Academic journal article China Perspectives

Zhao Ziyang's Vision of Chinese Democracy

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Zhao Ziyang's Vision of Chinese Democracy

Article excerpt

Zhao Ziyang's Vision of Chinese Democracy Zong Fengming, Zhao Ziyang: Captive Conversations (Zhao Ziyang: ruanjinzhong de tanhua), Hong Kong, Open Books, 2007, 400 pp.

How thorough a democrat was Zhao Ziyang? This is an important question if one believes that political change in China is likely to come from the top down. Although the Party chiefs say they are leading China toward democracy, there is much debate about what they mean.(l) Among recent CCP leaders, Zhao was probably the most sympathetic to a conception of democracy resembling Western views. Others around him may have been more radical, such as Bao Tong and Li Rui (who wrote prefaces for this book), Li Shenzhi, and Zhao's conversation partner Zong Fengming,<2) but they were not in a position to implement their ideas. Zhao had been in such a position. His views give us a sense of the likely outer limits of the ideas about democracy that might be held within the leadership, at least in his generation and probably in the current, apparently more conservative, generation of leaders as well. Among sources on Zhao, this book is a precious document. Before its publication we had two pieces of evidence to help us assess Zhao's views on democracy. Wu Guoguang's book on the work of the Political Reform Office in 1987 described the discussions that led to the proposals for separating Party and government and Party and enterprise management in Zhao's Political Report to the I3lh Party Congress/3' The Tiananmen Papers described Zhao's decision-making under pressure during the 1989 crisis, when he believed (as he repeats here) that he could have solved the crisis if Deng Xiaoping had agreed to withdraw the threat to punish the student demonstrators implied in the April 26 Renmin ribao editorial.<4) But these books left many questions unanswered. The Political Reform Office discussed 2. many subjects, but Zhao seldom revealed his own views. The events of 1989 revealed Zhao's instincts in dealing with an immediate crisis but did not expose his thoughts about 3. long-term political reform. The new book is thus a valuable addition to a small corpus. 4

Zong Fengming was an old friend of Zhao's who had entered the Party at the same time and worked together with him in central China during the revolution. After 1949, Zong served in such posts as Party secretary in the 5. University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (Hangkong hangtian daxue) and adviser to the State Economic Reform Commission (Guojia tigaiwei) (I7(5)). From July 1991 to October 2004, a period of 13 years, Zong visited Zhao at his home for a series of more than 100 meetings. With Zhao's knowledge, Zong went home and took notes from memory (zhuiji), saving them to publish after Zhao's death, which occurred in January 2003.

But the evidence in Captive Conversations needs to be interpreted carefully. Even though the loss of political power freed Zhao to talk with Zong and other visitors, we gather from allusions scattered throughout the book that he still had to be careful about what he said. Zong's account of Zhao's conditions of house arrest is not only fascinating in itself as a glimpse at how the Party deals with its fallen leaders, but also provides a necessary context for interpreting Zhao's remarks.

Zhao's conditions of house arrest and the conversations

Zhao spent his fifteen-and-a-half years of house arrest at Number 6 Fuqiang hutong, in Beijing. Zong says that the house was previously occupied by Hu Yaobang (1), so it must not have been Zhao's own house or one he had occupied previously, but one assigned by the central Party apparatus for the purpose of house arrest. It was a traditional Beijing siheyuan with three courtyards. Zong says that the street was quiet and the house was guarded by a group of soldiers posted inside the big front gate. The front courtyard was occupied by the guards and by a secretarial office and sleeping rooms. The second courtyard was Zhao's study, and the inner courtyard contained the family living quarters. …

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