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
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower