Friday, May 15, 2009

Zhao Yiyang posthumously debates Tiananmen controversy

 by M. Ulric Killion 

The Chinese edition of Zhao Ziyang’s memoir, “Prisoner of the State,” in a book shop in Hong Kong, May 2009; Photo/European Pressphoto Agency.

John Pomfret (Washington Post Staff Writer) writes, "Zhao Ziyang violated one of the central tenets of Communist Party doctrine: He spoke out. But it is only now, four years after his death, that the world is hearing what he had to say. In a long-secret memoir to be published in English and Chinese next week, just in time for the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the former head of the Chinese Communist Party claims that the decision to impose martial law around Beijing in May 1989 was illegal and that the party's leaders could easily have negotiated a peaceful solution to the unrest."

"The posthumous appearance of Zhao's memoir, which he dictated onto audiotapes and the publisher has titled 'Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang,'" as John Pomfret explains, "marks the first time since the establishment of the People's Republic of China 60 years ago that a senior Chinese leader has spoken out so directly against the party and its system. Reaching from the grave, Zhao pillories a conservative wing of the party for missteps that led to the bloody crackdown, which began after dark on June 3, 1989, and left hundreds dead. Few in China's leadership at the time escape Zhao's criticism. He castigates Deng Xiaoping, the man credited with opening China to the West and launching its economic reforms; Li Peng, the dour premier at the time of the Tiananmen tragedy; Deng Liqun, a hard-line party theoretician; Li Xiannian, a former president; and even Hu Yaobang, Zhao's longtime ally, whose death on April 15, 1989, touched off the student-led protests" (Pomfret, 2009).

(Chinese translation by Washington Post).

According to Pomfret, "But Zhao's memoir also constitutes a broader challenge to the generally accepted version of history, especially in China, that places Deng at the center of the economic reforms that have turned China into a global economic power. While acknowledging that none of the reforms "would have been possible without Deng Xiaoping's support," Zhao depicts Deng as more of a benevolent godfather than a hands-on architect. Much of the critical design -- such as dismantling agricultural communes, mapping out China's hugely successful export-led growth model and conjuring up ideological sleights-of-hand that allowed China's Communists to embrace capitalism -- was left to Zhao. In China, Zhao's role in the momentous economic changes and political events that led up to the Tiananmen crackdown have been airbrushed from history. "Prisoner of the State" is his attempt to place himself back in the picture. "

(Chinese translation by Washington Post).

Moreover, Pomfret observed, though certain to stir a controversy, "Reading Zhao's unadorned and unboastful account of his stewardship, it becomes apparent that it was he rather than Deng who was the actual architect of reform, wrote Roderick MacFarquhar, a professor of Chinese history at Harvard University, in a foreword to the book. . . ."

On January 12, 1989, Hu Jintao, appointed Party Secretary in the Tibet Autonomous region (Tibet), arrived in Lhasa, Tibet (Killion, 2006). However, soon after his arrival, Hu would have to deal with ongoing peaceful demonstrations in Lhasa that turned violent, with local police shooting into the crowd. During this period, then General Secretary Zhao Ziyang had urged Hu, before leaving for Tibet, to avoid frictions exacerbated by Chinese soldiers. Hu Jintao's first challenge followed the announcement of the death of the revered Panchen Lama. The pending crisis was whether Beijing would cooperate with the exiled Dalai Lama in choosing a successor (Killion, 2006).

As demonstrations and protests ensued in Lhasa, General Secretary Zhao Ziyang advised Hu to "overcome the hard with the soft." On February 20, 1989, just months preceding the Tiananmen Square tragedy, Hu Jintao ordered 1,700 armed-police (People's Liberation Army) (PLA) to parade in formation through the streets of Lhasa in a show of force. Nonetheless, on March 5, 1989, there was a demonstration that was later termed a "riot" by the CCP. During this peaceful demonstration, which was a non-violent pro-democracy demonstration, armed-police opened fire on civilian demonstrators, killing ten civilians, with one policeman dying. In the ensuing days, police killed 40 more Tibetans. These pro-democracy demonstrations, although crushed by the military, were demonstrations in favor of Tibetan independence (Roberts, 1999).

At the onset of crisis, Hu Jintao had earlier coordinated plans with the Chengdu Military Region Command to move about seventeen divisions, or about 17,000 PLA soldiers into Lhasa. On March 7, 1989, then Premier Li Peng declared martial law. The large PLA presence in Tibet kept the region quiet through the rest of the spring and summer of 1989, including through the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square tragedy, which was also a violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations that the CCP also termed a riot (Killion, 2006). This leaves many anxious to read Zhao Ziyang's supposed notes regarding the details of what, actually, occurred during the historical events of the Tiananmen controversy.


John Pomfret, China's Zhao Details Tiananmen Debate, Washington Post, May 15, 2009:

>>Read full article here;

>>Read full article here (中文);

Ulric Killion, Modern Chinese Journey to the West (2006).

J.A.G. Roberts, A Concise History of China (1999).
Copyright © Protected - All Rights Reserved M. Ulric Killion, 2009.

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