BEIJING — Chinese leaders are not known for making themselves available to the public, even since the Internet opened the door to governments around the world. But Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has jumped into the online social networking world with a page on Facebook, one of the most popular sites of its kind.
As of early Wednesday, the page had about 13,000 “supporters.” It reflects the booming popularity of Mr. Wen, also known as “Grandpa Wen,” who flew to Sichuan Province hours after the May 12 earthquake there and traveled through the hardest-hit towns, expressing sympathy to victims all the way. He became the face of China’s grief.
The page appears to have been set up recently. It is not clear whether Mr. Wen, 65, did it himself. Perhaps another government official put it up, or, just as likely, someone with no ties to Mr. Wen.
It bears a portrait of Mr. Wen in a gray suit, his lips set in what could be either a slight grin or a slight grimace.
The page offers a few bits of biographical information: His interests are Chinese literature and baseball, and his employer is the Central Government of the People.
More than 500 people have written on Mr. Wen’s Facebook “wall,” in Chinese and English.
The page does not have popular Facebook applications like Scrabulous, Cities I’ve Visited and Shelfari Books, but what it lacks in technical pizazz it makes up for in emotional reach.
It has a video showing horrific scenes from the earthquake playing beneath a mournful pop song. It has a photo of Mr. Wen holding up a schoolchild’s dusty backpack and white sneaker while atop rubble, and one of him crouching and looking at rescue workers digging in a hole.
It also has photos from playful times, like ones of him wearing a baseball uniform and catching a ball with a mitt.
The vast majority of supporters appear to be Chinese living overseas, from Taiwan to Vancouver to Milwaukee.
The remark most often inscribed on his wall is “Zhongguo jia you!” (“Go China!”).
Timothy Lin of Singapore wrote, “Great leaders like PM Wen are hard to come by,” while Edmond Ip of Hong Kong wrote, “Wen Jiabao is like a kind grandpa to me (smiley face).”
Mr. Wen is one of hundreds of politicians with Facebook pages. A feature called Browse the Politicians ranks those leaders (dead and alive) by the number of supporters their pages have.
At last look, Mr. Wen was 12th, lagging behind luminaries like Barack Obama (the leader, with more than 861,000 fans) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (nearly 21,000). But Mr. Wen was well ahead of Hugo Chávez, Princess Diana and Ronald Reagan.