Zhao Ziyang (1919-2005), former General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and a protégé of Deng Xiaoping, was considered as one of the most reform-minded leaders in the 1980s. Zhao Ziyang had a cautious, consensual decision making style. He had acted as premier of the State Council and general secretary of the Party Central Committee in the 1980s. He is remembered for championing economic reforms that have taken China from an isolated and impoverished nation to one of the world's fastest growing economies.
Born in October 1919 in Huaxian County of central China's Henan Province. The son of a wealthy landowner, Comrade Zhao joined the Communist Youth League of China in March 1932 and started his revolutionary career in 1937. He joined the Communist Party of China (CPC) in February 1938. During the years of revolutionary wars and the period of socialist construction, Comrade Zhao successively served as the chief leader of the CPC committees at the county, prefectural and provincial levels.
In the 1950s, he was actively involved in the land reform campaigns in Guangdong Province. When Deng was persecuted as a "capitalist roader" during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Zhao suffered a similar fate. This was not only due to his ties with Deng, but also because his rural reforms were considered to be too much capitalistic. After his rehabilitation by Zhou Enlai in 1973, he resumed his climb through the ranks. After a stint in Inner Mongolia, he returned to Guangdong. In 1973, he was elected as a member of the Central Committee. By 1976, he was transferred to Sichuan, Deng's native province.
By experimenting with "responsibility systems" in agriculture, Zhao became known as a reformer. In the early years of China's reform and opening-up drive, he successively held important leading positions of the CPC Central Committee and the State, making contribution to the cause of the Party and the people.
After moving to Beijing in 1978, Zhao quickly took responsibility for reforms alongside Hu Yaobang, seeking inspiration from Deng Xiaoping. The Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), held in December 1978, marked a major turning point in China's development. The course was laid for the CCP to move the world's most populous nation toward the ambitious targets of the Four Modernizations. It instituted sweeping personnel changes culminating in the elevation of two key supporters of Deng Xiaoping and the reform program, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, to the posts of general secretary of the CCP (September 1982) and premier of the State Council (September 1980), respectively. Zhao Ziyang was re-elected to a 5-year term in 1983.
He devised China's strategy of exploiting foreign capital, utilizing China's cheap land supply and labor resources to achieve capital accumulation - thus laying the foundation for China's modernization process. Zhao was instrumental in creating Special Economic Zones and Open Coastal Cities - pilot projects in the 1980s that started the rapid and extensive industrialization of China's east coast.
The theme of "streamlining and rejuvenating" the bureaucracy was taken up by Zhao Ziyang in early 1980 when he announced a major overhaul of the government. The number of vice premiers was reduced from 13 to 2, State Council agencies were cut by almost half, and the number of ministers and vice ministers was reduced from 505 to 167. The new appointees were younger and better educated than their predecessors.
After adopting opening up and reform policy in the end of 1970s, China turned its eyes to the industrialized developed west for their abundant capitals and development experience. However, China still attached great importance to Africa. For example, the Chinese Premier, Zhao Ziyang in December 1982 embarked on series of diplomatic overtures to eleven African countries, promoting the ‘Four Principles’ of Chinese cooperation with Africa: equality and mutual benefit, stress on practical results, diversification in form, and economic development.
President Reagan welcomed Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang to the White House in 1984. "Mr. President and Mrs. Reagan, ladies and gentlemen, at the beginning of the new year, I have brought the American people the cordial greetings and good wishes of the one billion Chinese people," he said. In his comments, President Reagan pointed to Mr. Zhao's role as an important supporter of China's economic modernization. "China is now embarked on an exciting experiment designed to modernize the economy and quadruple the value of its national economic output by the year 2000. Premier Zhao, you eloquently described a key to achieving that end when you said that progress, and I quote, 'lies in our efforts to emancipate our thinking in a bold way, to carry out reform with determination, to make new inventions with courage, and to break with the economic molds and conventions of all descriptions which fetter the development of productive force," he said.
The First Plenary Session of the 13th CPC Central Committee October 25-November 1, 1987 elected Zhao Ziyang, Li Peng, Qiao Shi, Hu Qili and Yao Yilin to form the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau. It elected Zhao Ziyang general secretary of the Central Committee, Deng Xiaoping chairman of the Central Military Commission.
In the 1980s, after the CCP adopted Deng Xiaoping’s depoliticization approach, which emphasized economic reconstruction, mass propaganda became much less important when reform-minded leaders Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were in charge. Formal ideology refers to those official ideological discourses that are narrowly concerned with the CCP’s discipline and with the socialist doctrines incorporated in the CCP constitution, including: Zhao Ziyang’s “primary stage of socialism”; Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents”; and Hu Jintao’s “Scientific Outlook of Development.” Clearly there was asplit that was coming to the fore between Li Peng and the hardliners, and Zhao Ziyang.
Zhao Ziyang's popularity was such that he was widely considered the likely successor to then-leader Deng Xiaoping. In 1987, he reluctantly agreed to replace Hu Yaobang as General Secretary of the CCP. This greatly diminished his influence on the process of political and economic reforms although it enabled him to develop his theory that China was only in a primary stage of socialism, on the basis of which a wide variety of experiments in the economy and political sphere were possible. Zhao's bold plans, as well as the soaring inflation and growing corruption that marked the later half of the 1980s, resulted in growing opposition from hard-liners in the Party.
