Zhao Ziyang: Wikis


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Zhao Ziyang

Zhao Ziyang (with megaphone) addressing the student protestors at Tiananmen on 19 May 1989.

In office
January, 1987 – June, 1989
President Li Xiannian
Yang Shangkun
Premier Li Peng
Preceded by Hu Yaobang
Succeeded by Jiang Zemin

In office
September, 1980 – November, 1987
President Li Xiannian
Deputy Wan Li
Preceded by Hua Guofeng
Succeeded by Li Peng

Born 17 October 1919(1919-10-17)
Hua County, Henan, Republic of China
Died 17 January 2005 (age 85)
Beijing, People's Republic of China
Nationality Chinese
Political party Communist Party of China
Spouse(s) Liang Boqi[1]
Zhao Ziyang
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese

Zhao Ziyang (17 October 1919 – 17 January 2005) was a high-ranking politician in the People's Republic of China (PRC). He was Premier of the People's Republic of China from 1980 to 1987, and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China from 1987 to 1989.

As a senior government official, Zhao was critical of Maoist policies and instrumental in implementing free-market reforms, first in Sichuan, subsequently nationwide. He emerged on the national scene due to support from Deng Xiaoping after the Cultural Revolution. He also sought measures to streamline the bureaucracy and fight corruption, which was severely affecting the Party's legitimacy in the 1980s. Zhao Ziyang was also an advocate of the privatization of state-owned enterprises, the separation of the Party and the state, and general market economic reforms. Many of these views were shared by then-General Secretary Hu Yaobang.[2]

His economic reform policies and open sympathies to student demonstrators during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 placed him increasingly at odds with conservatives within the party leadership, namely Premier Li Peng, and also began to lose favour with paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. In the aftermath of the events, Zhao was purged politically and effectively placed under house arrest for the next 15 years. His name has been a taboo subject within China since 1989. He died in Beijing in 2005, without the funeral rites generally accorded to a senior Chinese official due to his political fallout.


Rise to power

Zhao was born Zhao Xiuye (赵修业), but changed his given name to Ziyang while attending middle school. The son of a wealthy landlord in Hua County (Chinese simplified: 滑县[3]), Henan province, he joined the Communist Youth League in 1932 and worked underground as a Communist Party official during the Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and subsequent Chinese Civil War. His father was killed by party officials in the late 1940s. He rose to prominence in the party in Guangdong from 1951 and introduced numerous successful agricultural reforms. In 1962, Zhao began to disband the commune system in order to return private land to peasants while assigning production contracts to individual households. He also directed a harsh purge of cadres accused of corruption or having ties to the Kuomintang. By 1965 Zhao was the Party secretary of Guangdong province, despite not being a member of the Communist Party Central Committee.

As a supporter of the reforms of Liu Shaoqi, he was dismissed as Guangdong party leader in 1967 during the Cultural Revolution, paraded through Guangzhou in a dunce cap and denounced as "a stinking remnant of the landlord class". He spent four years in forced labor at a factory. In 1972, Zhao was rehabilitated by then-Premier Zhou Enlai, appointed to the Central Committee. Zhao was appointed Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Revolutionary Committee secretary and Vice Chairman in March 1972. He was elevated to the 10th Central Committee in August 1973 and returned to Guangdong as 1st CCP Secretary and Revolutionary Committee Chair in April 1974. He became Political Commissar of the Chengdu Military Region in December 1975. [4]

In Sichuan, as first party secretary in 1975, effectively the province's highest-ranking official. Sichuan had been economically devastated by the Great Leap Forward and the subsequent Cultural Revolution. Zhao introduced radical and successful Market-oriented rural reforms, which led to an increase in industrial production by 81% and agricultural output by 25% within three years. Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping saw the "Sichuan Experience" as the model for Chinese economic reform and had Zhao inducted into the Politburo as an alternate member in 1977 and as a full member in 1979. He joined the Politburo Standing Committee, China's highest ruling organ, in 1982.

