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Zhao Ziyang Tapes Reveal Call for Democracy

May 15, 2009

Radio Free Asia
May 14, 2009

HONG KONG, May 14 -- Twenty years after the
People's Liberation Army crushed the student-led
pro-democracy movement in China with guns and
tanks, a former top Communist Party official has
released audio recordings in which former premier
Zhao Ziyang calls for parliamentary democracy for
China, Radio Frede Asia (RFA) reports.

Zhao, who fell into political disgrace in the
wake of the crackdown, described it in recordings
as "a tragedy to shock the world, which was
happening in spite of attempts to avert it."

He recalls hearing the sound of "intense gunfire"
on the evening of June 3, 1989 while sitting at
his Beijing home, where he was held under house
arrest until his death. He concludes in extracts
read from an unpublished political memoir that
the only way forward for China is a parliamentary democracy.

"Of course, it is possible that in the future a
more advanced political system than parliamentary
democracy will emerge," Zhao said. "But that is a
matter for the future. At present, there is no other."

He said China could not have a healthy economic
system, nor become a modern society with the rule of law without democracy.

"Instead, it will run into the situations that
have occurred in so many developing countries,
including China: the commercialization of power,
rampant corruption, and a society polarized between rich and poor."

Released by aide

Zhao's former political aide, Bao Tong, who
served a seven-year jail term in the wake of the
crackdown, released the tapes ahead of the 20th
anniversary of the violent suppression of the
1989 student movement, in which hundreds, perhaps more than 1,000, died.

"Zhao Ziyang left behind a set of audio
recordings. These are his legacy," Bao wrote to
RFA's Mandarin service from under house arrest at his Beijing home.

"Zhao Ziyang's legacy is for all of China's
people. It is my job to transmit them to the
world in the form of words and to arrange things," he said.

"Their contents have implications for a history
that is still influencing the people of China to
this day. The key theme of this history is reform," Bao said.

Authorities in Beijing suppressed any public
displays of grief for Zhao in the days after his
death on Jan. 17, 2005, detaining dozens of
people for wearing white flowers in his honor or
attempting to pay their respects at the former premier's home.

Zhao was openly mourned by thousands in the
former British colony of Hong Kong, however,
where is seen by many as a symbol of the
territory's own struggle for political change.

Educating China's youth

Bao said his purpose in releasing the tapes,
which he described as "political task," was
partly to educate a whole generation of young
people in China who had never heard of Zhao Ziyang.

"On the mainland at the current time, this part
of history has been sealed off and distorted, so
it will be useful to discuss some of this history for younger readers."

"The name of Zhao Ziyang was erased from news
media, books and periodicals, and the historical
record within China," Bao wrote in a six-part
essay accompanying the tapes, titled "The
Historical Background to the Zhao Ziyang Recordings."

"Zhao wanted to address the issues of official
corruption and democracy which were the concerns
of most ordinary Chinese people, using the
principle of the rule of law," Bao wrote of the
conflict between his former political mentor and
late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping.

"He wanted to instigate reforms of China's
political system alongside deepening economic
reforms, concentrating the attention of the whole
of society onto the issue of reforms."

The Chinese authorities have already begun
tightening security in and around Beijing ahead of the sensitive anniversary.

Articles and forum posts connected in any way to
the events of 20 years ago are being deleted
regularly from Chinese cyberspace, including an
appeal for the rehabilitation of Zhao and Hu
Yaobang, whose death on April 15, 1989 triggered the student movement.

Original reporting by RFA's Mandarin service.
Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou.
Translated and written in English by Luisetta
Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Radio Free Asia is a private, nonprofit
corporation broadcasting and publishing online
news, information, and commentary in nine East
Asian languages to listeners who do not have
access to full and free news media. RFA’s
broadcasts seek to promote the rights of freedom
of opinion and expression, including the freedom
to “seek, receive, and impart information and
ideas through any media and regardless of
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the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Sarah Jackson-Han
News Director, English
Radio Free Asia (RFA)
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