Unmasking the Man with the Wooden Face

Ever since he became General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and President of the Peoples’ Republic of China four years ago, Hu Jintao has remained infuriatingly wooden-faced and opaque. Over the past year, however, the shroud of mystery has begun to drop. Hu’s unbridled glorification of “Mao Zedong Thought,” coupled with his suppression of dissent in the media, has begun not only to reveal a true authoritarian, but also to belie the wishful thinking of liberals, both inside and outside China, who hoped that Hu would be a reform-minded leader.

It was the late patriarch Deng Xiaoping who in 1992 made the surprising demand that Hu, former Secretary of the Communist Youth League and protégé of ousted party chief Hu Yaobang, be inducted into the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Politburo Standing Committee. Deng, in effect, personally designated Hu as successor to President Jiang Zemin. As Deng had crushed the protestors in Tiananmen Square in June of 1989, Hu had proven himself to be “firm and resolute” in quelling anti-Beijing riots in Lhasa, Tibet, two months earlier. Both understood the dangers of political reform.

Hu, a life-long Party functionary, was able to fool most observers during his first year in office. He and Premier Wen Jiabao – often called a latter-day Zhou Enlai for his administrative abilities and willingness to play second fiddle – rolled out one impressive slogan after another: “Put people first,” “Run the country according to law,” “Render the media closer to the people,” and “Make government transparent.” The leadership seemed to be moving away from the ancien regime of Jiang.