Assassination attempts

Since Sichuan province was a strong base of Maoist radicalism during the Cultural Revolution, the ardent followers of the Gang of Four vehemently opposed Zhao's reforms. However, Zhao's policy had huge popular support and the supporters of the Gang of Four turned to assassination after all other supposedly legal means failed. Over the years in Sichuan during the Cultural Revolution, there were no fewer than half a dozen attempts on Zhao's life, and the most serious one happened when Zhao's jeep was ambushed in a valley during one of his trips, where he narrowly escaped death, but in an attempt to save Zhao's life, his driver/secretary was crushed and buried by an artificially induced landslide. Although attempts on Zhao's life only resulted in this one death, the last culprits were not caught until 1983, well after the end of the Cultural Revolution.

Reformist leader

After six months as vice-premier, Zhao was appointed premier in 1980 to replace Hua Guofeng, Mao's designated successor, who was being pushed out of power by Deng Xiaoping. He developed "preliminary stage theory", a course for transforming the socialist system that set the stage for much of the later Chinese economic reform. As premier, he implemented many of the policies that were successful in Sichuan, including giving limited self-management to industrial enterprises and increased control over production to peasants. Zhao sought to develop coastal provinces with special economic zones that could lure foreign investment and create export hubs. This led to rapid increases in both agricultural and light-industrial production throughout the 1980s, but his economic reforms were criticized for causing inflation. Zhao also persisted in advocating an open foreign policy, fostering good relations with western nations that could aid China's economic development.

Zhao was a solid believer in the party, but he defined socialism much differently than party conservatives. Zhao called political reform "the biggest test facing socialism." He believed economic progress was inextricably linked to democratization. As early as 1986, Zhao became the first high-ranking Chinese leader to call for change, by offering a choice of election candidates from the village level all the way up to membership in the Central Committee.

In the 1980s, Zhao was branded by many as a revisionist of Marxism. He advocated government transparency and a national dialogue that included ordinary citizens in the policymaking process, which made him popular with the masses. In Sichuan, where Zhao implemented economic restructuring in the 1970s, there was a saying: "要吃粮,找紫阳 (yao chi liang, zhao Ziyang)." The wordplay on his name, loosely translated, means "if you want to feed yourself, follow Ziyang."

In January 1987, Deng forced reformist leader Hu Yaobang to resign for being too lenient to student protestors; Zhao replaced him as CPC General Secretary, whose vacated premiership was in turn filled by Li Peng. This put Zhao in the position to succeed Deng as paramount leader. While General Secretary Zhao favored loosening government controls over industry and creating free-enterprise zones in the coastal regions, Premier Li favored a cautious approach that relied more on central planning and guidance.

In the 1987 Communist Party Congress Zhao declared that China was in "a primary stage of socialism" that could last 100 years. Under this premise, China needed to experiment with a variety of economic systems to stimulate production. Zhao proposed to separate the roles of the party and state, a proposal that has since become taboo. According to western observers, the two years Zhao served as General Secretary were the most open in modern Chinese history—many limitations on freedom of speech and freedom of press were relaxed, allowing intellectuals to freely propose improvements for the country.

Equally important, in the economic arena, Zhao was one of the first leaders to advocate the reduction of state control in enterprises by increasing private ownership via stock. Although the idea also became taboo during Zhao's era, it started to be implemented in the 1990s.

Zhao's proposal in May 1988 to accelerate price reform led to widespread popular complaints about rampant inflation and gave opponents of rapid reform the opening to call for greater centralization of economic controls and stricter prohibitions against Western influence. This precipitated a political debate, which grew more heated through the winter of 1988 to 1989.

The second half of 1988 saw the increasing deterioration of Zhao's political environment. In fact, Zhao found himself in multi-front turf battles with the party elders, who grew increasingly dissatisfied with Zhao's hands-off approach to ideological matters, as well as the conservative faction in the politburo led by Li Peng and Yao Yilin, who were constantly at odds with him in economic and fiscal policy making. In the mean time, Zhao was under growing pressure to combat the runaway corruption by the rank-and-file officials and their family members. As the year of 1989 kicked off, it was evident that Zhao was faced with an increasingly difficult uphill battle, to some extent he was fighting for his own political survival. If he was unable to turn things around rapidly, a showdown with the party conservatives would be all but inevitable. As it happened, the student protests triggered by the sudden death of former CCP General Secretary Hu Yaobang, widely seen as a reform-minded leader, provided Zhao with a golden opportunity to regain political upperhand and to advance his reform agenda.

