Join our Mailing List

"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

In Secret Memoir, a Rare Look Inside China's Politics

May 17, 2009

By ERIK ECKHOLM
The International Herald Tribune
May 14, 2009

In May 1989, as he feuded with hard-line party
rivals over how to handle the students occupying
Tiananmen Square, China’s Communist Party chief
requested a personal audience with Deng Xiaoping,
the patriarch behind the scenes.

One man’s stand in 1989, above. In a forthcoming
book, a former Chinese leader tells of the
crackdown on the pro-democracy protests of 20 years ago.

The party chief, Zhao Ziyang, was told to go to
Mr. Deng’s home on the afternoon of May 17 for
what he thought would be a private talk. To his
dismay, he arrived to find that Mr. Deng had
assembled several key members of the Politburo,
including Mr. Zhao’s bitter foes.

"I realized that things had already taken a bad
turn," Mr. Zhao recalls in a secretly recorded
memoir only now coming to light -- a rare
first-person account of crisis politics at the
highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party.

 From Mr. Deng’s impatient body language and the
scathing attacks he received from his rivals, Mr.
Zhao says in the memoir, which is now being
published in book form, it was obvious that Mr.
Deng had already decided to overrule Mr. Zhao’s
proposal for dialogue with the students and impose martial law.

"It seems my mission in history has already
ended," Mr. Zhao recalls telling a party elder
later that day. "I told myself that no matter
what, I would not be the general secretary who
mobilized the military to crack down on students."

As Mr. Zhao anticipated, he was immediately
sidelined and soon vilified for "splitting the
party." He was purged and placed under house arrest until his death in 2005.

But in this long, enforced retirement, it turns
out, Mr. Zhao secretly recorded his own account,
on 30 musical cassette tapes that were spirited
out of the country by former aides and
supporters, of his rise to national power in the
1980s, his battles with the old guard, and his
alliance and tussles with Mr. Deng as he loosened
Soviet-style controls and helped put China on a
path to the dynamic economic power it has become today.

Mr. Zhao also tells how he was outmaneuvered
during the lengthy student-led pro-democracy
demonstrations in the spring of 1989, setting up
his ouster shortly before the military crackdown on June 4 of that year.

One striking claim in the memoir, scholars who
have seen it said, is that Mr. Zhao presses the
case that he pioneered the opening of China’s
economy to the world and the initial introduction
of market forces in agriculture and industry --
steps he says were fiercely opposed by
hard-liners and not always fully supported by Mr.
Deng, the paramount leader, who is often credited
with championing market-oriented policies.

In the late 1970s, as the party chief in Sichuan
Province, Mr. Zhao had started dismantling
Maoist-style collective farms. Mr. Deng, who had
just consolidated power after Mao’s death,
brought him to Beijing in 1980 as prime minister
with a mandate for change. Mr. Zhao, who like
other Chinese leaders had little training in or
experience of market economics, describes his
political battles and missteps as he tried to
give more rein to free enterprise.

Roderick MacFarquhar, a China expert at Harvard
who wrote an introduction to the new book, said
it had given him a new appreciation of Mr. Zhao’s
central role in devising economic strategies,
including some, like promoting foreign trade in
coastal provinces, that he had urged on Mr. Deng,
rather than the other way around.

"Deng Xiaoping was the godfather, but on a
day-to-day basis Zhao was the actual architect of
the reforms," Mr. MacFarquhar said in an interview.

Recording over children’s songs and Beijing Opera
performances on the cassettes in his guarded
compound just north of Tiananmen Square, Mr. Zhao
describes in generally modest terms his tenure as
prime minister and then party secretary.

Mr. Zhao had initially wrote notes and then
around 2000, encouraged by three sympathetic
former officials who were allowed to visit him,
decided to tape his memoirs, which he did partly
in the presence of those supporters, said Bao
Tong, a former close adviser to Mr. Zhao who
remains under tight surveillance in Beijing.

Two of the former officials have since died, but
one of them, Du Dao-zheng, a former senior
official who oversaw press and publications,
arranged for a copy of the tapes to be smuggled
to Hong Kong. Mr. Du, who lives in China, decided
in recent weeks to openly acknowledge his role in
a statement that is quoted in the forthcoming
Chinese edition of the memoir but not available
in time for the English edition.

Mr. Bao, in an interview this week, called the
memoir "very rare historical material" that
"belongs to all the people of China and to the
world." He said that the voice was unmistakably
that of Mr. Zhao and that the memoir’s authenticity was not in doubt.

Nearly 20 years after the crackdown and Mr.
Zhao’s fall, the edited transcripts are being
published by Simon and Schuster in a book,
"Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of
Premier Zhao Ziyang," that will be formally
released in the United States on May 19. A
Chinese-language edition is being published in Hong Kong.

"This is the first time that such a high Chinese
leader has been in a position to tell the truth,"
said Bao Pu, a son of Bao Tong who is an editor
of the book and a translator of the
English-language edition. "At that point, the truth is all he had."

Also credited as translators and editors are
Renee Chiang, a publisher in Hong Kong, and Adi
Ignatius, an American journalist who covered China in the 1980s.

Although the tumult of 1989 is distant for many
Chinese, it remains a forbidden subject, heavily
censored on the Internet and rarely if ever
mentioned in the state-run media. Beijing
authorities are likely to be unhappy with Mr.
Zhao’s airing of inside conflicts as well as his
conclusion, arrived at in isolation after he left
power, that China must turn toward parliamentary
democracy if it is to tackle corruption.

In a sharp break with Chinese Communist
tradition, even for dismissed officials, Mr. Zhao
provides personal details of tense party
sessions. He attacks several officials,
especially his archrival, the conservative former
prime minister Li Peng, who fiercely opposed or,
in his view, betrayed him. He describes how they
schemed to turn Mr. Deng against him.

Mr. Zhao said that in 1989 he argued that most of
the demonstrating students "were only asking us
to correct our flaws, not attempting to overthrow our political system."

These efforts to defuse tensions were "blocked,
resisted, and sabotaged by Li Peng and his associates," Mr. Zhao said.

Perry Link, emeritus professor of Chinese studies
at Princeton who was in Beijing in 1989, said:
"Laying bare the personal animosities from such a
high position is something new here. It’s
certainly the element that will send officials in Beijing through the roof."

The debate over how to respond to protesting
students was part of a continuing struggle over
economic and political change. "What becomes
clear in these tapes is that in the minds of
Chinese leaders, Tiananmen was a continuation of
their battles through the 1980s," said Bao Pu,
who is also a rights advocate and an editor in Hong Kong.

By forcing out Mr. Zhao and restoring a political
grip that remains largely in place today, the
conservatives squelched hopes that China’s
economic reforms would be accompanied by
systematic political change. But they were also
surprised by the popular revulsion over the crackdown.

With the society in turmoil and especially after
seeing the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mr. Deng
began pressing even harder, in his waning years,
for market-style changes, or what he renamed
"socialism with Chinese characteristics."

Despite his economic triumphs, Mr. Zhao may be
remembered most for his futile effort to head off
violence in 1989. In the tapes, he describes how
he learned that the army had started its bloody
march to the square at the heart of Beijing.

"On the night of June 3rd, while sitting in the
courtyard with my family, I heard intense gunfire," Mr. Zhao said.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank