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"Putting People First"

   - Li Keqiang, Member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee

October 10, 2011: Li Keqiang talks with technicians at the Green Apple Data Center in Changsha, capital of Hunan Province. by Li Tao/Xinhua

Putting People First

Li's tenacity and decisiveness in the face of challenges and his people-oriented governing style can be attributed to his early experience at the grassroots level.

n March 1974, when China was being ravaged by the "cultural revolution," 19-year-old Li was dispatched to Fengyang, a poverty-stricken county in eastern Anhui Province, to take up farming. He tilled the land during the day and read books at night. There, he came to understand poverty and starvation. Impressed by Li's integrity and ability, residents of Damiao Brigade chose him as Party chief. "He was always the first to arrive to work, self-disciplined, down-to-earth and kind," one villager recalls. "As Party branch secretary, he did his best to act as a role model for the villagers and never harmed or bullied anyone."

When the country resumed the college entrance examination in 1977, Li sat for it and enrolled in the Law School of Peking University. Soon, he was elected chief of the university's Student Union. Upon graduation in 1982, he stayed on as secretary of the university's CYLC committee. At the end of the same year, he was elected a member of the Standing Committee of CYLC Central Committee. Three years later, Li, then 30, was chosen as a member of the Secretariat of the CYLC Central Committee. While working with the CYLC Central Committee, Li continued devoting his spare time to studies and eventually acquired both master's and doctorate degrees in economics from Peking University. His doctoral dissertation, On the Tri-structure of China's Economy, won the Sun Yefang Prize, the top honor for economic sciences on the Chinese mainland.

During his tenure with the CYLC Central Committee, Li chose a site in Jinzhai County of eastern Anhui Province for the country's first Project Hope primary school. He believed that the project, which aims to help children in poverty-stricken areas access education, would bring hope to children in old revolutionary bases. Two months later, China's first Hope School opened in the county. Later, philanthropic programs including Project Hope, Youth Civilization Unit, and Youth Volunteers swept across the nation, setting examples for exploration of promoting social progress through non-governmental means.

When Li left Beijing for Henan Province in June 1998, he became China's youngest-ever provincial governor with a doctoral degree.

Over the next seven years, he served as governor and then secretary of the Provincial CPC Committee of Henan. At the time, the province was among the most underdeveloped regions in China. Li forewent unnecessary social activities and immersed himself in solving problems concerning the province's development. Given that the province had learned a bitter lesson from pomposity, Li stressed on many occasions that the province was singular for its huge population and economic weaknesses and instructed local officials to keep a low profile, work harder and talk less as they worked to rescue the province from underdevelopment.

Breaking Henan's stereotypical image as an agricultural province, Li drew a roadmap to industrialization, urbanization and agricultural modernization. In 2003, he formally proposed the concept of "the rise of the Central Plains" and implemented policy towards that end. The concept not only set the tone for the province's future development, but also laid a theoretical and practical foundation for strategies related to the rise of central China that were later formulated.

August 2011: Li Keqiang visits residents living in public housing in Hong Kong. Xinhua

Along with consolidating Henan's advantages as the country's "granary," Li took action to accelerate strategic upgrade of local industrial infrastructure, so as to revitalize traditional industries at a high, extensive level, extend the province's industrial chain, and boost the development of related industries. He also proposed the construction of an industrial corridor linking the provincial capital of Zhengzhou with the cities of Kaifeng and Luoyang, pushed for the construction of Luoyang advanced manufacturing base, and accelerated the restructuring of old industrial bases. Those measures cultivated many of the province's mainstay industries, as well as many large enterprises and renowned brands.

Li pointed out that Henan needs to overcome its geographical disadvantage as an inland province. On one hand, the province should give full play to its market and labor resources and introduce capital, technology, experts, advanced management experience and mechanisms from eastern coastal provinces to urge its economic restructuring and industrial upgrade. On the other hand, it should seize the opportunities afforded by China's "western development strategy" to enhance economic and technological cooperation with western provinces and autonomous regions to seize bigger market shares. Those tactics laid a solid foundation for Henan to expand its industrialization and shift from a traditional agricultural province to an emerging industrial hub.

