Book critical of Chinese PM Wen Jiabao goes on sale

image captionAuthor Yu Jie could be arrested and face jail for his book

A controversial new book written by a Chinese dissident critical of China's Premier Wen Jiabao has gone on sale in Hong Kong.

The book, entitled China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao, dismisses Mr Wen's image as a reformist.

Author Yu Jie told the BBC his aim was not just to criticise Mr Wen, but to develop the idea of free speech.

Mr Yu was briefly detained last month by the police, who warned him not to publish the book.

Wen Jiabao has gained popularity in China by showing sympathy with ordinary people, especially during natural disasters like the mudslide last week.

But Mr Yu says he does not believe in this public persona.

"Wen Jiabao and [Chinese President] Hu Jintao are like the two sides of a coin. They are on a tandem bike, heading in the same direction. I think they are playing the good-guy-bad-guy routine, like the harsh-dad-loving-mum sort of thing," he told the BBC's Chinese service.

"But they share the same goal, which is to strengthen their power base. I think they have more in common than differences. That's why I don't agree with the unrealistic view held by many Western scholars and China observers, as well as many Chinese people, that Wen is a reformist, that he is more open. I have a different view, which may not necessarily be the right one, but needs to be voiced."

Some might wonder what all the fuss is about - after all, Mr Yu is not the first person to suggest that politicians use the media to project a warm image, says the BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing.

But in China this idea is not often discussed; the country's leaders face very little criticism - most negative images are banned, our correspondent adds.

Risk of arrest

Mr Yu's Hong Kong publisher, Bao Pu, says he fears the writer could be arrested and face jail for his book, but that both he and Mr Yu felt it necessary to ignore the threat of police action, in order to maintain their freedom to print.

"There is certainly... a threat, and there's the possible consequences. The last thing I want is, after publishing this book, for Yu Jie to get arrested," Mr Bao said.

Despite the problems, Mr Yu thinks publishing his book is worth the risk: "I think modern citizens in a modern society should have the right to criticise and be suspicious of their leaders.

"The purpose of this book is not only to criticise individuals and the communist system, but also to develop the idea of freedom of speech."

The book is on sale in Hong Kong and is also likely to be sold in Chinese in North America.

Mr Yu's first book sold more than two million copies, but he is barred from printing his books in mainland China. Instead, he prints them in Taiwan and, now, Hong Kong.

Hong Kong, due to its semi-autonomous status, enjoys press freedom, unlike the rest of mainland China.

'Limited impact'

Ding Xueliang, a political psychologist formerly at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Beijing, said the book might have a dramatic impact on readers outside China

Mr Ding argued that the author, a devout Christian, held a special place among Chinese dissidents by virtue of both his reputation as a moral authority and his sheer productivity as a political writer.

However, he told the BBC World Service: "It is harder to say what impact it will have on China's domestic readership as the great majority of people there will have no access to either the book or commentaries on it."

Those who do manage to read the book may come away feeling very angry and questioning the political system that has produced him, he suggested.

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