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Who’s Hu: please take off the mask
- China knows little about new man at the zenith who can’t stand altitude

Beijing, Nov. 14: He is known to suffer from altitude sickness. So much so that this governor of Tibet would often rule his rebellious people in the rugged and windy mountains from Beijing’s comfortable closets.

He is now all set to climb the height of power in China — as the next president of the country and the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party.

The soft-spoken 59-year-old party climber smiles a lot but gives away little to make headlines. So little is known about his personal life — to the Chinese themselves or to international China experts — that some have described him as a man with a mask.

“Not even many party delegates know much about his personal life. All I can say he has left a good impression at this congress. He’s a man with a good memory,” said Beijing delegate Jiang Xiao Yu, as he was walking away from the Great Hall of People this morning at the end of the party congress.

His public profile, though, makes mixed impressions. To the party top brass, he was among the brightest young faces in a party dominated by the old.

But the man seems to have known all about climbing to the top. Born in Anhui, one of the poorest provinces in China, he graduated as a hydropower engineer from Beijing’s prestigious Qinghua University.

Even as he started his professional career as an engineer, he joined the communist youth league.

His gradual rise in the party coincided with Deng Xiaoping’s search for talented young leaders to reinvent it. A clutch of technocrats was chosen to be trained as future leaders.

Hu could have stayed in the relative obscurity of Gansu province, where he was working on the project design management division of the local government.

One man changed it all — for Hu and now, 20 years later, for China. Song Ping, the Gansu governor and then a member of the all-important standing committee of the politburo, told Deng about the bright young thing doing wonderful work in Gansu.

There was no stopping Hu after that — in 1982, he became the youngest member of the central committee at 39 and 10 years later, the youngest member of the politburo.

Independent observers, though, have not been as impressed with his stints as governor of Tibet or of Guizhou, both among the poorest of provinces then as well as now.

In Tibet, he clamped the country’s first-ever martial law to ruthlessly put down the pro-democracy protesters in March 1989. Three months later, the country faced another martial law after the government was shaken by the biggest ever anti-communist protest in China at Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

After tomorrow, as he is formally anointed the new ruler of China, Hu Jintao will however take off the mask and let the world know who’s Hu.

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