Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rock Star, Folk Star

I recently did an on-camera interview with Reuters here in Beijing, as part of their current series on the one-year anniversary of the earthquake in Sichuan. I was specifically asked to comment on the role that Premier Wen Jiabao played in the aftermath of the earthquake, and how his acclaimed performance may affect his future political prospects. Below are some of the notes to both the footage and text of the broadcast. (The complete notes can be accessed at http://rtv.rtrlondon.co.uk/2009-05-11/1eec0ee6.html.)

BEJING AND CHENGDU, DUJIANGYAN, WENCHUAN, BEICHUAN, SICHUAN PROVINCE, CHINA

DURATION:03:27

HEADLINE: Chinese PM Wen's popularity remains strong among quake survivors.

China's Premier Wen Jiabao is greatly admired by many quake survivors--Wen flew to the disaster zone almost immediately after the quake hit, led the rescue operations and now he directs rebuilding efforts, one year after the tremour battered southwest China and killing over 80,000.

SHOWS:

BEIJING, CHINA
1. CHINESE PRIME MINISTER WEN JIABAO CHANTING AT EARTHQUAKE MEMORIAL CEREMONY
2. GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS CHANTING AT EARTHQUAKE MEMORIAL CEREMONY
3. WEN CHANTING

WENCHUAN, SICHUAN PROVINCE, CHINA
4. PEOPLE RUNNING THROUGH DUSTY STREET
5. SOLDIERS IN LINE RUNNING
6. PEOPLE EVACUATING TO SAFE AREAS

CHENGDU, SICHUAN PROVINCE, CHINA
7. VARIOUS OF WEN WALKING DOWN FROM AIRPLANE

DUJIANGYAN, SICHUAN PROVINCE, CHINA
8. WEN TALKING TO RESCUE WORKER
9. WEN CLIMBING UP BUILDING DEBRIS
10. WEN TALKING TO VICTIM ON AMPLIFIER
11. WEN SHAKING HANDS WITH PEOPLE
12. WEN WALKING WITH OFFICIALS
13. RESCUE WORKER RESCUING CHILD TRAPPED UNDER DEBRIS
14. WEN HANDING MEDICAL APPARATUS TO RESCUE WORKER

WENCHUAN, SICHUAN PROVINCE, CHINA
15. WEN TALKING TO INJURED CHILD
16. WEN TALKING TO CRYING CHILD
17. CHILDREN CRYING
18. WEN STROKING CHILD ON HEAD

BEIJING, CHINA
19. ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, STEVEN BALLA,
WORKING ON COMPUTER
20. BALLA TYPING ON COMPUTER KEYBOARD
21. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT GEORGE WASHINGTON
UNIVERSITY, STEVEN BALLA SAYING: "If Barack Obama is the rock star of international politics, Wen Jiabao is more like the folk star in that, he is not playing in front of large admiring audiences, but he is quietly strumming away in his acoustic guitar in a small coffee house somewhere. People still love him but they don't love him in the sense of mass adoration that you see for some leaders in the west."

BEICHUAN, SICHUAN PROVINCE, CHINA
22. MAN TAKING PHOTOGRAPHS OF EARTHQUAKE RUINS
23. TABLE WITH EARTHQUAKE MEMORABILIA ON SALE
24. DVD FEATURING CHINESE PREMIER WEN JIABAO IN EARTHQUAKE ZONE ON SALE
25. (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) 34-YEAR-OLD VENDOR, HAO JIANMING, SAYING: "Every time Premier Wen comes to Beichuan county, he is very friendly to everyone. Every time he leaves, his car will slow down and he will wind down his window to wave to everyone before he goes off. When the people see him, they would rather stay behind and not have lunch. They will wait for him to leave before going home to make lunch."
26. VENDORS NEXT TO FENCE
27. VENDOR SEWING SHOE NEXT TO MAKESHIFT STALL
28. COMBINATION OF PHOTOGRAPHS SHOWING PREMIER WEN IN THE QUAKE ZONE
DISPLAYED ON STALL
29. (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) 42-YEAR-OLD VENDOR, MU SHUXIAN SAYING: "I feel Premier Wen has done well. He has us, the earthquake victims, in his heart. I feel the country has done well, if it was not for them, we would all be beggars now, don't you think so?"
30. STALL OWNERS AND VISITORS STANDING ON CLIFF
31. VENDORS TRYING TO SELL VISITORS EARTHQUAKE MEMORABILIA
32. RUBBLE AND RUINS OF BEICHUAN TOWN

