BEIJING — China's premier cultivates the image of a sympathetic "Grandpa Wen," but a new and unusually critical book claims he should be known as "China's Best Actor" instead.
Author Yu Jie said his new book aims to show the vast difference between the prim premier's image and his hard-line policies. "China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao" will be published this month in Hong Kong despite police threats he could be put in prison, the author said.
"This is a completely deceptive way to speak to people," Yu said in an interview Wednesday.
The soft-spoken Yu, 36, was a best-selling author before his books were banned in China not long after Wen became premier in 2003. Yu helped found the Independent PEN Center in China, which fights for freedom of expression, and is a vocal Christian who has angered authorities by outspokenly advocating religious freedom.
Yu said he discussed his new book with U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman during a meeting Tuesday about freedom of expression and other topics, after an invitation from the embassy. "He was very interested in the book and asked detailed questions," Yu said.
Embassy spokesman Richard Buangan confirmed the two met briefly but did not elaborate.
Yu said the Chinese-language "China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao," will be published Aug. 16 in Hong Kong, a former British colony that enjoys freedom of the press as part of its special semiautonomous status.
The publisher is Bao Pu, who earlier this year tried to publish a memoir purportedly written by Li Peng, China's premier in 1989 when authorities cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrators at Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Bao dropped the memoir because of copyright problems.
"I'm certainly very concerned. I told him I don't want him to get arrested for publishing this book," Bao said of Yu. "But he doesn't seem very concerned."
Bao is the son of Bao Tong, a top aide to late Chinese Communist Party General-Secretary Zhao Ziyang, who was purged for opposing military action in Tiananmen and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Bao Tong wrote the introduction to Yu's book.
"The leaders and the led, everyone is passing their days inside a contradiction," Bao Tong wrote in the introduction, titled "The Virtual China and the Real China," saying Wen is the best example of that.
In Wednesday's interview, Yu used Wen's response to the devastating Sichuan earthquake in 2008 as an example. Wen was the first top official to arrive at the scene, where he cried, comforted families, and told parents of children who died inside crushed schools that the government would investigate why buildings collapsed, Yu said.
"But already two years have passed, and there's nothing," Yu said. "Instead, volunteers who investigated the collapsed buildings have been arrested and sentenced."
Police detained Yu last month after word of his book spread online. Yu said he was questioned for more than four hours, mostly about the book's contents.
"The state security people said Wen Jiabao isn't a normal citizen, he's the premier, so criticizing him hurts the nation's interests and security," Yu said at the time. "(They said) I could be given a heavy sentence like Liu Xiaobo."
Liu, also an author-dissident, is serving an 11-year sentence after being convicted of inciting to subvert state power.
Yu said China's policies under Wen and President Hu Jintao are more hard-line against dissidents than under previous leader Jiang Zemin. Under international and especially U.S. pressure, several political prisoners were released under Jiang, but no one has been released under Hu and Wen, he said.
The book comes out as concerns are rising that China is returning to a harsher attitude toward freedoms since 2008, the year of the Beijing Olympics.
"There has been a palpable sense that earlier progress toward rule of law in China has stalled, or even suffered a reversal, and there is mounting evidence that a crackdown is under way," Joshua Rosenzweig, research manager for the U.S.-based human rights group Dui Hua Foundation, told a U.S. congressional hearing Tuesday.
Yu said the book later will be available in English, and he hopes it can be made available for download online after its publication.
"If Wen doesn't agree," Yu said of his writing, "he can write an article to disagree."
Associated Press Writer Isolda Morillo contributed to this report.