BEIJING- Braving freezing weather, Premier Wen Jiabao made his way to the top complaints-hearing department on Monday to ask official to be more attentive to the complaints of the people, in order to create conditions for a critical constituency for a better government. The premier visited the State Bureau for Letter and Calls in South Beijing during the late afternoon.

This marks the first time a Chinese premier personally showed up to meet with Beijing’s petitioners since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. During his visit to the central-level department dealing with petitioners, Wen Jiabao urged government officials to foster an atmosphere that would be conducive to criticism and suggestions from the citizens, in order to facilitate channels where such grievances could be heard.

In the lobby of the building, while being surrounded by citizens with petition forms and documents, the premier urged that “Various administrative procedures should be made public and all administrative behavior should be supervised to ensure administrative power is exercised transparently.” Stressing the need for a well-connected government and constituents, he showed that having a personal touch in these matters can help, shaking hands with the citizens, asking about their complaints, and assuring that reasonable appeals will be approved.

Chen Guoan, a petitioner from Boai county in Central China, never expected such a visit from the premier when he went in that day. After the premier heard his case, he personally advised worker Wang Doxia to handle to complaint with the proper procedures and gravitas needed.

Other petitioners from Tianjin, Jilin, Shandong, Inner Mongolia, Hubei, Hebei, Shanxi and Jiangsu told the premier about the difficulties they face, such as payment delays, land expropriation, house demolitions and labor disputes. To assuage these concerns, the premier said that the State Council had already approved measure to protect rights of those who live and own property in the city.

Wen also had a few choice words for the farmers: “As some cases of land expropriation and house demolitions happen in rural areas, the State Council is conducting research to devise relevant laws and regulations to put an end to forced demolitions in rural areas as well,” he said. “Land is the lifeline of farmers,” he continued, “[and] the government must examine and approve projects using arable land strictly and in accordance with the law … and give reasonable compensation to farmers.”

Petitioners were very happy with the result of this visit. An Jun, a petitioner from Tianjin, said: “I never thought I would be able to talk to the premier up close. I felt strongly his people-friendly and practical working style,” while Wang Aiguo, a petitioner from Hubei, said: “I hope officials from various levels can all act like our premier and listen to our opinions.”

Finally, Wen also solicited opinions from the petitioners on problems associated with current government work. In particular, this feedback would be the basis of the draft government work report, and the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) which will be delivered for review at the annual plenary session of the national legislature in March.