Hu Jintao was born on 21 December 1942 in Taizhou, Jiangsu province. His branch of the family migrated from Jixi County, Anhui to Taizhou during his grandfather's generation. Though his father owned a small tea trading Business in Taizhou, the family was relatively poor. His mother was a Teacher and died when he was 7, and he was raised by an aunt. Hu's father was denounced during the Cultural Revolution, an event that (together with his relatively humble origins) apparently had a deep effect upon Hu, who diligently tried to clear his father's name.
He joined the Communist Party of China (CPC) in April 1964 and began to work as an Engineer in July 1965 after he graduated from the Water Conservancy Engineering Department at Tsinghua University, where he majored in the study of hub hydropower stations.
In 1968, Hu volunteered for his Service in Gansu and worked on the construction of Liujiaxia Hydroelectric Station while also managing CPC affairs for the local branch of the Ministry of Water Resources and Electric Power. From 1969 to 1974, he worked for Sinohydro Engineering Bureau as an Engineer.
In 1973, Hu was transferred to the Construction Department of Gansu as a secretary. The next year he was promoted to vice senior chief. In 1980, Deng Xiaoping implemented the "Four Transformations" program, which aimed to produce communist Leaders who were "more revolutionary, younger, more knowledgeable, and more specialized." In response to this nationwide search for young party members, Song Ping, the first secretary of CPC Gansu Committee (Gansu's governor) discovered Hu Jintao and promoted him several ranks to the position of deputy head of the commission. Another protégé of Song, Wen Jiabao, also became prominent at the same time.
In 1982, Hu was promoted to the position of Communist Youth League Gansu Branch Secretary and was appointed as the Director of the All-China Youth Federation. His mentor Song Ping was transferred to Beijing as Minister of Organization of the Communist Party of China, and was in charge of senior cadres' recommendation, candidacy and promotion. With the support of Hu Yaobang and Deng Xiaoping, Hu was assured of a bright Future in the party. At Song Ping's suggestion, in 1982 central CPC authorities invited Hu to Beijing to study at the Central Party School. Soon after, he was transferred to Beijing and appointed as secretariat of the Communist Youth League Central Committee ("CY Central"). Two years later Hu was promoted to First Secretary of CY Central, thus its actual leader. During his term in the Youth League, Hu escorted Hu Yaobang, who was CPC General Secretary then, in visits around the country. Hu Yaobang, himself a veteran coming from the Youth League, could reminiscence his youth through Hu's company.
In 1985, then-Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang (no relation) pushed for Hu Jintao to be transferred to Guizhou as the provincial Committee Secretary of Communist Party of China. Hu attempted to improve the economy of the backwater province, and reputedly visited all of its eighty-six counties. While in Guizhou, Hu was careful to follow Beijing's directives and had a reputation of being "airtight"; he rarely would offer his views on policy matters in public. While Hu was generally seen as an official with integrity and honesty, some locals preferred his predecessor Zhu Houze. In 1987, Hu Jintao handled the local students protest parallel to the Democracy Wall carefully, whereas in Beijing similar protests resulted in Hu Yaobang's forced resignation.
Hu Yaobang was purged in the late 1980s due to his 'liberal' tendencies towards systemic reform, and his departure from the political scene was initially seen as unfavourable towards Hu Jintao. Hu Jintao drew criticism from party elders for failing to criticize the ousted reformer. In 1988, Hu was transferred to become Party Regional Committee Secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, while also taking on the role of Political Commissar of the local People's Liberation Army units. This made Hu effectively the number-one figure in the vast, restive region. A number of Tibetans have long been opposed to government policy in the region. Unrest and ethnic conflict were brewing, particularly anti-Communist Chinese sentiments among segments of ethnic Tibetan society. Minor clashes had been occurring since 1987, and when the scale of unrest grew, Hu responded with the deployment of some 1,700 People's Armed Police into Lhasa in February 1989 in an attempt to warn against further disturbance. Increased clashes culminated in serious rioting in Lhasa's core on 5 March 1989, five days before the 30th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. What occurred after is a matter of dispute. Rioters accused the police of shooting them arbitrarily, and the police claimed that they had acted in self-defense. In addition, there was speculation that Hu delayed his orders to clamp down on the protesters until late into the evening, when the police chief was forced to act because the situation was spiraling out of control. The protesters were suppressed early into the next day, and Hu asked Beijing to declare martial law on 8 March.
