The White Tiger

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Wen Jiabao Character Analysis

The Chinese Premier to whom Balram addresses his letter and narrates his life story. Jiabao is a visiting Chinese official who expresses interest in learning the secrets of Indian entrepreneurship, so he can return to foster entrepreneurship in China. Balram knows that Jiabao will only learn the official story of Indian business from the politicians he meets, which is why he takes it upon himself to tell Jiabao the truth about entrepreneurialism in his country by using himself as an example.

Wen Jiabao Quotes in The White Tiger

The The White Tiger quotes below are all either spoken by Wen Jiabao or refer to Wen Jiabao. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Free Press edition of The White Tiger published in 2008.
Chapter 5: The Fifth Night Quotes

“The Rooster Coop was doing its work. Servants have to keep other servants from becoming innovators, experimenters, or entrepreneurs. Yes, that’s the sad truth, Mr. Premier. The coop is guarded from the inside.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker), Wen Jiabao, Vitiligo-Lips
Related Symbols: The Rooster Coop
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

Kusum Granny sends Balram a letter encouraging him to marry. While he is tempted, Balram eventually decides this choice will entrap him: He sees his family as a set of obstacles that are part of the Rooster Coop.

This passage adds an additional facet to the entrapping-mechanism of the Coop: the way roosters in the Coop prevent others from escaping. Previously Balram has described the way other servants from Ashok’s family have sought to halt his goals. Here it is not only unknown servants but also family members that play this role—for Balram repeatedly finds himself torn between pursuing his entrepreneurial exploits and following the wishes of Kusum Granny. Balram thus justifies his rejection of his family and of any affiliation with other servants based on the idea that they will keep him within the Coop.

Though this dynamic might imply that the roosters fight each other in order to escape the cage, Balram’s language explicitly resists that interpretation. His use of the passive voice in the phrases “Rooster Coop was doing”and “is guarded” indicates that these actions are not actively chosen by the roosters but rather stem from the entrapping social system. Indeed, the servants are not battling for a select few spots as “innovators, experiments, or entrepreneurs” but simply preventing anyone from gaining that power. They thus function as a self-encasing guard cohort that has adopted the logic of the cage owners.


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Chapter 8: The Seventh Night Quotes

“There is no end to things in India, Mr. Jiabao, as Mr. Ashok so correctly used to say. You’ll have to keep paying and paying the fuckers. But I complain about the police the way the rich complain; not the way the poor complain.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker), Mr. Ashok, Wen Jiabao
Page Number: 266
Explanation and Analysis:

Balram continues to explore the murky ethics of his new profession. He explains that he remains entrapped in the socially corrupt system despite his success.

Lest the reader believe that Balram’s entrepreneurial exploits have allowed him to fully transcend Indian society, our narrator assures us that corruption still predominates. That “there is no end to things in India” implies that his single success has not led to a full-fledged revolution: He cannot overthrow a complete social system but rather must continue to operate within its confines. “The fuckers” may have changed names for Balram, but the process of “paying and paying” continues. His newfound success does not change that fundamental system but only his relationship to it—complaining as “the rich complain.”

Balram’s point here also helps explain away his continued corrupt actions: the reader might expect a utopian ending in which he acts with perfect morality and without regard for the corrupt Indian government. But Balram instead justifies his behaviors by pointing out that even the white tiger is beholden to his society, and that, given that no one can escape the world, it's better to be a rich person in it than a poor person in it.

“Yet...even if they throw me in jail...Ill say it was all worthwhile to know, just for a day, just for an hours, just for a minute, what it means not to be a servant. I think I am ready to have children, Mr. Premier.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker), Wen Jiabao
Page Number: 276
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel comes to a close, Balram considers the fact that he may be caught for his murder. He continues to defend his choice, observing that even if he were punished, his moment of freedom would alone justify the punishment.

That living freely “just for a minute” would make worthwhile being thrown in jail speaks to the high value that Balram attributes to his freedom. Intriguingly, the value he attributes to freedom derives less from the experience of being free and rather from the knowledge that he is free: the mere awareness of what it feels like “not to be a servant.” Balram thus raises his individual liberty above all other values and experiences, defining it to be his singular and central goal in life.

The reference to having children is far less straightforward. Recall that Balram was previously attracted to marriage and to family life but believed that it would distract him from his goals. Similarly, we have seen that the family is a critical component of the Rooster Coop, which obstructs social mobility. Thus Balram’s feeling that he is “ready” for children might indicate that his success has sufficiently guarded him from those threats: He can have children because he has already emancipated himself (and his future children) from familial entrapment. At the same time, that Balram would see himself as ready for children only after achieving business success founded on murder and theft serves once more as a condemnation of the Indian society in which he lives, that much make such a sentiment logical.

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Wen Jiabao Character Timeline in The White Tiger

The timeline below shows where the character Wen Jiabao appears in The White Tiger. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The First Night
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
...Ashok Sharma), the novel’s narrator and protagonist, begins composing a letter to Chinese official Wen Jiabao, who is visiting India on diplomacy. Balram expresses his excitement as a local businessman that... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
To set the scene for Jiabao, Balram describes the luxurious Bangalore office from which he writes, and explains that he will... (full context)