Industrialization and urbanization are always complementary. Urban expansion provides a substantial room for the development of secondary and tertiary industries. Li stressed that industrialization must parallel urbanization, and made it an important development strategy for Henan. He also facilitated the province's urbanization by incubating city clusters in the Central Plains as a core growth pole in the province and even central China at large. Li carried out an urbanization experiment by developing Zhengdong New District. Instead of a sprawling area based on an old town relying on a single industry, the new district is an energy-efficient, market-oriented and livable town with finance, upscale commerce, logistics and tourism as pillar industries, setting a pristine example for urbanization across the country.

Within Li's seven years in Henan, the province maintained a growth rate 1.63 percentage points higher than the national average. The province climbed from 20th to 17th in national per capita GDP ranking, and its overall GDP ranked the country's fifth and the first among western and central provinces.

After more than 10 years of latency, HIV broke out in a number of places in Henan. When he visited the worst-hit villages, Li talked with HIV-infected patients personally to learn about the difficulties they faced. Gao Yaojie, a retired doctor and AIDS activist, was invited to his office to consult on the situation.

November 18, 2011: Li Keqiang shakes hands with an HIV-positive person while inspecting AIDS prevention and treatment work in Beijing. by Pang Xinglei/Xinhua

When he became Party chief of the province in 2002, Li immediately placed HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment at the top of his agenda. He then launched the country's first provincial census on HIV/AIDS. A total of 38 villages severely hit by HIV/AIDS received assistance directly from provincial governmental departments. To ensure that HIV and AIDS patients could live decent lives, he launched a program that provided them shelter, food, clothing and basic medical insurance and ensured that students with an infected family member need not drop out of school. Those who contracted the deadly disease by selling blood on the black market could receive free treatment, free physical exams and free services to control maternal-infant transmission of the virus. Children of those with HIV/AIDS were enabled to attend school free of charge. Such HIV/AIDS measures are now standard throughout the country.

By 2004, the HIV outbreak in Henan had abated. Yin Yin Nwe, then representative of the United Nations Children's Fund for China, proclaimed Henan a "model both for China and the world" and suggested that its methods were worth sharing around the globe.

When Li was elevated to the central government, he was appointed chief of the State Council's AIDS prevention commission and made efforts to bring social institutions into play. He visited non-governmental organizations to talk with volunteers and HIV/AIDS patients to encourage them to play a bigger role in HIV/AIDS prevention. These efforts resulted in wider participation in the campaign to prevent HIV/AIDS as well as a greater number of beneficiaries. In a congratulatory letter to Li upon his re-election to the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee in November this year, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe recognized the progress China had achieved in AIDS prevention and thanked Li for his extraordinary leadership in this regard.

At the end of 2004, Li was appointed secretary of Liaoning Provincial CPC Committee. At the time, the traditional industrial province was facing tough times, with many state-owned enterprises spiraling into bankruptcy and countless workers getting laid-off. In a shantytown, Li was stunned to learn that nearly 1,000 residents were sharing a single public toilet. "The government will not hesitate to spend to help you move out of slums," Li vowed to local residents. In March 2005, the province released a shantytown renovation plan. Over the following three years, 1.2 million residents moved into new apartments, and most of the shantytowns were relegated to history. During the renovation, Li repeatedly emphasized the principle of "putting the people first," which later evolved into the essence of his governing philosophy.

For a long time, due to Liaoning's inland-oriented development strategy and the impact of the international economic environment, the province focused on industrial development of its inland areas, and its coastal areas contributed a comparatively small proportion of the GDP. Based on his deep understanding of the province's actual situation, Li formulated a strategy to capitalize on the central government's Northeastern China Rejuvenation Plan as well as the national policy of further opening the country's east coast, which developed Liaoning's coastal areas through a coastal economic belt. The strategy injected vigor and vitality to the old industrial base. By the time when Li left Liaoning, the province's legacy of lagging economic development had vanished. In 2009, the coastal economic belt designed by Li became a national strategy, and Liaoning began to play a key role as the nucleus of the rejuvenation of the northeastern industrial base.

April 27, 2012: Li Keqiang shakes hands with Russian president-elect Vladimir Putin during their talks in Moscow, Russia. Xinhua