Premier guided by a past close to the people

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Premier Li Keqiang's experiences decades ago in rural areas have shaped the reform philosophy he pursues today, which places people at the core.

When asked about the government's sweeping reforms at a news conference on Thursday, shortly after the close of the annual parliamentary session in Beijing, Li re-emphasized the basic purpose of reform: improving people's lives.

"The fundamental goal is to allow the market to exert its power to activate the innovative energy of the whole society, to let the government fulfill its responsibility so that people will benefit," he said.

Li recalled his days 30 years ago when China was operating under a planned economy. He spent about five years in the 1970s in rural areas and worked as Party chief in a village in Anhui province's Fengyang county from 1976 to 1978 before enrolling at Peking University to study law.

As a rural official, no matter how hard he worked to help villagers every day, there never seemed to be sufficient food for local farmers, he said.

That problem - basic subsistence - was solved with the introduction of the household contract responsibility system, which allowed farmers to decide what crops they should plant and how to grow them, Li said.

It was not the first time Li has mentioned his time in rural China and the positive changes he has witnessed thanks to the country's reform and opening-up.

In his media debut as premier with journalists from around the world in 2013, Li noted that he received his university admissions letter while he was working on a farm.

"Reform and opening-up changed our country's destiny and pulled hundreds of millions of farmers out of poverty. It also created turning points in many people's lives," he said. "Now the important task of reform has fallen on the shoulders of our generation, and I think we should try our best to make sure the general public can enjoy the dividends."

Liang Yanhui, a professor at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, said Li's ideas about reform and his compassion toward the poor spring from his early observations. Those rural experiences give him a unique perspective that allows him to put himself into the farmers' shoes, Liang said.

"Those experiences translate to compassion when Premier Li makes decisions," she said.

Yuan Ruijun, associate professor at the School of Government at Peking University, said the premier attained his current stature from a grassroots background, having established a close relationship with farmers through years of hardship and poverty in rural China.

As a result, when Li became a senior official he made a priority of improving people's livelihood, Yuan said.

Zhu Lijia, a professor specializing in political reform at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said Li's earlier experience may be relevant but is not necessarily decisive in the new leadership's determination to deepen reform. What leaders undertook was simply a response to the modern-day realities and needs of China, Zhu said.

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