Beijing Spring, 1989: Confrontation and Conflict: the Basic Documents

By Michel Oksenberg; Lawrence R. Sullivan et al. | Go to book overview

II
Prelude Reform and Retrenchment

This section outlines the political and economic background to the crisis of April to June. It conveys the complex policy issues that confronted and seriously divided the leadership in the late 1980s. Despite, or some might say because of, the success of economic reform during the previous years, China's top leaders were split over the future course of economic reform. Four important documents are presented here that capture the complex issues of these political, economic, and environmental challenges.

The first document excerpts General Secretary Zhao Ziyang's report on October 25, 1987, to the Thirteenth Party Congress (Doc. 3). The passages selected here deal with the need for political reform. This speech was drafted by members of several proreform think tanks established in Beijing, many of whom, such as Bao Tong and Yan Jiaqi, became vociferous supporters of the students in the spring of 1989 and figured in Chen Xitong's harsh indictment in Document 2. Although advocating sweeping changes in the structure of state and party--such as expanding the authority of representative assemblies, strengthening the role of law, and expanding press freedoms--this document evidently had Deng Xiaoping's explicit endorsement. Not surprisingly, Zhao rejects a parliamentary or multiparty system and falls short of proposing reforms similar to those Mikhail Gorbachev initiated in the Soviet Union in 1989-90.1 Despite attacks on

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1
Deng's visceral hatred for the American system of separation of powers led Zhao to make proposals for reform that did not appear American. Yet Zhao supported many fundamental changes, namely, increased democracy in labor unions--indicated by his appointment of the liberal ex-propaganda chief, Zhu Houze, vice-chairman of the All- China Federation of Trade Unions--and proposals for open elections at the grass roots. In February 1987, during a party seminar an Gorbachev's reforms, Zhao reportedly berated his aides for not raising the issue of citizens' rights. In asserting that "people should get

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