Academic journal article Parameters

Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang

Academic journal article Parameters

Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang

Article excerpt

Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang

translated and edited by Bao Pu, Renee Chiang, and Adi Ignatius

New York; Simon & Schuster, 2009

306 pages



Zhao Ziyang was the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Premier of China from 1987 to 1989. The Tiananmen Massacre, which the Communist Party prefers to call the "Tiananmen Incident," took place during his tenure. Zhao Ziyang's narrative presents his views on how and why senior CCP leaders decided to use force to suppress protests on 4 June 1989, during the demonstrations in Beijing. His censure by the CCP resulted in house arrest until his death on 17 January 2005, at the age of 85. He also provides important insight into factional struggles inside the Communist Party and how these struggles manifest themselves at the top of Chinese politics.

In telling Zhao Ziyang's story, the editors and translators provide fascinating insight into the secret inner workings of the CCE In addition, Prisoner of the State confirms much of what Zhang Liang, Andrew Nathan, and Perry Link said about the machinations inside the CCP related to the Tiananmen in their edited work The Tiananmen Papers: The Chinese Leadership's Decision to Use Force Against Their Own People-In their Own Words.

Zhao Ziyang took over as General Secretary of the CCP in 1987, at the age of 68. His role, circumscribed and supervised by senior Party elders like Deng Xiaoping and the Politburo Standing Committee of the Party, was to oversee economic transformation in China. Zhao also was expected to help shepherd limited political reforms without weakening the Communist Party or its control of the country.

Within two years of his accession as General Secretary, however, China was near chaos. Rampant inflation, internal discord, and corruption fueled popular unrest. Between April 1989 and 4 June, millions of students, workers, and retirees were in the streets protesting against the CCP and conditions in the nation. Beijing was brought to a standstill and other cities throughout China were in turmoil. Once the People's Liberation Army (PLA) acted, the death toll in Beijing was reported by one defector to be as high as 3,200 people.

Ultimately removed from office by his peers and elders, Zhao Ziyang spent the remainder of his life in forced seclusion. Despite continuous surveillance under house arrest, the translators tell us he managed to "record his thoughts and recollections regarding some of China's most critical moments. …

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