What is it like to lead 1.3 billion people and keep an extremely vast, complicated country on the track of sustained economic growth accompanied with ever-increasing international prestige?
China's Hu Jintao seems to be the one who can offer an admirable and convincing answer.
The 65-year-old man was elected on Saturday to another term of five years as both Chinese president and chairman of the Central Military Commission, the country's top military command, by nearly 3,000 members of the national legislature.
Hu Jintao, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, is reelected president of the country and chairman of the Central Military Commission of China during the fifth plenary meeting of the NPC session in Beijing, capital of China, March 15, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)
Five months ago, he was reelected general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, the paramount decision-making body of the 73-million-member ruling party.
In the next five years, he will continue steering China in all major Party, state and military affairs.
Five years ago when first taking office as the Chinese president, Hu vowed to the people's delegates who voted for him: "I will fulfill the duty bestowed on me by the Constitution with great diligence, and serve my country and people heart and soul."
He has proved himself a man of his word with a remarkable performance over the period.
MASTERMIND OF SCIENTIFIC DEVELOPMENT
When Hu first took over the helm of the country, what he and his colleagues in the new leadership had inherited was a 25-year economic miracle featuring a stunning average annual growth of near-10 percent, as well as problems and challenges long veiled behind the rosy GDP figures -- widening urban-rural disparities, yawning income gap and deteriorating environment, just to name a few.
In the spring of 2003, almost immediately after the new Chinese leadership was installed, Hu and his colleagues were confronted with the sudden outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
One day in April, citizens in Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province worst hit by the deadly epidemic, were surprised to see Hu Jintao, wearing no facial mask, appear on a bustling downtown commercial street, smiling and waving to passers-by.
According to Guangdong local officials, Hu flew to Guangzhou as soon as he learnt that the rage of SARS was peaking in the city and causing widespread public panic.
But Hu wasn't there just for boosting public morale. Actually, it was during this Guangdong trip that he first put forth the idea of "a comprehensive conception of development," apparently a well thought-out answer to those hidden problems which had surfaced during the SARS crisis.
Three months later in Beijing, Hu officially called for the endorsement of a new development model for the country, which he said should be more "comprehensive, balanced and sustainable" than the old GDP-oriented growth model.
Four years later, the new theory, now formally named the "Scientific Outlook on Development", was written into the Party Constitution at the 17th CPC National Congress, becoming a guiding principle for the country's efforts to build "socialism with Chinese characteristics."
A Beijing-based political observer said that he had closely watched the performance of Hu and other new leaders of China during the SARS outbreak. "I was impressed by the fact that they not only overcame this major public crisis in a rather short period of time, but also turned it into an opportunity to readjust China's development pattern," he said.
However, the observer said that he didn't believe the new development concept was an overnight creation by Hu. As a matter of fact, people might find its earliest trace in a "development experiment" conducted by Hu two decades ago, when he was the Party chief of Guizhou, a secluded and underdeveloped province in southwest China.
In 1988, Hu launched a pilot program of poverty reduction in Bijie, a poverty-stricken mountainous region in northwest Guizhou mainly inhabited by ethnic minority people. From the very beginning, Hu had championed the idea of "balancing and coordinating economic growth, social development and environmental protection" in implementing the program.
Apart from the "Scientific Outlook on Development," Hu was also believed to be the mastermind and strong advocator of many other new political ideas and concepts that had gradually become popular phrases in the daily talks of the Chinese.
Most of these rather big political terms were simplified into short and easy-to-remember phrases of four Chinese characters, such as "Yi Ren Wei Ben" (putting people first), "He Xie She Hui" (harmonious society), "Zhi Zheng Neng Li" (governance capability of the Party), and "Ba Rong Ba Chi" (eight do's and eight don'ts for social ethics).
As China marks the 30th anniversary of its historic "Reform and Opening Up" policy this year, Hu has clearly stated that China will "unswervingly adhere to" this policy, which not only enjoys widespread support by the people, but also keeps up with the trend of the times.
"The orientation and path of reform and opening up are entirely correct, and their merits and achievements can never be negated," said Hu. "To stop or reverse it would only lead to a blind alley."
Political analysts both in and out of China say that Hu's statement has shown his confidence and determination to lead the country to advance steadfastly along the path of reform and opening up. It also helped end some unnecessary quarrel and debate in recent years regarding China's future development path.
When it comes to promoting democracy in the world's most populous nation, Hu not only has a practical roadmap, but also a feasible plan of implementation.
At the 17th CPC National Congress held in Beijing last October, Hu said in his keynote report that it is necessary to "expand intra-Party democracy to develop people's democracy."
