From the NYT, on Wen Jiabao either struggling to change the direction of the Party, or being a really good actor:
The leading spokesman for what passes for political liberalism in China, Mr. Wen is by most accounts ideologically isolated on the Communist Party’s nine-member Politburo standing committee. More than once, his views have been rebuffed, tacitly or openly, in party organs. There are tantalizing hints of rifts with his boss, President Hu Jintao.
“Grandpa Wen,” who shares the common man’s pain and champions his interests, is easily China’s most popular politician. But internally, as Communist Party hard-liners strengthen their control, his advocacy of political reform has increasingly sapped his influence.
He has become such a high-risk figure, one official news media editor says, that a conservative-led state radio network last year balked at his offer of an exclusive exchange with listeners on the air. Even liberals who support Mr. Wen’s reformist oratory find themselves disillusioned by his failure to gain traction within the leadership.
his unspecific calls for democracy and people power actually fit comfortably within a Communist Party committed to absolute rule.
Others question his maverick credentials, calling him less a reformer than the good cop in a bad-cop system. “Wen’s become the human face of the administration, and he’s been very effective,” said Susan Shirk, a longtime China expert at the University of California, San Diego. “The other possibility is that Wen Jiabao has two faces. He advocates transparency in his public statements, but only insofar as it doesn’t threaten the authority of the party.”
But in a mostly faceless and closed-mouth leadership, no one strains so publicly at his tethers — or suffers as many rebuffs — as Mr. Wen. That pattern has intensified as jockeying begins for next year’s choices of a new politburo and the next generation of China’s top leaders.
At 68, with retirement in sight, Mr. Wen may not care about such slaps on the wrist. In fact, he might gain a voice in shaping the next class of upper-echelon leaders.
But Mr. Wen’s happy-warrior persona also shows signs of tarnishing his standing with the masses, as government action consistently falls short of his promises. “More people are starting to ask, ‘Why don’t these words come true?’ ” said Mr. He, the legal scholar.
“The cynicism about the system is rising,” said Cheng Li, a Brookings Institution scholar of the Chinese leadership. “My real worry is whether the next generation will have a Wen Jiabao-like leader.”