind of embellishment and falsification”.


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