Calling democracy "the lifeblood of socialism," Hu conspicuously mentioned the word "democracy" more than 60 times in his report. He also outlined the specific measures for improving intra-Party democracy, which include increasing transparency in Party affairs, adopting a tenure system for Party congress delegates, expanding voting for use at local Party committees, reforming the intra-Party electoral system, and gradually extending the direct election of leading members in primary Party organizations to more places.
Also at the 17th Party congress, for the first time in history, the CPC engaged its higher-ranking officials in a "democratic nomination" of candidates for the 25-member Party Central Committee Political Bureau, virtually putting the Party's new top leadership through a rare popularity test and competence evaluation.
"Hu's ideas of democracy is new," said Cheng Li, a researcher with the U.S.-based think bank Brookings Institution. Others say "there is more to expect" in China's democratic development.
WHO'S HU?" ANSWERED
Sources close to Hu say that they are often impressed by his capability to negotiate difficult situations, adding that Hu is able to take a firm stance and display reasonable flexibility at the same time.
From the diplomatic perspective, the Chinese president's first state visit to the United States in April 2006 was a significant opportunity for both countries to push forward their "constructive and cooperative relations." Personally speaking, however, the president may have another mission to fulfill -- to answer a question once raised by a prestigious U.S. magazine.
"Who's Hu?" -- This was the title of a Time magazine profile story on Hu Jintao in 2003, when he was just elected president and appeared somewhat "mysterious" to the outside world.
During his four-day visit, Hu engaged himself in extensive interactions with American business circles, tycoons, senior intellectuals, students and common people, many of whom were impressed and enchanted by his amicable, confident smile, candid attitude, and good sense of humor.
Diplomatic sources recalled that during various talks, Hu never yielded on issues concerning China's core national interests. Meanwhile, he was always "friendly and willing to listen", and appeared ready to communicate on any topics.
At the Yale University, Hu told his audience: "I hope when raising questions, my friends will give no mercy to me," cheering everyone up instantly, and discussed "democracy with Chinese characteristics" with the students.
"He was really given some tough questions, and he handled them very well," said John Kennedy, one of the Yale students present.
U.S. President George W. Bush, who had first summit meeting with Hu in 2003, said on several occasions that Hu is a "smart man" that he likes to talk with and "share issues together."
Four years after raising that question, the Time magazine put Hu Jintao on the list of Time's 100 who shaped the world in 2007.
Very few heads of state in the world could have a tighter diplomatic schedule than Hu Jintao over the past five years. He set foot on dozens of countries in both the developed and developing worlds. He shook hands with 48 heads of state and government from Africa at the Beijing Summit of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum, giving a strong push to the building of a new type of China-Africa strategic partnership.
An inheritor of the ancient Chinese wisdom about "peace and harmony," Hu advocated the fresh concept of a "harmonious world" at the United Nations' 60th anniversary summit in 2005, explaining the Chinese view about international relations and reassuring the world of China's commitment to peaceful development.
A GENTLEMAN BUT NOT ALWAYS GENTLE
As a graduate of the elite Qinghua University and a former engineer, Hu always behaves like a real gentleman in the traditional Chinese sense -- modest and low-profile, kind and easy to approach. However, at critical moments or on matters of principle, Hu is never "gentle" or "soft" in decision-making and action-taking.
Hu strongly detests corruption and has repeatedly said: "The CPC never tolerates corruption or any other negative phenomena, just as water and fire can never come together."
In his first five-year term, quite a few high-ranking Party and government officials were subjected to anti-corruption investigations, with those who were found guilty severely punished according to law.
In recent years, the Taiwan authorities have continuously taken provocative actions in the pursuit of "Taiwan independence," posing a severe threat to peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits and in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole.
Faced with the grave situation, Hu Jintao has put forth a series of new policies to help pull cross-Straits relations back to the track of peace and stability. Taiwan media described his policies as "tougher on tough issues, and softer on soft issues."
In March 2005, Hu put forward a four-point guideline for the cross-Straits relations -- The mainland will never sway in adhering to the one-China principle, never give up efforts to seek peaceful reunification, never change the principle of placing hope on the Taiwan people, and never compromise in opposing the "Taiwan independence" secessionist activities.
On the other hand, Hu invited Taiwan political leaders, including then Kuomintang (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan and People First Party Chairman James CY Soong, to visit the mainland, and held historic meetings with them. During the meetings, he clearly stated that peace and development should become the main theme for the cross-Straits relations, as well as the common goal for people on both sides of the Taiwan Straits.