Political aftermath of Tiananmen

Zhao Ziyang (accompanied by then-Director of the Central Party Office Wen Jiabao) addressed the student protestors at Tiananmen on 19 May 1989. He apologized to the students, saying "Students, we came too late. We are sorry."

The death of Hu Yaobang on 15 April 1989, coupled with a growing sense of outrage caused by high inflation, provided the backdrop for the large-scale protest of 1989 by students, intellectuals, and other parts of a disaffected urban population. Student demonstrators, taking advantage of the loosening political atmosphere, reacted to a variety of causes of discontent, which they attributed to the slow pace of reform. Ironically, some of the original invective was also directed against Zhao. The party hardliners increasingly came to the opposite conclusion, regretting an excessively rapid pace of change for causing the mood of confusion and frustration rife among college students. The protesters called for an end to official corruption and for defense of freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. Protests also spread through many other cities, including Shanghai and Guangzhou.

The tragic events of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 sealed Zhao's fate and rendered impossible any further democratic movement. While he was paying an official visit to Pyongyang, the party hard-liners exploited the opportunity to declare the ongoing protests "counter-revolutionary." Upon returning from Pyongyang, Zhao made several attempts to steer the course toward what he called "a track based upon democracy and the rule of law". He opened up channels for direct dialogues between students and the government at multiple levels. He also ordered the news media to cover the student demonstrations with unprecedented openness. A number of legislative initiatives aimed at the reform of press, news media and education were also under way. However, Zhao's initiatives, along with his conciliatory attitude toward the students, were seen by the elders and other party hard-liners as hastened steps toward breaking free the party control. The evening of 16 May marked the point of no return of Zhao's political career. At the onset of his meeting with the visiting Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Zhao made a stunning announcement declaring that Deng Xiaoping, though officially no longer a member of the party central committee, was still having final say in major decision-making. Zhao's move was viewed as an unmistakable sign of parting company with the aging paramount leader, his long-time political patron and mentor. The leadership would not purge Zhao while Gorbachev was still in Beijing. But on the night of 18 May, just after the Soviet leader left, Zhao was summoned to Deng's residence and a hastily called Politburo Standing Committee was called to endorse martial law with Zhao casting the lone dissenting vote.

Shortly before 5 A.M. on the morning of 19 May, Zhao appeared in Tiananmen Square and wandered among the crowd of protesters. Using a bullhorn, he delivered a now-famous speech to the students gathered at the square. It was first broadcast through China Central Television nationwide.

Students, we came too late. We are sorry. You talk about us, criticize us, it is all necessary. The reason that I came here is not to ask you to forgive us. All I want to say is that students are getting very weak, it is the 7th day since you went on hunger strike, you can't continue like this. As the time goes on, it will damage your body in an irreparable way, it could be very dangerous to your life. Now the most important thing is to end this strike. I know, your hunger strike is to hope that the Party and the government will give you a satisfying answer. I feel that our communication is open. Some of the problem can only be solved by certain procedures. For example, you have mentioned about the nature of the incident, the question of responsibility, I feel that those problems can be resolved eventually, we can reach a mutual agreement in the end. However, you should also know that the situation is very complicated, it is going to be a long process. You can't continue the hunger strike for the 7th day, and still insist for a satisfying answer before ending the hunger strike.

You are still young, there are still many days yet to come, you must live healthy, and see the day when China accomplishes the four modernizations. You are not like us, we are already old, it doesn't matter to us any more. It is not easy that this nation and your parents support you to study in colleges. Now you are all about early 20's, and want to sacrifice lives so easily, students, can't you think logically? Now the situation is very serious, you all know, the Party and the nation is very antsy, the whole society is very worried. Besides, Beijing is the capital, the situation is getting worse and worse from everywhere, this can not be continued. Students all have good will, and are for the good of our nation, but if this situation continues, loses control, it will cause serious consequences at many places.

In conclusion, I have only one wish. If you stop hunger strike, the government won't close the door for dialogue, never! The questions that you have raised, we can continue to discuss. Although it is a little slow, but we are reaching some agreement on some problems. Today I just want to see the students, and express our feelings. Hopefully students will think about this question calmly. This thing can not be sorted out clearly under illogical situations. You all have that strength, you are young after all. We were also young before, we protested, lied our bodies on the rail tracks, we never thought about what will happen in the future at that time. Finally, I beg the students once again, think about the future calmly. There are many things that can be solved. I hope that you will all end the hunger strike soon, thank you.[5]

" 我們已經老了,無所謂了。" - "We are already old, it doesn't matter to us any more." became a famous quote after that. That was his last public appearance.