In the political turbulence which took place in the late spring and early summer of 1989, Comrade Zhao "committed serious mistakes". At the height of China's student-led democracy movement in 1989, the country's powerful Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang went to Tiananmen Square on May 19 and requested the hunger strikers to go home. "Students, we have come quite late", he admitted. "If you criticize us now, you have every right. I am not asking you to forgive us. I am just pointing out that your bodies must have become very weak after all this." When the pictures of the party chief, so obviously showing his sympathy with the students, spread around the world, the politbureau members were furious. The next day, the government declared martial law and Zhao disappeared.
On September 16, 1989, Deng Xiaoping wrote: "Of the four principles, the two most important are that we should uphold leadership by the Party and that we should uphold socialism. The opposite of the four principles is bourgeois liberalization. In the last few years I have stressed on many occasions the need to uphold the Four Cardinal Principles and oppose bourgeois liberalization. But they didn't do that. During the recent disturbances Zhao Ziyang was exposed as being clearly on the side of those who were causing the trouble. He was actually trying to split the Party. Fortunately, I was still around and it was not difficult to deal with the matter. Of course, I was not the only one to play a role." After the military crackdown on protesters in June, 1989, speculation was rife that Zhao had been stripped of power. A month later, he was ousted from the Communist Party. Zhao was placed under house arrest in Beijing until his death on January 17, 2005. Zhao ventured outside only rarely and under heavy escort to play golf at nearby courses. He - on at least two occasions - wrote letters to the government demanding a reassessment of the Tiananmen incident. One of those letters appeared on the eve of the Communist Party's 15th National Congress. The other came during a 1998 visit to China by then U.S. President Bill Clinton. Neither was ever published in China.
Zhao Ziyang’s "secret journal," The Prisoner of the State" was the transcription of his audiotapes. He secretly tape-recorded his memories of his career in the party and particularly the controversial weeks in 1989, when he was in favor of negotiating with the protesting students.
The Chinese leadership claims to the present day that the clampdown was necessary to prevent the overthrow of the government. On the tapes, which have now become public, Zhao Ziyang questions this view: "First, it was determined then that the student movement was 'a planned conspiracy' of anti-Party, anti-socialist elements with leadership. So now we must ask, who were these leaders? What was the plan? What was the conspiracy? What evidence exists to support this? And can it be proven that the June Fourth movement was 'counterrevolutionary turmoil', as it was designated? The students were orderly. Many reports indicate that on the occasions when the People’s Liberation Army came under attack, in many incidents it was the students who had come to its defence. Large numbers of city residents blocked the PLA from entering the city. Why? Were they intent on overthrowing the republic?"
The Tian'anmen incident is still a taboo in China, and coming just before its twentieth anniversary, Zhao's book was particularly embarrassing for the party leadership. Zhao Ziyang blames not only hardliner Li Peng for the Tian'anmen massacre, but also veteran leader Deng Xiaoping. Besides, he claims many of China's economic reforms were his initiatives, rather than Deng's; and he also argues that China should introduce parliamentary democracy.
The first major auction house to emerge in modern China was China Guardian. It was established in 1993 by Wang Yannan, the daughter of Zhao Ziyang. And it was patterned after Christie’s and Sotheby’s (yet another art copycat). Guardian quickly became the largest auction house in China.
In the summer of 2003, rumors circulated that Zhao had died. The CCP reacted quickly by publishing 'recent' photographs to indicate that he still was alive. Zhao had long suffered from multiple diseases affecting his respiratory and cardiovascular systems, and had been hospitalized for medical treatment several times. When Comrade Zhao suffered from illness and when his physical condition was turning worse, the central authorities had instructed relevant departments make proper arrangements for his life and treatment. A special medical team was formed to treat his diseases and save his life by every means. In the last days of Comrade Zhao, Comrade Zeng Qinghong had gone to the hospital to visit him on behalf of the leaders of the central authorities. After suffering a series of strokes and slipping into a deep coma, he died on 17 January 2005. Zhao died of illness in a Beijing hospital at the age of 85 after failing to respond to all emergency treatment.
The government held a funeral ceremony for him at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery, the national cemetery exclusively reserved for senior Communist Party officials. The General Office and the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee, the General Office of the State Council, the General Office of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and other departments sent wreaths to the cemetery. Comrade Zhao's families, close-by workers, old friends, representatives from his hometown and the places he once worked in, and representatives from various Party and government departments, also went to the cemetery to bid farewell to his remains.
Even in death, the government continues to view Zhao as a menace, fearing that his name might ignite discontent among impoverished farmers, intellectuals, the unemployed and others who want to see sweeping political reforms. If the Chinese government revived Zhao's political reforms, though, it also has to consider rehabilitating Zhao, himself. And, any rehabilitation of the Chinese leader is closely linked to an official reassessment of the entire Tiananmen Square crackdown, which the government has labeled a counter-revolutionary rebellion.
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