BEIJING Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said his family was "constantly attacked" in Maoist political campaigns that convulsed the country over past decades, giving a rare glimpse into his tumultuous past as he prepares to leave office.
China's wary leaders rarely talk about their pasts. But the premier opened up in comments to students and teachers that were published in the China Education News on Wednesday, saying his father was dismissed as a teacher and sent to tend pigs.
"After I went to high school and university, my family suffered constant attacks in the successive political campaigns," Wen told the audience at Nankai High School, his alma mater in the north port city of Tianjin near Beijing.
Wen, 69, has stood out among China's ruling Communist Party leaders as the most persistent advocate of measured political relaxation under party control, and his published comments to the students perhaps help explain why.
Wen comes from a family of teachers, and during Mao Zedong's era of fervent Communism, the party attacked and demoted citizens deemed to have bad "class" backgrounds or suspect pasts. Wen's father and grandfather were among the victims.
"In 1960, my father was also investigated for so-called historical problems. He could no longer teach and was sent to work on a farm on the outskirts of the city to tend pigs, and then later worked in a library," Wen told the students when he visited the school on October 25, according to the transcript in the Chinese-language paper.
Surviving files about Wen's grandfather from the school he taught at showed he constantly had to write "self-criticisms" before he died of cerebral haemorrhage in 1960, Wen said.
"I was the one who carried him on my back to the hospital," he said.
His grandfather's files "are filled with one self-criticism after another, written in small, neat characters," he added.
Wen retires as premier in early 2013 as part of a generational leadership shift that begins late next year.
As Wen prepares to leave power, he has made a habit of calling much more forthrightly for political reform than more cautious comrades in the Communist Party elite. But his proposals have remained vague, and Wen lacks the backing from other leaders needed to act on such ideas.
For skeptics, Wen's hazy words are vanity, burnishing his reputation without venturing to secure real change. More sympathetic observers have said Wen is defending a moderate agenda that could gain ground after the leadership transition.
"I come from the people, and had a hard childhood, so I feel sympathy for all poor people and have given all that I can for the sake of their happiness," he said.
"My childhood was spent in war and hardship, and the poverty, turmoil and famine left an ineradicable imprint on my young soul."
China has made huge economic strides, he said, but remains beset by imbalances, inequality and corruption. "Income distribution is unfair, and in some areas social conflicts are very sharp, with mass incidents occurring."
"Mass incidents" is the government's euphemism for protests, demonstrations and strikes.
"If a government ignores the public and people's well-being, it ignores its foundations," said Wen. "Fairness and justice are the pillars of society, and if they are lost, then the great house of society will collapse."
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Sugita Katyal)