Wen spoke Wednesday at what was likely his last major news conference as premier, at the end of the annual meeting of China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress.
The 10-day session closed with the legislature giving overwhelming approval to changes in the country’s criminal code that will allow police to legally hold government critics for six months in secret detention centers.
But Wen focused his remarks on the need for more political openness in China — a process he said should occur gradually, but must not be reversed.
“Without successful political reform, it is impossible for us to fully implement economic reform, and the gains we’ve made in these areas may be lost,” he said. “Even with a single breath left, I am ready to dedicate myself fully to the cause of China’s reform.”
In his 45 years holding various government jobs, Wen said, “I have never pursued personal gain. . . . Ultimately, history will have the final say.” Wen’s has often been a lonely voice in the ruling Communist Party hierarchy arguing for political reform. Without such reform, he added, “such historic tragedies like the Cultural Revolution may happen again.”
The chaos and violence of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1976, is still considered a politically sensitive part of China’s recent history. That history has sometimes been invoked by hard-liners to justify stern measures of control, but Wen on Wednesday took the opposite tack, saying the Mao-era violence perpetrated by the Gang of Four — four top Communist Party officials, including Mao’s wife and her close associates — was a reason for more political opening, not less.
‘Red revival campaign’
Wen’s warnings about the Cultural Revolution appeared to be a slap at Bo, who had been considered a leading candidate for a slot on China’s all-powerful nine-member ruling Politburo Standing Committee in a leadership shuffle later this year.
Bo has instituted a “red revival campaign” in Chongqing that includes organizing pageants of Mao-era songs, dispatching students and bureaucrats to toil in the countryside, and ordering local television stations to broadcast red-themed patriotic programs.
Wen made specific reference to Chongqing during the news conference, saying authorities there needed to “seriously reflect” on a scandal involving a senior ex-police official who sought refuge at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu and is now being held and investigated in Beijing.