Sunday, July 31, 2011

'Grandpa Wen' left helpless as internet drives wave of unrest through China

Whenever China suffers a major disaster, a visit from Wen Jiabao, or "Grandpa Wen", is usually enough to comfort the victims and reassure the country that its Communist leaders are looking after them.

So five days after two Chinese bullet trains collided in the south of the country, killing at least 39 and injuring more than 200, Mr Wen duly arrived at the scene.

Standing on a patch of gravel on Thursday that had been cleared of the wreckage, the Chinese premier promised to "get to the bottom" of what had gone wrong and apologised for not arriving sooner, blaming an 11-day illness and doctor's orders to rest.

In the past, that might have been the end of it. But on Thursday, Mr Wen succeeded only in ratcheting up public anger a notch.

Within hours, photographs of him in seemingly perfect health at various functions over the past week had been posted on the internet and Mr Wen was accused of being a liar. His tears at the sites of various disasters over the years had already earned him the mocking title of China's "Best Actor".

What has changed over the past year is partly the growing inability of China's leaders to control free speech, both in the traditional media and over the internet. (more)