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“Prisoner of the State” Roundtable

October 21, 2009

Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang

Zhao Ziyang (author). Adi Ignatius (editor). Bao Pu (translator and editor). Renee Chiang (translator and editor). Foreword by Roderick Mac Farquahar. Simon & Schuster. May 2009.

In July 2009, Human Rights in China (HRIC) hosted a roundtable discussion on Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang. The discussants were: Bao Pu, publisher and co-editor of Prisoner of the State; Gao Wenqian, Chinese historian and HRIC senior policy advisor; He Qinglian, economist and HRIC scholar-in-residence; Hu Ping, editor of Beijing Spring; and Xia Ming, professor of political science at State Island College, New York. The moderator was Andrew Nathan, professor of political science at Columbia University.

The first and only autobiography by a Chinese leader who fell from power, Prisoner of the State offers a rare glimpse of the political drama in the inner-most sanctum of power in China during the 1980s. But the book also raises important questions about Zhao himself: To what extent was Zhao a reformer in the 1980s?Was he the “architect” or “midwife” of reform and opening up initiated during the Deng Xiaoping era? Was he a democracy pioneer, as some believe? And does the self-assessment presented in the book truly reflect Zhao’s beliefs and actions at the time, or is it an elegy Zhao wrote for himself? What is the human rights significance of the tragedy of Zhao’s 16 years under house arrest? In this wide-ranging and fascinating discussion, the participants had different answers to these questions. But all agreed on one unequivocal fact: Zhao was the General Secretary who refused to open fire on peaceful demonstrators in 1989, a refusal for which he sacrificed his political career.

Authenticity of the Tapes

Andrew Nathan: Is the authenticity of the tapes at issue? Has anyone raised this question? Why do we think the tapes are authentic? What can Bao Pu tell us about the “chain of custody” or other considerations?

Bao Pu: I have not yet seen a direct challenge to the authenticity of the tapes. There was only one review, I think it was in The New York Review of Books, that raised the question of authenticity. When the author raised the issue, he was not aware of an interview given by a member of the Zhao family to Voice of America, in which it was confirmed that: first, the tapes are genuine; and second, they haven’t come out too early, but rather, too late. From my point of view there is no question of their authenticity, because I know they are genuine.

Nathan: What’s the story of the tapes, the ins and outs of their origin? How did you come by them? The Zhao family, according to co-editor Adi Ignatius, did not know of the tapes’ existence, so how can they be qualified to think that the tapes were genuine?

Bao: When Zhao died, his family didn’t know the tapes existed. After his death, the person who had the tapes told friends, including us, and that is when I passed a message through a family member saying, you have to have a look around your house and see if they’re there. They found them not long after. But what they had was incomplete, the tapes were scattered among several people: Du Daozheng1 for one, just as he wrote in his preface to the memoir; and Yao Xihua,2 Xiao Hongda,3 and Du Xingyuan.4

Nathan: So these four, Du Daozheng and the others, all had a portion of the tapes?

Bao: Each one of them had some. The entire collection process consisted of these four agreeing to pool the tapes they had, but it was a long process. Otherwise, as far as the authenticity goes, since there was sound and Zhao was a public figure, whose voice had been broadcast in the media and had been in earlier recordings, technically speaking making a few comparisons is not difficult. But no one has raised real doubts about any of this and no one has done any testing.

He Qinglian: Once I read it, I had no doubts about the authenticity of the book, because I had seen some documents that recorded Zhao Ziyang’s speeches. His tone, use of words and turns of phrase, including some particulars of the way he talked and some of his thoughts during certain events and in certain settings, are all, I feel, very much in keeping with his style of doing things and speaking.

Nathan: In his preface [to the English version of the book], Adi says that Zhao made these recordings around the year 2000. The first question is, what is the reason to suggest that they were made in 2000? An even larger question is, why did Zhao decide to make a confession at that [particular] time?

Bao: This is quite clear. The 2000 date has now already been verified, since there is other reference material—that is, the book published by Yang Jisheng, called Political Struggles in China’s Age of Reform. This book has an appendix, in which he says that there is an excerpt of a recording of Zhao. If you compare them carefully, his Appendix Three is Chapter One of Prisoner of the State. This goes to say that when Zhao began to make the recordings, several people were present, including Yang Jisheng. Yang Jisheng, however, says in the book that he later heard that Zhao was no longer recording, and when people heard this they seemed to have believed that Zhao later made no recordings, while in fact Zhao continued recording. When Yang Jisheng published his book in late 2004, Zhao saw it before he died. So Yang Jisheng put down very clearly the time of the recording. [Zhao gives the time as] May 28, 2000, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and Yang confirms that recording did indeed begin on May 28, 2000.

As to the larger question, I think that something had happened in the Party and in Zhao’s personal life around 2000. I think that’s what it was. Prior to my father’s [Bao Tong] release from prison, so this was prior to 1997, Zhao had kept expressing hope that my father would help him co-write a book to be called Ten Years in Beijing; this is common knowledge. Zhao believed that when my father came out of prison the two of them would be able to get together, talk, and do some writing together. Who would have imagined that when my father got out of prison, not only could they not get together, it was not even possible to pass any messages between them. 1997 passed and by 2000 he may have given up on the idea of co-writing the book, which is the time when Du Daozheng says they urged him [to leave something to posterity], and so in 2000 Zhao began making the tapes.

