Science, democracy, rule of law, freedom and human rights are not concepts unique to capitalism. Rather, they are common values pursued by mankind in the long historical process and they are the fruits of human civilization. It is only that at different historical stages and in different countries, they are achieved through different means and in different forms.— Wen Jiabao, Our Historical Tasks at the primary stage of socialism and Several Issues Concerning China's Foreign Policy, Feb. 2007
A native of Beichen District, Tianjin, Wen Jiabao went to the Nankai High School from which his predecessor premier Zhou Enlai graduated. He joined the Communist Party of China (CPC) in April 1965 and entered the work force in September 1967.
Wen has a background in engineering and holds a post-graduate degree from the Beijing Institute of Geology. He studied geomechanics in Beijing and began his career in the geology bureau of Gansu province. From 1968–1978, he presided over the Geomechanics Survey Team under the Gansu Provincial Geological Bureau and head of its political section. Wen succeeded in office, rising as chief of the Gansu Provincial Geological Bureau and later as Vice-minister of Geology and Mineral Resources.
He worked as the chief of the Party General Office between 1986 and 1993, and accompanied Party general secretary Zhao Ziyang to Tiananmen Square during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. In 1998, he was promoted to the post of Vice Premier under Premier Zhu Rongji, his mentor, and oversaw the broad portfolios of agriculture and Finance.
Wen's most significant political recovery occurred after accompanying Zhao on his visit to students demonstrating in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Unlike Zhao, who was purged from the party days later for "grave insubordination" and lived under house arrest in Beijing until his death in January 2005, Wen survived the political aftermath of the demonstrations. Wen Jiabao is the only Chief of the Party's General Affairs Office to have served under three General Secretaries: Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang, and Jiang Zemin.
Wen has built a network of patronage during his career. Throughout this period Wen was said to be a strong administrator and technocrat, having earned a reputation for meticulousness, competence, and a focus on tangible results. Outgoing Premier Zhu Rongji showed his esteem for Wen by entrusting him from 1998 with the task of overseeing agricultural, financial and environmental policies in the office of Vice-Premier, considered crucial as China prepared to enter the World Trade Organization. Wen served as Secretary of the Central Financial Work Commission from 1998 to 2002. By the end of the 1990s Wen and Zhang Peili were the main investor and founder of Ping An Insurance, which was established with the help of Hong Kong tycoon Cheng Yu-tung's family through real estate firm New World Development.
Wen entered the Politburo Standing Committee, China's highest ruling council, in November 2002, ranked third out of nine members. During the transition of authority as Hu Jintao assumed the presidency in March 2003, Wen's nomination as premier was confirmed by the National People's Congress with over 99% of the delegates' vote. After taking over as Premier, Wen oversaw the continuation of economic reforms and has been involved in shifting national goals from economic growth at all costs to growth which also emphasizes more egalitarian wealth, along with other social goals, such as public health and education. Wen's broad range of experience and expertise, especially cultivated while presiding over agricultural policies under Zhu Rongji has been important as the "fourth generation" sought to revitalize the rural economy in regions left out by the past two decades of reform. In addition, the Chinese government under Wen has begun to focus on the social costs of economic development, which include damage to the environment and to workers' health. This more comprehensive definition of development was encapsulated into the idea of a xiaokang society.
In December 2003, Wen visited the United States for the first time. During the trip, Wen was able to get President George W. Bush to issue what many saw as a mild rebuke to the then President of the Republic of China (Taiwan), Chen Shui-bian. Wen has also been on visits to Canada and Australia, mostly on economic issues. Wen also visited Japan in April 2007 in what was termed the "de-thawing journey", where he characterized the relationship between the Asian powers as for "mutual benefit". He also met with Emperor Akihito and played baseball.
Wen was involved in two major episodes involving public health. In early 2003, he was involved in ending the official inaction over the SARS crisis. On 1 December 2004, he became the first major Chinese official to publicly address the Problem of AIDS, which has devastated parts of Yunnan and Henan and threatens to be a major burden on Chinese development. Since May 2004, Wen made various visits to communities devastated by AIDS, trips shown prominently on national media. By showing these actions, Wen displayed an effort to reverse years of what many Activists have described as a policy of denial and inaction. Furthermore, Wen is concerned about the health and safety of previous drug addicts; since March 2004, Wen had visited several drug addict treatment facilities in southern China and addressed the issue to the patients in person, recognizing that AIDS is more likely to be spread by drug abuse and the reuse of hypodermic syringes than by sexual contact.
On 15 March 2005, after the anti-secession law was passed, by a majority of 2,896 to nil, with two abstentions by the National People's Congress, Wen said: "We don't wish for foreign intervention, but we are not afraid of it." as an allusion to the United States' stance on Taiwan. That earned him a long round of applause that was rare even by Chinese standards.