House arrest until death

The protesters did not disperse. A day after Zhao's 19 May visit to Tiananmen Square, Premier Li Peng publicly declared martial law. In the power struggle that ensued, Zhao was stripped of all his positions. What motivated Zhao remains, even today, a topic of debate by many. Some say he went into the square hoping a conciliatory gesture would gain him leverage against hard-liners like Premier Li Peng. Others believe he supported the protesters and did not want to see them hurt when the military was called in. After the incident, Zhao was placed under house arrest and replaced as General Secretary by Jiang Zemin, who had suppressed similar protests in Shanghai without any bloodshed.

Zhao remained under tight supervision and was allowed to leave his courtyard compound or receive visitors only with permission from the highest echelons of the party. There were occasional reports of him attending the funeral of a dead comrade, visiting other parts of China or playing golf at Beijing courses, but the government rather successfully kept him hidden from news reports and history books. Over that period, only a few snapshots of a gray-haired Zhao leaked out to the media. On at least two occasions Zhao wrote letters, addressed to the Chinese government, in which he put forward the case for a reassessment of the Tiananmen Massacre. One of those letters appeared on the eve of the Communist Party's 15th National Congress. The other came during a 1998 visit to China by U.S. President Bill Clinton. Neither was ever published in mainland China.

Death and muted response

In February 2004, Zhao had a pneumonia attack that led to a pulmonary failure and was hospitalized for three weeks. Zhao was hospitalized again with pneumonia on 5 December 2004. Reports of his death were officially denied in early January 2005. Later, on 15 January, he was reported to be in a coma after multiple strokes. According to Xinhua, Vice President Zeng Qinghong represented the party's central leadership to visit Zhao at the hospital [6]. Zhao died on 17 January in a Beijing hospital at 07:01 at the age of 85. He is survived by his second wife, Liang Boqi, and five children (a daughter and four sons).

The government's response to Zhao's death was notably muted, probably out of fear that mass mourning would spark national protests as had occurred after the deaths of Zhou Enlai and Hu Yaobang. The official government Xinhua News Agency reported "Zhao Ziyang died at 85" in the English version,[7] while the Chinese title was "Comrade Zhao Ziyang died." It made no note of his official titles or legacy as a leader. This is considered unusual, because people who have lower ranks than he usually received such mention as great revolutionist, loved by the people, etc. Zhao's death was not mentioned on state-run television and radio programs. All Chinese newspapers carried the exact same 59-word obituary on the day following his death, leaving the main means of mass dissemination through the Internet.[8] Internet forums, such as the Strong Nation Forum and the SINA.com Forum were flooded with messages expressing condolences for Zhao, but these messages were promptly deleted by moderators, leading to more postings attacking the moderators for deleting the postings.

In Hong Kong, 10,000–15,000 people attended the candlelight vigil in remembrance of Zhao. Mainlanders such as Chen Juoyi said that it was illegal for Hong Kong legislators to join any farewell ceremony, stating "...under the 'one country, two systems' a Hong Kong legislator cannot care anything about mainland China." The statement caused a political storm in Hong Kong that continued for three days after his speech. Szeto Wah, the chairman of The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, said that it was not right for the Communists to suppress the memorial ceremony. The twenty-four pan-democrat legislators went against the chairperson of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, who insisted that security be tightened at Tiananmen Square and at Zhao's house, and that the authorities try to prevent any public displays of grief. Similar memorials were held around the world, notably in New York City and Washington, DC where American government officials and exiled political dissidents attended.

Zhao's positions would have normally entitled him to a state funeral, but the PRC government stated that the funerary arrangements for past leaders had been streamlined and state funerals were no longer held. Skeptics have questioned whether future funerals of Chinese ex-leaders will be as muted as Zhao's.

