Democracy, China and Zhao Ziyang

The mourning of Zhao who died on Monday, January 17, 2005, in Beijing has been high-profile in this formerly British-ruled Chinese territory that enjoys civil liberties denied in the mainland.

About Zhao Ziyang

Zhao Ziyang, who died on January 17, 2005, served as prime minister of China from 1980 then as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party from 1987; but he was sacked by China’s elder statesman Deng Xiaoping and other leaders in 1989 after he opposed the military crackdown on protesting students in Tiananmen Square.

Zhao Ziyang
Zhao Ziyang

Born in the central Chinese province of Henan in 1919, the son of a wealthy landlord, Zhao joined the Communist Youth League in 1932.

After working as a party official during the liberation war of 1937-49, he rose to prominence in the party in Guangdong province from 1951.

He set about introducing agricultural reforms and became one of few government officials to be appointed to a top provincial post without first serving on the Communist Party’s central committee.

But he fell foul of Mao Zedong in the 1960s. The Maoists felt he had betrayed his ideological principles for the sake of capitalist reforms.

During Mao’s so-called Cultural Revolution, Zhao was paraded through the streets of Guangzhou in a dunce’s cap and denounced as “a stinking remnant of the landlord class”.

Zhao was rehabilitated by Zhou Enlai in 1973 and was sent to govern China’s largest province, Sichuan.

The province was on the brink of collapse thanks to political upheavals and Mao’s disastrous economic plan, the so-called Great Leap Forward.

Shortages were so severe that some peasants were reported to be exchanging their daughters for food ration cards.

Zhao turned the province’s economy around, increasing industrial production by 81%, and agricultural output by 25% within three years.

His achievements caught the eye of Deng Xiaoping who had emerged as the dominant figure in Chinese politics after Mao’s demise.

Deng saw in Zhao’s policies in Sichuan a blueprint for China as a whole. He had Zhao inducted into the Politburo as an alternate member in 1977 and as a full member in 1979.

After six months as vice premier, Zhao was appointed prime minister in 1980 and later assumed the post of Communist Party general secretary.

Under the mantle of Deng’s “two Chinas” policy, Zhao’s goal was to transform China into a modern, democratic socialist state by the year 2000.

He introduced market reforms to improve output. Heavy industry proved difficult, but he achieved greater success with light industry and agriculture.

He also introduced measures to streamline the country’s bloated bureaucracy and to reduce the endemic corruption.

Zhao also expanded trading links with the west, particularly the United States. Under Zhao, trade with the US increased tenfold. American companies were encouraged to invest in the new China.

But the overheating Chinese economy of the late 1980s caused inflation, and Zhao shouldered much of the blame.

When he visited the protesting students in Tiananmen Square and showed sympathy for their cause, he sealed his political downfall. Within three weeks of the crackdown, he was ousted from all his government posts.

Despite his disgrace, Zhao was allowed to remain a party member and no charges against him were ever pressed.

The Chinese remained acutely sensitive to any reference to Zhao. In 1997, when a senior British diplomat suggested that, as the signatory of the 1984 pact with Britain fixing the colony’s future, Zhao should be invited to the Hong Kong handover ceremony, China reacted angrily, telling Britain to mind its own business. They no doubt found it equally irritating when, for five years in a row from 1999, Zhao was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

He was often seen playing golf in Beijing and remained a popular figure in China as a whole.

Towards the end of his life, Zhao suffered from heart disease; he had a heart bypass in 2002. As his health worsened, Beijing was said to be bracing itself for a resurgence of anti-government protests likely to be triggered by his death.

Zhao Ziyang and his wife, Liang Boqi, had five children.


Tiananmen Square and Democracy in China

Tiananmen is the largest public square in the world, covering over 44 hectares and is always filled with tourists from all over China. In the middle of the Square is the Monument to the People’s Heroes. Directly north is Chang’an Avenue, Beijing’s main street.

Across the street is Tiananmen Gate, which is recognizable by the huge portrait of Mao Zedong. Tiananmen Gate is the gate which leads to the Forbidden City. To the west is the Great Hall of the People which houses the National People’s Congress, but when the Congress is not in session the Hall is the venue for concerts and cultural events.

Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square

The Great Hall is occasionally rented out for other purposes as well. Off to the east is the National History Museum, on which is displayed a large digital countdown clock, ticking off the days and seconds until the return of Macao to Chinese sovereignty on December 20, 1999. Before July 1, 1997, the same clock was used to count down the days until the return of Hong Kong. Back to the south is the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, where you can wait in line and be quickly ushered past the crystal coffin where “Mao” now lies. A specially-trained battalion of PLA troops marches out each morning and raises the flag exactly at sunrise. Then, at sunset the flag is taken down again. Every day many tourists gather in the Square to watch this solemn ceremony. On holidays and special occasions the Square is filled with flower arrangements and fountains.

Between the Memorial Hall stands the Memorial to China’s Fallen Soldiers.

The 1989 protest in Beijing, was the culmination of a series of student-led prodemocracy demonstrations in China. The events leading up to the Tiananmen Square protest began with the death of Hu Yaobang, a former general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, in April 1989. Hu had become a hero to Chinese liberals after he refused to halt unrest in January 1987.

Democracy, China and Zhao Ziyang (AP/Anat Givon)
Thousands of Hong Kong people holding candles attend a candlelight vigil at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, Friday, January 21, 2005 to honor late Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang, who was ousted in 1989 for sympathizing with pro-democracy protesters.

Following Hu’s death, students began peaceful memorial demonstrations in Shanghai, Beijing, and other cities. The memorial escalated into a prodemocracy movement, with protesters demanding the removal of China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping and other Communist officials. The government’s order to end the demonstrations on April 20 was ignored. On May 4, approximately 100,000 students and workers marched in Beijing demanding democratic reforms. On May 20 the government declared martial law, however the demonstrations continued while the government wavered between the leadership of Premier Li Peng and CCP General Secretary Zhao Ziyang.

Eventually choosing the hard-line approach of Li Peng, with the support of Deng, the government ordered troops to Tian’an Men Square. On June 3 and 4, 1989, the People’s Liberation Army crushed prodemocracy supporters, killing hundreds of supporters, injuring another 10,000, and arresting hundreds of students and workers. Following the violence, the government conducted widespread arrests, summary trials, and executions; banned the foreign press; and strictly controlled the Chinese press.