When he was the head of the Chinese government, Wen Jiabao was considered to be one of the most powerful statesmen in the world. In 2006, he was named to the Time 100 list. In 2009, Wen was named one of ten people and the only non-American in a list compiled by ABC of people who shaped the U.S. economy the most since 2000. Wen also topped a list of "10 Leaders to watch" in 2010 released 19 January by Eurasia Group, a global political risk research and consulting firm. Behind that U.S. President Barack Obama came second. In August 2010, Wen was named "The Man of the People" by Newsweek. In October 2010, Wen Jiabao was a person selected on the Time's cover that the title was "Wen's World". In 2011, Wen was ranked 14th in Forbes Magazine's List of The World's Most Powerful People.
Xinhua published articles in early 2007 on the direction of national development. The authorship of the articles was attributed separately to Wen Jiabao, particularly 26 February piece "Our Historical Tasks at the Primary Stage of Socialism and Several Issues Concerning China's Foreign Policy". The article advanced Wen's "peace doctrine" in global affairs, as well as what appeared to be inclinations towards fostering social democracy and advocacy of universal values. This was suspected as a sign that Wen has some differing viewpoints to the official party line – that values are relativistic and that "Chinese values" are not necessarily the same as "Western values," and that universal values is thus an empty concept. The debate continues to rage in Chinese political circles today, with neo-leftist thinkers such as Chinese Academy of Social Sciences President Chen Kuiyuan criticizing Wen's advocacy of universal values, saying that it relegates Chinese values and thinking as an inferior alternative to supposedly more "correct" Western norms.
Wen has been described as a populist by most observers. His quick responses and visits to the scenes of various disasters, including the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, has earned him a considerable reputation as an approachable leader in touch with the experiences of the masses. Wen engages regularly with locals on his trips to various provinces domestically as well as foreign visits; he played baseball and badminton with Japanese and South Korean citizens during visits to those countries. "Whether taking a stroll or swimming, it puts me at ease both mentally and physically and helps me handle my heavy workload," Wen had remarked.
In December, in what was seen as a mild rebuke of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper during the latter's working visit to China, Wen stated, "This is your first trip to China and this is the first meeting between the Chinese Premier and the Canadian Prime Minister in almost five years. Five years is too long a time for China Canada relations." However, the interpretation that Wen rebuked Harper was later disputed in select newspaper editorials. Wen also travelled to the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference, where he met with U.S. President Barack Obama twice to secure an 11th-hour non-binding agreement on emissions cuts.
Wen has progressively amped up his liberal rhetoric as his Premiership continued, remarking in August 2010 that "Without political reform, China may lose what it has already achieved through economic restructuring". Wen's comments were largely censored in state media, but he gained support from a group of some 23 party elders in October, who denounced the authorities' censorship of Wen's remarks in an open letter to the National People's Congress. In an interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN's Global Public Square television program aired in October 2010, Wen made the following statement: "I have summed up my political ideals into the following four sentences. To let everyone lead a happy life with dignity. To let everyone feel safe and secure. To let the society be one with equity and justice. And to let everyone have confidence in the Future. In spite of the various discussions and views in the society, and in spite of some resistance, I will act in accordance with these ideals unswervingly, and advance within the realm of my capabilities political restructuring. I will like to tell you the following two sentences to reinforce my view on this point. I will not fall in spite of the strong wind and harsh rain, and I will not yield until the last day of my life." At the 2012 National People's Congress, Wen mentioned the word "reform" 70 times. He remarked that China must "press ahead with both economic structural reforms and political structural reforms, in particular reforms on the leadership system of the Party and the country." There is also indication from party insiders that Wen has been pushing the case for the political rehabilitation of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
Wen Jiabao is married to Zhang Peili, whom he met while working as a government Geologist in Gansu. Zhang is a jewellery expert and has played a prominent role in the nation's Diamond trade. She rarely appears with Wen in public. In October 2012, The New York Times reported that Wen's relatives have controlled financial assets worth at least US$2.7 billion during his time as Premier. In response, a Chinese government spokesman stated that the report "blackens China's name and has ulterior motives", and the websites of The New York Times were censored in mainland China. Lawyers representing Wen's family also denied the report's content. Wen personally wrote a letter submitted to the Politburo Standing Committee asking for an investigation to the claim and willing to make his family asset public. Professor Zhu Lijia, of the Chinese Academy of Governance, suggest that this is Wen's last try to push the passing of the "Sunshine" law, which require government officials to release their financial information to public. Professor Jean-Pierre Cabestan of Hong Kong's Baptist University questioned the timing of the report and suggested "It looks very much [like] some people close to Bo Xilai are trying to throw mud at the reformists".
Seen as the leading member of the reform wing of the Communist Party, Wen's family came under scrutiny by investigative journalists for having accumulated a massive fortune during his time in government, casting a cloud over his legacy shortly prior to his retirement. He left office in 2013 and was succeeded by Li Keqiang.
There were rumours about Wen's retirement and reputed clashes with former Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu before the party's 17th Party Congress. Some sources suggested that Wen would ask to retire due to fatigue. Ultimately, Wen stayed on the Premier job, and was responsible for the drafting of the important speech delivered by President Hu Jintao outlining China's direction in the next five years.