On 29 January 2005 the government held a funeral ceremony for him at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery, a place reserved for revolutionary heroes and high government officials, that was attended by some 2,000 mourners, who were pre-approved to attend. Several dissidents, including Zhao's secretary Bao Tong and Tiananmen Mothers leader Ding Zilin, were kept under house arrest and therefore could not attend. Xinhua reported that the most senior official to attend the funeral was Jia Qinglin, fourth in the party hierarchy, and other officials who attended included He Guoqiang, Wang Gang and Hua Jianmin [6]. Mourners were forbidden to bring flowers or to inscribe their own messages on the government-issued flowers. There was no eulogy at the ceremony because the government and Zhao's family could not agree on its content: while the government wanted to say he made mistakes, his family refused to accept he did anything wrong. On the day of his funeral, state television mentioned Zhao's death for the first time. Xinhua issued a short article on the funerary arrangements, acknowledging Zhao's "contributions to the party and to the people", but said he made "serious mistakes" during the 1989 "political disturbance" [6]. According to Du Daozheng, writing in the foreword to the Chinese edition of Zhao's memoirs, the use of the term "serious mistakes" instead of the former verdict of "supporting turmoil and splitting the party" represented a backing down by the party. After the ceremony, Zhao was cremated. His ashes were taken to his Beijing home as the government denied him a place at Babaoshan.

Push for rehabilitation

In 2005, former NPC Chairman Wan Li joined more than 20 retired Politburo members, including Tian Jiyun, former Vice Premier, in asking the Central Government to rehabilitate Zhao’s name and hold memorial services for him for his many important contributions to China. The Chinese government agreed to hold a ceremony to honor the late Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang, but the response fell far short of satisfying the requests from both inside and outside the CPC.


On 14 May 2009, Zhao's secret memoirs were released to the public. The book, entitled Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang, is thought to be from a series of secret recordings taken while Zhao was under house arrest.[9] The 306-page book was crafted over four years from tapes recorded in secret by Zhao, who lived under tightly monitored house arrest for 15 years before dying in 2005 . In the last chapter, Zhao praises the western system of parliamentary democracy and says it is the only way China can solve its problems of corruption and a growing gap between the rich and poor.[10][11]

As of 2009 his memoir was being sold (in both Chinese and English) in Hong Kong but not in mainland China, though a Microsoft Word file containing the memoir's entire Chinese-language text became available on the Internet and was illegally downloaded widely throughout mainland China.

See also


  1. ^ Prisoner of State p.3
  2. ^ Economic Reform in China By James A. Dorn, Xi Wang, Wang Xi
  3. ^ http://www.xzqh.org/QUHUA/41hn/0526hx.htm
  4. ^ Editor, China Directory, 1979 Edition, Radiopress, Inc (Tokyo), September 1978, p. 479
  5. ^ Chua, Dan-Chyi (February 2009), "Zhao Ziyang's Tiananmen Square speech", Asia! Magazine, http://www.theasiamag.com/cheat-sheet/zhao-ziyangs-tiananmen-square-speech, retrieved 23 June 2009  ; also available in the original Chinese at [1] (broken link)
  6. ^ a b c http://news.xinhuanet.com/newscenter/2005-01/29/content_2522658.htm
  7. ^ Xinhua - English
  8. ^ Chinese Bloggers, Podcasters and Webcasters, EastSouthWestNorth, 18 September 2005
  9. ^ Secret Tiananmen memoirs revealed, BBC News Online, 14 May 2009
  10. ^ The Tiananmen Diaries, Perry Link, Washington Post, 17 May 2009.
  11. ^ Deposed Chinese leader's memoir out before 4 June, Associated Press, 14 May 2009

External links and further reading

Political offices
Preceded by
Ding Sheng
Governor of Guangdong
Succeeded by
Wei Guoqing
Preceded by
Liu Xingyuan
Governor of Sichuan
Succeeded by
Lu Dadong
Preceded by
Hua Guofeng
Premier of the State Council
Succeeded by
Li Peng
Party political offices
Preceded by
Tao Zhu
Secretary of the CPC Guangdong Committee
Succeeded by
Huang Yongsheng
Preceded by
Ding Sheng
First Secretary of the CPC Guangdong Committee
Succeeded by
Wei Guoqing
Preceded by
Liu Xingyuan
First Secretary of the CPC Sichuan Committee
Succeeded by
Tan Qilong
Preceded by
Hu Yaobang
General Secretary of the Communist Party of China
Succeeded by
Jiang Zemin

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