Stiffen Your Unbowed Backs!

He Wang in lobby

hide caption31-year old He Wang in front of words of inspiration spoken by China's leaders after the earthquake.

Andrea Hsu/NPR

In our story today about Beichuan, you hear two quotes read aloud magnificently by Beichuan's new deputy chief He Wang:

I firmly believe that no hardship can conquer the heroic Chinese people! (Hu Jintao)

Raise your strong heads, stiffen your unbowed backs, ignite your ardent hearts and march forward with full confidence! (Wen Jiabao)

As you can see from the photo, the exclamation points were not our addition.

He Wang is a Tsinghua-educated architect and urban planner, who was sent by Beijing to oversee the planning of the new Beichuan. He wasn't at all what I expected when the local propaganda department sent us to meet him.

First of all, he's young - just 31 years old. Second, he agreed to the interview with no prior notice and did not ask for a prepared question list. Third, I thought he was pretty frank with us, both about the pressures the local government is facing, and about the moral complexities of developing disaster tourism in Beichuan. You'll hear more about this in a story we're working on for Wednesday.

Clearly, he's well liked in these parts. As we were standing in the lobby in front of the quotes, a young woman from the government-run Sichuan News Network ran up to him giggling, and asked if she could have a photo with him. Then, as we were having lunch, a local official stopped by to tell us what a good man he is. "He's young! Smart! Came all the way from Beijing! And so handsome! All the girls love him! But he doesn't even have a girlfriend!"

Embarrased, He Wang muttered in English, "He is kidding. Just kidding."

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