Zhao Ziyang secret memoir to be published soon
The Washington Post reports today of the impending publication of Chinese leader-turned-dissident Zhao Ziyang next week timed to coincide with the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen protests. Zhao opposed the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown and had pushed for free market reforms, which were initially opposed by the hardliners who pushed him out but later embraced by Deng Xiaoping:
Reaching from the grave, Zhao pillories a conservative wing of the party for missteps that led to the bloody crackdown, which began after dark on June 3, 1989, and left hundreds dead. Few in China’s leadership at the time escape Zhao’s criticism. He castigates Deng Xiaoping, the man credited with opening China to the West and launching its economic reforms; Li Peng, the dour premier at the time of the Tiananmen tragedy; Deng Liqun, a hard-line party theoretician; Li Xiannian, a former vice president; and even Hu Yaobang, Zhao’s longtime ally, whose death April 15, 1989, touched off the student-led protests.
But Zhao’s memoir also constitutes a broader challenge to the generally accepted version of history, especially in China, that places Deng at the center of the economic reforms that have turned China into a global economic power. While acknowledging that none of the reforms “would have been possible without Deng Xiaoping’s support,” Zhao depicts Deng as more of a benevolent godfather than a hands-on architect. Much of the critical design — such as dismantling agricultural communes, mapping out China’s hugely successful export-led growth model and conjuring up ideological sleights-of-hand that allowed China’s Communists to embrace capitalism — was left to Zhao. In China, Zhao’s role in the momentous economic changes and political events that led up to the Tiananmen crackdown have been airbrushed from history. “Prisoner of the State” is his attempt to place himself back in the picture.
For his opposition to the Tiananmen crackdown and his push for free market reforms, Zhao was placed under house arrest till his death in 2005:
It has long been known from numerous accounts that Zhao opposed the decision to suppress the student-led demonstrations but was overruled by China’s other top leaders. Purged from his post as general secretary of the Communist Party just days before the crackdown, Zhao spent the next 16 years, until his death in 2005, as the most prominent “non-person” in the world — “consigned,” as he says in the memoir, “to oblivion through silence.”
The tapes from which the book was written were made secretly in Zhao’s home:
Under virtual house arrest, in 1999 he secretly started making cassette recordings with friends, according to Bao Pu, one of the editors of the memoir for the publisher, Simon & Schuster. Bao Pu is the son of Bao Tong, a top political aide to Zhao who was jailed for six years after the crushing of the Tiananmen Square protests. Over the course of a year or so, he said in an interview, Zhao recorded roughly 30 tapes in a game of cat-and-mouse with security agents stationed at his home in a courtyard in central Beijing.
Initially, Zhao made the tapes on the rare occasions he was allowed to leave his home. But that proved perilous, because each time Zhao ventured out, he was wrapped in a security bubble and confronted at his destination by more police. So Zhao continued the project at home, passing completed tapes to trusted visitors. Bao Pu first learned of the tapes following Zhao’s death Jan. 17, 2005; it took several years to amass all of them and to gain permission from people close to Zhao to publish the memoirs, he said.
After he was stripped from power, Zhao Ziyang was virtually erased from the Chinese state media’s reporting. The media deliberately omitted the fact that he was once a leader of the Communist party when news of his death broke out in 2005.