STORY: China will mark the first anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake on Tuesday (May 12), a disaster that battered the south-western province and killed over 80,000 people.

But the tragedy heralded an unusual turn of events for China's Premier Wen Jiabao.

Just hours after the 8.0 magnitude tremor shook the region, Wen flew to one of the hardest hit regions and appeared on national television consoling mourning families.

He was often shown to be at the thick of the relief work, encouraging rescue workers and talking to people trapped under rubble.

Within days, Wen's page on the social networking site Facebook had become an online attraction worldwide. More than 14,000 people had joined Wen's page, which was created by an unknown user, making him the tenth most popular politician on Facebook.

Steven Balla, associate professor of political science, public policy and public administration at George Washington University, believes that the public surge of support for Wen signifies a growing 'westernisation' of the Chinese political leadership.

He says Wen's skill in handling media opportunities combined with his charismatic approach to leadership resembles that of the United States' President Barack Obama. "If Barack Obama is the rock star of international politics, Wen Jiabao is more like the folk star in that, he is not playing in front of large admiring audiences, but he is quietly strumming away in his acoustic guitar in a small coffee house somewhere. People still love him but they don't love him in the sense of mass adoration that you see for some leaders in the west," said Balla who is doing an exchange programme at Beijing's Peking University.

Wen is no stranger to natural disasters. In 2006, he was the political face on the scene at a giant chemical spill which threatened to leave millions of people in China's northeast without drinking water.

When the worst winter storm to hit China in decades stranded hundreds of thousands of train passengers in 2008, Wen made a public statement of sympathy and apology from the train station floor.

His prompt appearance at disaster sites has made him one of the nation's most popular political figures.

Enterprising stall-touts at the site of one of Sichuan's worst-hit towns have even started selling DVD and photograph souvenirs of the Premier's trips to the quake zone.

"Every time Premier Wen comes to Beichuan county, he is very friendly to everyone. Every time he leaves, his car will slow down and he will wind down his window to wave to everyone before he goes off. When the people see him, they would rather stay behind and not have lunch. They will wait for him to leave before going home to make lunch," said Hao Jianming, 34-year-old vendor.

Many people in China call him Grandpa Wen and see him as their personal hero.

Mu Shuxian, a 42-year-old vendor in Sichuan, said he believed Wen's visits have helped the earthquake survivors rebuild their lives. "I feel Premier Wen has done well. He has us, the earthquake survivors, in his heart. I feel the country has done well, if it was not for them, we would all be beggars now, don't you think so?" said Mu.

At present, his reputation speaks for his rampant support throughout the nation. But analysts say that Wen's future, in part, depends on how he reacts to any future crisis.

According to a survey done by China's Tsinghua University, the massive earthquake from last year had toppled over 380 buildings across the Sichuan Province. This consequently left up to 4.8 million people homeless.

Even though the government launched a mass reconstruction programme and a one trillion yuan (147 billion U.S. dollars) stimulus plan, a significant number still face an uncertain future.

~Steve

1 Comments:

At 2:31 AM, Blogger The Balla Family said...

Apparently, the Reuters series has attracted the interest of media outlets around the world. I was sitting in the lobby of BISS, where Julie was spending the afternoon taking placement tests for Holy Cross. A teacher walked by, saw me out of the corner of her eye, and did a double take. "I just saw you on television the other night! You were on the Australian news!" Cool!

Steve

 

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