Hu's role in the demonstrations and rioting on 5 March was never made clear. While it is general protocol that Hu must have at least implicitly approved the use of force against protesters, whether he actually gave orders throughout 5 March is a matter of debate. In addition, John Tkacik cites that Hu had been coordinating with the Chengdu Military Region for troops to be on full alert as the situation progressed. Some diplomatic analysts linked what they saw as Hu's brutal use of force to the suppression of Activists and students in Tiananmen Square, which took place three months later. Whether Hu provided "inspiration" for the PLA on 4 June is a matter of debate, but it was clear that Hu's actions in Lhasa earned him unprecedented attention in the upper echelons of party power, including by "paramount leader" Deng Xiaoping. When tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square, Hu was one of the first regional Leaders to publicly declare his support for the central authorities. Hu experienced high-altitude sickness in June 1990, and returned to Beijing, but remained in his position for another two years, during which Hu achieved little. But his departure to Beijing was seen as a merely means to return to the centerfold of Chinese politics, which led to some doubts as to whether or not he was as ill as he had claimed. Martin Seiff of United Press International commented on Putin and Hu, "Both are tough and able authoritarians who had extensive experience of repressing dissent on their rise to the top."
Early in his presidency, Hu faced an independence-supporting counterpart in then ROC President Chen Shui-bian. Chen called for talks without any preconditions, repudiating the 1992 consensus. Chen Shui-bian and his party had continued to express an ultimate goal of de jure Taiwanese independence, and made statements on the political status of Taiwan that the PRC considers provocative. Hu's initial response was a combination of "soft" and "hard" approaches. On the one hand, Hu expressed a flexibility to negotiate on many issues of concern to Taiwan. On the other hand, he continued to refuse talks without preconditions and remained committed to Chinese reunification as an ultimate goal. While Hu gave some signs of being more flexible with regard to political relationships with Taiwan as in his 17 May Statement, where he offered to address the issue of "international living space" for Taiwan, Hu's government remained firm in its position that the PRC would not tolerate any attempt by the Taiwanese government to declare de jure independence from China.
On 15 November 2002, a new Hu Jintao-led Politburo nominally succeeded Jiang. Although Jiang, then 76, stepped down from the powerful General Secretary and the Politburo Standing Committee to make way for a younger "fourth generation" of leadership, there was speculation that Jiang would retain significant influence because Hu was not associated with Jiang's influential Shanghai clique, to which six out of the nine members of the all-powerful Standing Committee were believed to be linked. However, later developments show that many of its members have shifted their positions. Zeng Qinghong, for Example, moved from a disciple of Jiang to serving as an intermediary between the two factions. In 2003, Jiang was also re-elected to the post of Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the CPC, a post from which Deng Xiaoping was able to wield power from behind the scenes as "paramount leader", thus retaining military power.
The first crisis of Hu's leadership happened during the outbreak of SARS in 2003. Following strong criticism of China for initially covering up and responding slowly to the crisis, he dismissed several party and government officials, including the health minister, who supported Jiang, and the Mayor of Beijing, Meng Xuenong, widely perceived as Hu's protégé.
After Chen's re-election in 2004, Hu's government changed tactics, conducting a no-contact policy with Taiwan due to Chen and the DPP's independence leanings and repudiation of the 1992 consensus. The government maintained its military build-up against Taiwan, and pursued a vigorous policy of isolating Taiwan diplomatically. In March 2005, the Anti-Secession Law was passed by the National People's Congress, formalizing "non-peaceful means" as an option of response to a declaration of independence in Taiwan.
Hu's government increased contacts with the Kuomintang (KMT), its erstwhile foe in the Chinese Civil War, and still a major party in Taiwan. The increased contacts culminated in the 2005 Pan-Blue visits to mainland China, including a historic meeting between Hu and then-KMT chairman Lien Chan in April 2005. This was the first meeting between the Leaders of the two parties since the conclusion of World War II.
In response to the great number of social problems in China, in March 2006, Hu Jintao released the "Eight Honors and Eight Shames" as a set of moral codes to be followed by the Chinese people, and emphasized the need to spread the message to youth. Alternatively known as the "Eight Honors and Disgraces", it contained eight poetic lines which summarized what a good citizen should regard as an honor and what to regard as a shame. It has been widely regarded as one of Hu Jintao's ideological solutions to the perceived increasing lack of morality in China after Chinese economic reforms brought in a generation of Chinese predominantly concerned with earning money and power in an increasingly frail social fabric.
In June 2007, Hu gave an important speech at the Central Party School that was indicative of his position of power and his guiding philosophies. In the speech Hu used a very populist tone to appeal to ordinary Chinese, making serious note of the recent challenges China was facing, especially with regards to income disparity. In addition, Hu noted the need for "increased democracy" in the country.
