Posted by Joel Martinsen on Tuesday, August 28, 2007 at 3:00 PM
A number of recent pictures of Wen Jiabao have made a splash on China's discussion forums. Sharp-eyed netizens have discovered that he wears a decade-old overcoat, holds his own umbrella, and weeps freely at the plight of the common people.
But Wen's not only a frugal leader and a selfless civil servant — it turns out he was quite the dreamboat in his youth! The image at left, and several other old photographs, were posted to a thread on the Tianya BBS in May. The original poster, "26 Degrees Below Zero," confessed to being a Wen Jiabao fan; inspired by the creative names Super Girls fans came up with, she called herself "Eight Treasure Rice Pudding" (; "treasure" appears in Wen's name and "rice" sounds like the English word "fan"). Wen himself was given the cutesy nickname Wen Baobao.
But the Premier did not have glamour shots taken at the lakeside — his two friends were removed from the photo and the background was altered to present Wen on his own.
Absent the context of the fan-club thread, these two photos have circulated online amid speculation that Wen's two companions were scrubbed out for political reasons. That might be the case, but it's more appealing to imagine that the PS-work is the doing of someone with a crush, who felt that the other two men simply got in the way.
The original post spawned a comment thread with responses numbering upwards of one thousand. Taiwan's China Times discovered it last weekend and published an article titled "Wen's fans: Young Wen Jiabao looks like Tony Leung" that suggested nicknames for other Chinese politicians: Taotao (Hu Jintao), Lailai (Bo Xilai), Xingxing (Li Zhaoxing), and Jiujiu (Ma Ying-jeou). All that's missing is a Photoshopped Fuwa poster.
Baobao greets an admirer.
"Taotao," China's paramount leader, was not left out of the Tianya thread. Although he doesn't have Wen's animal magnetism, Hu still has his fans, known as "Assorted Rice" (什锦饭). Fuzzy scans of archive photos of Hu during his days as a member of a Tsinghua University dance troupe surfaced, as did other images of the President during his days out west.
Politics makes strange bedfellows, and to anyone who's familiar with how the Internet works, the next development should come as no surprise. From the Tianya thread:
In these photos posted to the thread shortly afterward, Wen and Hu give each other "the look" during this year's congressional sessions, and then share a personal moment.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like anyone's taken up the challenge to write Hu/Wen slash yet — or if they have, it's already been harmonized.
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The Eurasian Face : Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
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+ Korean history doesn't fly on Chinese TV screens (2007.09): SARFT puts the kibbosh on Korean historical dramas.
+ Religion and government in an uneasy mix (2008.03): Phoenix Weekly (凤凰周刊) article from October, 2007, on government influence on religious practice in Tibet.
+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.