Zhao Ziyang

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Zhao Ziyang
Zhao Ziyang at his Beijing residence in 2002
PRC Premier
Order3rd Premier
Term of Office: June 1983–November 1987
ActingSeptember 1980–June 1983
Predecessor:Hua Guofeng
Successor: Li Peng
CPC General Secretary
Order13th General Secretary
Term of Office: November 11, 1987June 23, 1989
ActingJanuary 16, 1987November 11, 1987
Predecessor:Hu Yaobang
Successor: Jiang Zemin

Zhao Ziyang (Template:Zh-stpw) (October 17 1919January 17 2005) was a politician in the People's Republic of China. 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 high-ranking government official, he was a leading reformer who implemented market reforms that greatly increased production and sought measures to streamline the bloated bureaucracy and fight corruption. Once slated as Deng Xiaoping's successor, Zhao Ziyang was purged for his support of the student demonstrators in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and spent the last fifteen years of his life under house arrest.


Rise to power

The son of a wealthy Hua County, Henan province landlord, 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 1971 he was assigned to work as an official in Inner Mongolia and then returned to Guangdong in 1972.

Zhao was rehabilitated by Zhou Enlai in 1973, appointed to the Central Committee, and sent to China's largest province, Sichuan, as first party secretary in 1975. Sichuan had been economically devastated by the Great Leap Forward. Zhao turned the province around by introducing radical and successful capitalist rural reforms, which led to an increase in industrial production by 81% and agricultural output by 25% within three years. 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 in 1982.

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 transparancy 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 eat, seek Ziyang."

In January 1987, reformist leader Hu Yaobang was forced by Deng to resign for being too lenient to student protestors and he was replaced as CPC General Secretary by Zhao, 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 fallen taboo. According to western observors, 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.

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.

Tiananmen, purges, and house arrest

Zhao Ziyang (accompanied by then-Chief of Staff ) addressed the student protestors at Tiananmen on May 19, 1989. He apologized to the students, saying "Sorry kids, I have come too late."
Zhao Ziyang (accompanied by then-Chief of Staff Wen Jiabao) addressed the student protestors at Tiananmen on May 19, 1989. He apologized to the students, saying "Sorry kids, I have come too late."

The death of Hu Yaobang on April 15, 1989, coupled with growing economic hardship caused by high inflation, provided the backdrop for the largescale protest movement 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 protests 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. These protests were occurring at a time when Communist governments throughout Eastern Europe were collapsing. Conservative leaders were horrified at the prospect that the Tiananmen protests could topple their government.

The tragic events of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 sealed his fate and rendered impossible any further democratic movement. While Zhao paid an official visit to Pyongyang the more hard-line leaders used the opportunity to declare the protestors "counter-revolutionary." By the time Zhao returned to Beijing, China's communist leaders Deng Xiaoping, Yang Shangkun, Li Peng, and Hu Qili were finalizing their plans to declare martial law and crush the Tiananmen Square democracy protests. Zhao visited the students and spoke to them, pleaded with them to abandon their vigil saying "he had already come too late, that he was old and didn't care what happened to himself, but that they were young and should look out for themselves". This was the last time Zhao was seen in public. The protestors did not disperse.

A day after Zhao's May 19 visit to Tiananmen Square, martial law was declared. 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. After the massacre, Zhao was placed under house arrest and replaced as General Secretary by Jiang Zemin, who had suppressed similar protests in Shanghai without much bloodshed. This process was illegal under the PRC's constitution, as the National People's Congress was not in session. Legally only it could dismiss him. The very fact that he was removed in this way is one major reason why he was not rehabilitated after his death, as well as why the Tiananmen protestors are still officially labelled as criminals by the Chinese Government. If the CCP admitted that its handling of Tiananmen was wrong, it would have to address the unconstitutional removal of Zhao from power. One might say that as this action was illegal, the politicians who carried it out were guilty of treason - Jiang Zemin included.

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 have been 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 tried to keep 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 severe lung malfunctioning and was hospitalized for three weeks. Zhao was hospitalized again with pneumonia on December 5, 2004. Reports of his death were officially denied in early January 2005. Later, on January 15, he was reported to be in a coma after multiple strokes. According to activist Frank Lu, Vice President Zeng Qinghong visited Zhao in the hospital. Zhao died on January 17 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 Xinhua News Agency carried a four line statement on its website saying that "Comrade Zhao Ziyang" had passed away, without making any note of his official titles or legacy as a leader. Zhao's death was not mentioned on state-run television and radio programs. The newspapers carried a five line annoucement on the day following his death, leaving the main means of mass dissemination through the Internet. 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, insisting 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 dissidents attended.

Zhao's positions would have normally entitled him to a state funeral, but he was denied one. On January 29, 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 that had been pre-approved to attend. Several dissidents, including Zhao's secretary Bao Tong and Tiananmen Mothers leader Ding Zilin, were kept under house arrest to prevent them from attending. The most senior official to attend the funeral was Jia Qinglin, fourth in the party hierarchy. Mourners were allowed five at a time to view Zhao's flag-covered body and to pay respect to his family. They 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 and issued a short obituary acknowledging his contribution to economic reforms, but saying he made "serious mistakes" during the 1989 protests. After the ceremony, Zhao was cremated. His ashes were taken to his Beijing home as the government denied him a place at Babaoshan.

See also


Preceded by:
Hua Guofeng
Premier of the State Council
Succeeded by:
Li Peng
Preceded by:
Hu Yaobang
General Secretary of the Communist Party of China
Succeeded by:
Jiang Zemin

Template:End box Template:Livedde:Zhao Ziyang es:Zhao Ziyang fr:Zhao Ziyang ko:자오쯔양 io:Zhao Ziyang id:Zhao Ziyang nl:Zhao Ziyang ja:趙紫陽 no:Zhao Ziyang pl:Zhao Ziyang fi:Zhao Ziyang sv:Zhao Ziyang tr:Zhao Ziyang zh-cn:赵紫阳


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