Most external observers agree that Hu presided over a decade of consistent economic growth, led China through the storm of the global financial crisis relatively unscathed, and increased China's international stature immensely. Hu's tenure is also credited with modernizing China's infrastructure, the launch of China's first manned spaceprobe, and the success of two international events: the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 Shanghai Expo. In addition, Hu's "soft approach" to Taiwan, coinciding with the election of a Kuomintang government in Taipei, was credited for having improved relationship between mainland China and Taiwan. Trade and contact between the two sides increased significantly during Hu's tenure. In addition, Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao's populist policies have resulted in the elimination of agricultural taxes for farmers, more flexible policies towards migrant workers living in cities, more balanced development between the coastal regions and the hinterlands, enforcing minimum wage in cities and the promotion of sustainable and affordable housing developments. The response to the SARS public health crisis and the massive expansion of health insurance coverage for middle- to low-income citizens earned Hu accolades domestically. Generally speaking, these policies have been well received by the Chinese public.
In foreign policy, Hu's critics say that his government was overly aggressive in asserting its new power, overestimated its reach, and raised the ire and apprehension of various neighbours, including Southeast Asian countries, India, and Japan. Such policies are also said to be provocative towards the United States. Domestic critics, including the country's elites, intellectuals, and particularly dissidents, point to various shortcomings of the Hu administration and his failure in implementing his signature "Socialist Harmonious Society" policy. They cite, for Example, that China's internal security budget exceeded its military budget during Hu's tenure as protests and other 'mass incidents' continued to increase across the country. China's Gini coefficient climbed to 0.47 by 2010, indicating a potentially unsustainable gap between the rich and the poor. The Hu administration's inability to rein in the wealth gap and its renewed emphasis on the role of state-owned enterprises in the economy led some economists to believe that Hu missed a critical opportunity for reform and structural adjustment.
Political observers indicate that Hu distinguished himself from his predecessor in both domestic and foreign policy. Hu's political philosophy during his leadership is summarized by three slogans — a "Harmonious Socialist Society" domestically and "Peaceful Development" internationally, the former aided by the Scientific Development Concept, which seeks integrated sets of solutions to arrays of economic, environmental and social problems, and recognizes, in inner circles, a need for cautious and gradual political reforms. The Scientific Development doctrine has been written into the Communist Party and State Constitutions in 2007 and 2008, respectively. The role of the Party has changed, as formulated by Deng Xiaoping and implemented by Jiang Zemin, from a revolutionary party to a ruling party. Hu continues the Party’s modernization, calling for both "Advancement" of the Party and its increasing transparency in governance.
Hu's tough-on-corruption policies have seen mixed results. While there have been some attempts to increase transparency in the expenditures of official organs and bureaucrats, deeply entrenched systemic issues that were contributing to the growth of corruption remained unresolved. In addition, the massive corruption scandal that ensnared the military shortly after Hu's departure from office showed that Hu was unable to tackle entrenched interests in the military. In his own departing speech at the 18th Party Congress, Hu emphasized the potentially devastating effects that unchecked corruption would have on the party and the country. Moreover, the Hu administration's insistence on censorship and the curtailing of freedom of speech drew extensive criticism from human rights organizations and Western governments, while artists and Writers inside the country chided increased restrictions on cultural expressions during Hu's term. Although in the early years of his tenure Hu attempted to pioneer a form of "intraparty democracy" that called for greater participation from lower-ranked members to determine policy and select the leadership, there was little evidence of meaningful changes to the party's governing structure and decision-making process.
Western criticism of Hu, particularly regarding human rights, exposes his hypersensitivity to social stability but does not lay as much emphasis on his fresh commitment to address China’s multi-faceted social problems. Hu’s pragmatic, non-ideological agenda had two core values—maintaining social stability to further economic development and sustaining Chinese culture to enrich national sovereignty. In domestic policy, he seems to want more openness to the public on governmental functions and meetings. Recently, China's news agency published many Politburo Standing Committee meeting details. He also cancelled many events that are traditionally practiced, such as the lavish send-off and welcoming-back ceremonies of Chinese Leaders when visiting foreign lands. Furthermore, the Chinese leadership under Hu also focused on such problems as the gap between rich and poor and uneven development between the interior and coastal regions. Both party and state seem to have moved away from a definition of development that focuses solely on GDP growth and toward a definition which includes social equality and environment effects.