Earlier this month, on the sidelines of the annual parliament session, Hu once again sent a heart-warming message to the Taiwan people, saying that: "We shall join hands with as many Taiwan compatriots as possible to promote China's peaceful reunification."
Lien Fang-yu, wife of Lien Chan, only met Hu Jintao three times when she accompanied her husband to the mainland, but she might have given one of the most accurate descriptions of Hu's personality.
"He seems solemn at first glance but actually is very gentle when you get to know him," she wrote in her latest memoirs.
PUTTING PEOPLE FIRST
Lu Zhanlin, a poor farmer at Xishungou Village of the northern Hebei Province, never imagined that the President, only seen on TV before, would step into his shabby house on the eve of the traditional Spring Festival in 2004, sit shoulder to shoulder with him, and help him make Jiao Zi (meat stuffed dumplings) for the whole family.
"I also heard President Hu ask the accompanying village chief to make sure that all families in the village, especially those needy ones, have dumplings to eat for the festival," recalled Lu.
Domestic and foreign media recorded this touching moment, calling it an indication of China's new pro-poor policy, and even named it the "dumpling policy."
In the following years, the coverage of this policy has gone far beyond the limits of "poor farmers" or "dumplings", with more social disadvantaged groups and have-nots having close contacts with the President.
In some typical cases and most memorable moments, Hu had shaken hands with AIDS patients, helped ethnic minority families to make sticky rice cakes, and judged a tug-of-war between Chinese and foreign intellectually disabled athletes.
"Development is for the people, by the people and with the people sharing its fruits." -- This is how Hu interprets his idea of "putting people first."
Hu's longtime aides say that the president has a special interest in field study on the vast rural areas, where more than 700 million Chinese reside. One of these aides told Xinhua: "The President prefers random visits to prearranged inspections. Sometimes he would suddenly ask us to stop the car by a crop field, so that he can personally go into the field to check seedling growth and soil fertility."
"While paying a surprise visit to a villager's house, he would always check the thickness of the quilts on the bed and the food being cooked in the kitchen, so as to find out the truth about the villager's living standard," the aide added.
In 2007, during a visit to Dingxi County of the northwestern Gansu Province, Hu Jintao asked some local farmers to give some "candid comments" on the country's agricultural policies.
"If you think these policies are good, we will carry them on; if you don't think so, we will improve them," he said.
In January 2008, most of China's southern provinces were hit by the worst snowstorm in decades and suffered a severe shortage of coal for thermo power generation. Within one day, Hu paid a whirlwind visit to a major coal mine, a railway terminal and a large sea harbor in north China, urging workers there to produce more coal and increase the transportation volume.
"The snow is still falling and the disaster is spreading. I am burning with anxiety. Just can't sleep or eat well," he told the workers.
A few days later, he visited a remote village seriously affected by the snow disaster near Guilin of the southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and spent the Spring Festival, or the Chinese lunar new year, with the villagers.
PATH TO LEADERSHIP
Although born in the affluent east China, Hu spent the prime time of his youth working in the poor and barren western regions.
As the Party chief of Guizhou, he had traveled extensively for personal investigations, leaving his footsteps in all the 86 counties and cities of the province. During his four-year stay in Tibet, Hu, braving the plateau region's hostile natural conditions, visited many areas and established extensive contacts with people from different walks of life. This had given him a chance to get a full picture of the country.
People close to him revealed that Hu always reminded himself and other senior officials of the necessity to keep a sober mind and stay alert to possible risks, no matter what favorable situation the country is faced with.
"People's voice is the top indicator, their need is the top priority, and their satisfaction level is the top criterion for our work," Hu always said.
A native of Jixi county in eastern Anhui Province, Hu was born in Taizhou city of neighboring Jiangsu Province in December 1942 and grew up there till he was enrolled in the Qinghua University.
Leaving the college in 1968, he had a long and rich experience of working in west China, 14 years in Gansu and eight years in Guizhou and Tibet.
In the early 1980s, Hu headed the Communist Youth League of China (CYLC), the world's largest youth organization with more than 50 million members at that time.
Hu walked into spotlight in 1992, when at the age of 49 he became the youngest member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, the country's top decision making body.
In the following decade, he directly participated in the decision making of major Party, political, military and foreign affairs, gaining much experience and showing great competence.
At the first plenary session of the 16th CPC Central Committee in 2002, he was elected General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, and was elected Chinese President the next March.
In 2004, he became chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission at the fourth plenary session of the 16th CPC Central Committee. Source:Xinhua