China’s Vice Premier Li Keqiang has continuously maintained a down-to-earth work style and a governance philosophy of putting people first.
Since joining the State Council, China’s cabinet, in 2008, as the country’s youngest vice premier in nearly 20 years, Li has manifested his tenacity and decisiveness which were shaped by his early days.
In March 1974, when China was being ravaged by the Cultural Revolution, 19-year-old Li was dispatched to Fengyang, a poverty-stricken county in east China’s Anhui province, to take up farming.
It was there he came to understand poverty and starvation.
He tilled the land during the day and read books at night. Admiring Li’s spirit and his capacity to endure hardship, members of the Damiao village production team chose him as secretary of their branch of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
“He was always the first to work, self-disciplined, down to earth and kind. As branch secretary, he never made people suffer, harmed no one and bullied no one,” villagers recalled.
When the country’s universities reopened in 1977, Li took the entrance examination and was accepted by the Law School of Peking University. Soon, he was elected chief of the university’s Student Union. Upon graduation in 1982, he remained at Peking University to head its Communist Youth League Committee.
Three years later, the 30-year-old was chosen as a member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League (CYL), an organization of advanced young people under the leadership of the CPC.
While working with the CYL Central Committee, Li devoted his spare time to studying the Chinese economy. His doctoral dissertation, “On the Tri-structure of China’s Economy,” won him the Sun Yefang Prize, the top honor for economic sciences on the Chinese mainland.
During his tenure at the CYL Central Committee, he chose the site for the Hope Primary School in Jinzhai County, located in east China’s Anhui Province.
He said he hoped the Hope School could bring hope to children in the CPC’s revolutionary bases.
The move inspired later philanthropic actions, such as the Hope Project and Youth Volunteers.
When Li left Beijing for Henan Province in June 1998, he set a record by becoming the country’s youngest governor with a doctoral degree.
In seven years, Li avoided unnecessary social activities and devoted himself to solving problems concerning Henan’s development. Given that the province had learned a bitter lesson from pomposity, Li instructed local officials to keep a low profile, say little and do much.
Breaking Henan’s stereotypical image as an agricultural province, Li pursued industrialization, urbanization and agricultural modernization. In 2003, he formally proposed the concept of “the rise of the Central Plains” and put it into practice in Henan.
The Central Plains refer to regions comprising the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, including Henan, Hebei, Shandong and Shanxi provinces.
His proposal and practices became a prototype for the rise of central China, which is home to one-fourth of China’s population and accounts for one-fifth of the country’s economic output.
Apart from consolidating Henan’s advantages as China’s granary, Li facilitated the upgrade of local industries to extend the province’s industrial chain. He also proposed the construction of an industrial corridor linking the provincial capital of Zhengzhou with the cities of Kaifeng and Luoyang, along which a number of pillar industries and conglomerates have been formed.
He urged local government officials to introduce capital, technology, experts, advanced management experience and mechanisms from eastern coastal provinces, which have been in the forefront of China’s economic expansion, as well as strengthen cooperation with western provinces to seize bigger market share.
Using such tactics, Li figured out how to shift Henan from an agricultural province to an emerging industrial province.
Li also facilitated the province’s urbanization by incubating city clusters in the Central Plains as new growth points.
He carried out an urbanization experiment through the development of the Zhengdong New District.
Instead of a sprawling area based on an old town relying on a single industry, the new district is an energy-efficient and livable place with finance, upscale commerce, logistics and tourism as its pillar industries.
For seven years, Henan maintained a growth rate 1.63 percentage points higher than the national average. The province climbed from 20th to 17th in national per capita GDP ranking, and its overall GDP ranked as the country’s fifth largest and the first among western and central regions.
But more complicated challenges followed.
After more than 10 years of latency, HIV broke out in a number of places in Henan, aggravating the province’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.
Li visited the worst-hit villages to see patients, surveying the difficulties they faced and staying on top of the situation. Gao Yaojie, a retired doctor and AIDS activist, was invited to his office to report on the situation.
When he was promoted to top leader of the province in 2002, Li immediately put HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment at the top of the agendas of the government and the provincial CPC committee.
In Henan, he oversaw the country’s first provincial census on HIV/AIDS.
A total of 38 hard-hit villages received assistance directly from provincial governmental departments.H To ensure that HIV and AIDS patients could live decent lives, he instituted a policy that provided them shelter, food, clothing and basic medical insurance. Those who contracted the deadly disease from selling blood on the black market could receive free treatment, free physical exams and free services to control maternal-infant transmission of the virus. Orphans, as well as children of those with HIV/AIDS, could go to school free of charge.
By 2004, the HIV outbreak had been contained. Yin Yin Nwe, then representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund for China, said Henan is a model both for China and the world and its experience is worth being popularized.
When Li was elevated to the central government, he was the chief of the State Council’s AIDS Prevention Committee and made efforts to bring social forces into play.
He visited non-governmental organizations to talk with volunteers and HIV/AIDS patients to encourage them to play a bigger a role in HIV/AIDS prevention.
In a congratulatory letter sent to Li on his re-election as member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee in November this year, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe recognized the progress China has achieved in AIDS prevention and thanked Li for his leadership in this regard.
When Li was transferred to northeast China’s Liaoning Province in 2004, he faced a different challenge.
There, Li was stunned to learn that nearly a thousand people in one town were sharing one bathroom.
“The government will not hesitate to spend everything to help you move out of slums,” Li vowed.
In March 2005, a renovation plan was released. Within three years, 1.2 million residents had moved into new apartments and the shantytowns had been relegated to history.
During the shantytown renovation, Li repeatedly emphasized the need to “put the people first,” which later evolved into the essence of his governance philosophy.
Apart from housing upgrades, Li also explored ways to tap new growth points for the old industrial base.
He capitalized on the central government’s Northeastern China Rejuvenation Plan and the national policy of further opening up the country’s east coast to develop Liaoning’s coastal areas. In this way, he worked to offset the province’s disadvantages stemming from its reliance on heavy industrial manufacturing for growth.
In 2009, the province’s coastal economic belt designed by Li became a national strategy and played a key role in the rejuvenation of the northeastern industrial base.