Beijing: An affable academic who cracks jokes and cycles to work, Chen Jining is the face of China`s clean-up, turning his environment ministry from "most embarrassing" to a powerhouse that has taken on those driving growth at all costs.
Chen is no free agent - his message is tightly controlled in a country where the environment remains a sensitive issue. He is monitored and chaperoned, and many question how much of the push comes from Chen himself, a quiet professor.
His enthusiasm last year for "Under the Dome", a documentary about pollution, saw the film go viral and sparked a national debate, but Chen was quickly silenced and the film blocked.
Regardless, Chen`s power base continues to grow, industry executives and environmental observers say, as China cracks down on factories and polluting industries.
His elevation to the cabinet post was seen by ministry insiders and campaigners as a symbolic appointment, chosen by a government keen to appease public anger over damaging smog levels and environmental degradation with a young, telegenic outsider.
That anger coincides with a collapse in commodity prices and a corruption crackdown that has hit powerful players in oil, gas and resources, hurting those who campaigned for rapid economic growth.
That has left Chen, and the ministry that his predecessor called China`s "most embarrassing" government department, in the spotlight, and won him unusually broad public support.
"This is very rare," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a Chinese environmental group, who has attended conferences with Chen. "The environment ministry used to give people the impression that they didn`t do anything. There`s been a major change in the past year."
The ministry did not respond to a request for an interview with Chen.