One Chop Zhu set to advance China reforms

The most miserable-looking man in Chinese politics may now have something to smile about. Zhu Rongji, the country's 69-year-old economic tsar whose face always seems to settle into a downturned picture of gloom, is tipped to be China's next prime minister. The promotion will mark the ultimate rehabilitation for a man who spent two decades in the political wilderness after being purged as a "Rightist" in 1957 for daring to criticise the government.

If he gets the job, Mr Zhu will be in charge of implementing the ambitious privatisation plan for China's loss-making state-owned industries, as outlined by President Jiang Zemin at the opening of the 15th Communist Party Congress on Friday. It will be the toughest task yet for a politician who is widely admired as the most capable of China's top leaders, but whose forthright manner has earned him only grudging respect among some colleagues. Or as the official China Daily put it: "Even people who have been severely criticised by him admire him as a daring man."

"Zhu is bold and sweeping in the way he moves politically, but thereby he has had a real tendency to tread on entrenched interests and make bureaucratic enemies," said Professor David Shambaugh, a specialist in Chinese politics at George Washington University. "This is precisely the kind of prime minister China needs now, but will make for intense bureaucratic warfare and attempts to undercut his agenda."

Nicknamed "One Chop Zhu" when he was mayor of Shanghai in the late Eighties, he gained renown for decisiveness after slashing the jungle of red tapewhich threatened to strangle foreign investment in the city.

In 1992, already a deputy prime minister, he was catapulted into the top-level Standing Committee in charge of the economy. The following year, with inflation at 25 per cent in the cities and threatening to spiral out of control, Mr Zhu launched the savage austerity programme which earned him influential opponents, particularly among provincial party bosses whose freewheeling spending habits he attacked.

But the policy worked; inflation is now in the low single digits, economic growth is still strong, and Mr Zhu looks set to collect his reward. When the congress wraps up at the end of this week, it should become clear if he is the one who will succeed Li Peng as prime minister next March.

Mr Zhu will be very different from the present incumbent. He is a suave English-speaker, said to like literature and Chinese opera. Unlike most Chinese leaders, he is confident enough to speak off the cuff, looks visibly bored at party photo opportunities and on foreign visits is noticeably relaxed and spontaneous. According to the official biography, he "avoids accepting gifts, ribbon cutting and inscription writing."

Mr Zhu was born in 1928 in southern Hunan, the home province of Mao Zedong. He studied engineering at the prestigious Qinghua University, and joined the Communist Party in 1949, the year the People's Republic was established. In 1957 he fell foul of the party hardliners, after a three-minute speech criticising the system. During the Cultural Revolution he was sent to the countryside for five years and was not finally rehabilitated until 1979.

In the reform era of Deng Xiaoping, Mr Zhu soon proved himself at the State Economic Commission. In 1988 he was appointed mayor of Shanghai, and immediately pledged to boost the city's backward economy. He is also said to have told top tourism bureau officials that if Shanghai intended to become a world tourist destination they should first send workers out to clean the city's disgraceful public toilets.

Mr Jiang was Shanghai party secretary at this time and the two men, although not personally close, formed a solid working relationship. Immediately after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, when Shanghai was in the grip of huge demonstrations, streets were barricaded and public transport ground to a halt, Mr Zhu went on television and managed to calm the situation by telling the city he had "never considered using troops or exercising any military control".

After the crisis, Mr Jiang was promoted to national party chief, and Mr Zhu took over as Shanghai party secretary. Even then, Shanghai was experimenting with converting its ailing state-owned firms into shareholding companies. In 1989, Mr Zhu said: "We can promote the best enterprises, let the best managers take senior positions in enterprises, and let the best workers have jobs" - ideas finally enshrined as policy by Mr Jiang last week.

If appointed as prime minister, Mr Zhu will be responsible for overseeing this policy at a national level and if it is successful there, it will transform the way China operates. But if it goes wrong, and Chinese workers take to the streets in protest, it will not only be Mr Zhu who loses his job.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser