Rebellions and Revolutions: China from the 1800s to the 1980s

By Jack Gray | Go to book overview

EPILOGUE: THE ROAD TO TIANANMEN

In the early hours of 4 June 1989, Beijing time, troops of the People's Liberation Army attacked the student demonstrators who had occupied Beijing's Tiananmen Square since mid-April. Zhao Ziyang, Secretary- General of the Party, had disappeared from view from 20 May. His fellow reformers on the Political Bureau had disappeared with him. This abrupt and bloody reversal of the course of reform in China was engineered by the veteran leaders whom Deng Xiaoping had earlier forced into retirement in order to prevent their opposition to his reforms. It was Deng who now brought them back on to the political stage.

A history whose aim is to bring the story up to the date at which the manuscript is completed cannot be updated for ever before publication, but no reader could be satisfied if this book ended short of the terrifying events which the world saw on television on 3 June and on the days which followed. These events were as unexpected as they were horrifying and although I ended the last chapter with the reformers firmly in power and still enjoying the confidence of Deng Xiaoping, I can only plead that no authoritarian system is proof against the palace coup, and palace coups cannot always be predicted.

Nevertheless, as I waited for the proofs of the book I began to be uneasy about the stability of the reforming regime. In the summer of 1988, at a special meeting of political leaders and economic experts at the coastal resort of Beidaihe, Deng had failed to support Zhao against those who were hostile to further rapid reform. The problems of inflation and corruption described in the final chapter had by then intensified to a critical point. It was becoming obvious that the popular expectations aroused by the success of the first decade of economic reform were being frustrated. It was difficult to point to any section of Chinese society which was not now alarmed at the crisis, or whose members did not have reason to feel that their interests were suffering or threatened.

Meanwhile I was becoming confirmed in my conclusion that the fundamental problem of economic reform in China was not so much economic as political: the powers which the reformers in the central Party and government had decentralized, in theory to enterprises and to local communities, had in fact been pre-empted by local Party committees whose power was arbitrary and who were subject to no financial discipline. As a result, the centre lost its power to control the money supply, the wage fund, and aggregate capital investment. Hence inflation. Worse, the supply of raw materials, for which

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