Wen Jiabao reaches out to China's online community in first live chat


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Despite concerns of the Chinese government about its recently recognized Internet Addiction Disorder, there is little doubt that the web is now part of life for the country's 298 million netizens, as well as an evident piece of the government's communications strategy. One obvious example that we noticed last year is Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's Facebook page, which can now boast about having more than 98,000 supporters.

Following Chinese President Hu Jintao's brief online chat in June, Wen held a live chat of his own last week. Thousands of questions poured in from China (and the rest of the world), according to AFP's news report, which also says Wen was questioned on a range of topics:

"… with some querying the amount he earned, how long he slept a day, and how much alcohol he could drink, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

But Wen chose not to answer those, focusing instead on the more serious issues of the economic crisis, China's healthcare reform and the shoe-throwing incident that took place in Cambridge, Britain, this month."

The China Digital Times has translated to English a lot of text from Wen’s live chat, available here.

Given the opportunity, what would you ask the Chinese premier?


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I.W. Asbrox
March 13, 2009

Regarding questions to be posed to Premier Wen Jiabao, mine would have to do with Adam Smith's works, which Wen has been quoting in reference to Smith's construct of _an invisible hand_, which appears once in the Theory of Moral Sentiments [TMS](1759), and later once again in the Wealth of Nations [IWN],(1776).

My question is: Why does he think that the invisible hand of TMS is a construct not only applicable against inequalities between the rich and the poor, but also one which counteracts that of the invisible hand of IWN?

Unlike what some have reported (http://tinyurl.com/Wen-TMS2), these are different invisible hands from different works. But in _each case_, Smith unambiguously claims the invisible hand ensures the _same_ outcome, namely, self-interested individual behavior benefits the public interest. The IWN's hand, which Wen equates with the market, ought not to need an explanation since it is widely cited (even by those who have not read the book) but the TMS's hand, which Wen equates with morality, deserves one since that work is comparatively obscure.

In TMS, Smith argues (from a primarily agricultural viewpoint) that the rich "consume little more than the poor, and spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity [...] they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements." For him, the rich "are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it [...] advance the interest of the society."

Despite Wen's interpretations --on which he has based criticisms of socioeconomic policies since at least 2008-- inequality does not appear as a moral problem in the invisible hand argument of TMS, nor such an argument is the main message of this book on moral philosophy. In fact, the metaphoric hand (which is brought up in a section of TMS about beauty) surges in what economics historian Anthony Brewer neatly describes as a "digression within a digression," being forced "rather artificially into a book that was really concerned with quite different issues" (http://tinyurl.com/Brewer-TMS).