What happened to Zhao before he began to make the tapes, from 1997 to 2000? In 1997, he wrote a letter to Jiang Zemin and the 15th Party Congress, for which Jiang Zemin retaliated by restricting Zhao’s movement and access to visitors, so that there was no way he could see anyone. He could consequently not record anything from 1997 to 2000. It did not occur to him to do any tape-recording without help. So now we come to 2000. I’d say that his tape-recording probably took him one to two years. Why? Because, as far as I know, he was in poor health in 2003. From the start of the SARS epidemic—he was in Shandong at the time—his health deteriorated rapidly, so he couldn’t have made the recordings after 2003.

Nathan: So you’re saying he couldn’t have made them without help?

Bao: Because he may not have thought of making the tapes himself to start with. He began at the urging of several friends, who said the way to do it was by having a conversation. But the bulk of the recording did not happen in the context of a conversation. Instead he recorded the tapes himself.

Nathan: His decision to make the tapes in 2000 was related to Bao Tong’s release from prison and Jiang Zemin’s tightening of the restrictions on his house arrest conditions. Was it not also in some way related to the progress in his own [way of] thinking? I mean, he had ideas about reform of the political system in the past, but over the passage of a long period of time his thinking changed. Or, perhaps it had something to do with his personal development?

Bao: I don’t really have any direct knowledge of that, but I think that in his later years his views were changing. When did those changes take place, when did his thinking change? It must have been after Deng Xiaoping’s death, that is to say after 1997, because while Deng was alive, the way of doing things would not have changed. After Deng died, he may have had a new perspective.

“Chief Architect,” Godfather, or Midwife of Reforms?

Nathan: What value does this book have for the historical period from 1980 to 1987?

He: I think that Zhao’s book has a rare and incomparable value. After 1949, several high-level leaders fell from grace, were imprisoned, or were put under house arrest—for example, Liu Shaoqi, Hu Yaobang, and then Zhao Ziyang—but only Zhao left behind some firsthand information by way of making tape-recordings. Moreover, this first-hand information was recorded only after he read some other materials and books and felt that he should leave behind his own voice [on these matters]. That’s why a lot of what is there is defensive in nature. For me personally, this is the most valuable first-hand resource for the study of this period of history. No matter where you stand or what point of view you hold, this should be the first book you read.

Actually, when it comes to the misunderstanding of Zhao, in the fall of 1988, under very special circumstances, I heard Ren Zhongyi5 and his wife talk with Feng Lanrui, the wife of Central Advisory Commission Secretary Li Chang.6 What left the most profound impression on me was when the talk turned to the resentment some people in Beijing’s high-cadre circles bore toward Zhao Ziyang. They said that if Zhao had chosen to stand with Hu Yaobang at the outset and resist Deng Xiaoping, the outcome might have been different. They were the senior generation [of leaders], and though I did have my doubts about their conclusions, in the end I put a question to them. My question was, even supposing Zhao had stood with Hu in defying Deng, could he have withstood the institutionalized violence Deng Xiaoping represented? Their first response was that perhaps the situation might have been somewhat different, perhaps it would not have been possible to change the situation fundamentally, but at least it would have been a little better.

In 1998, during a private meeting with Ren Zhongyi, I asked him the same question. His response this time was slightly different from that of a decade before. He said: “This is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot. We used to complain about Zhao Ziyang, but when I think about it now, maybe we blamed him unjustly. Even if he had chosen to side with Hu Yaobang at the time, he would not necessarily have been able to change the outcome.” I don’t know whether Ren Zhongyi ever said this to anyone else, but the appearance of Zhao’s book at least explains this issue in some respects.

Gao Wenqian: The 1980s reforms are one of the core subjects of Zhao Ziyang’s memoirs, touching on the true facts of this period of history and a re-evaluation of those involved. After the book came out, government news agencies undertook to refute it by publishing several signed articles, arguing about who was really the chief architect of China’s reform and opening. Evidently, this issue touched some official sore spot, deconstructing the long officially-promoted myth that Deng Xiaoping was the chief architect of China’s reform and opening. I feel that restoring the true features of this period of history is the important historical value of this book.

[T]his is the most valuable first-hand resource for the study of this period  of history. No matter where you stand or what point of view you hold, this should be the first book you read.

Actually, it was Bao Tong who called Deng Xiaoping the chief architect of China’s reform and opening. In this we can see the relationship between Zhao Ziyang and Deng Xiaoping in their “honeymoon” period; and it was a tactical consideration of Zhao’s at the time he was pushing for reform. But Deng could hardly live up to this glorious reputation. Deng came out of politics; he said himself that he did not understand economics. When he reemerged at the late stage of the Cultural Revolution, Mao let him do the clean-up of the Cultural Revolution mess. His approach was rectification. When the Cultural Revolution ended, and he was truly in charge politically, his prescription was speed and frugality, hard work and perseverance, stability and unity, both red and expert; still the same old stuff from Mao’s era. It was Zhao Ziyang who had trodden the road to China’s economic reform, one step at a time. The entire Chinese economic model, structure, and development strategies rested on the foundation laid down by Zhao in those days. Zhao’s achievement in China’s reform and opening and in its economic take-off cannot be hidden.

In his book, Zhao details his explorations in reform of the economic system, each step he took, from the contract responsibility system, expanding the autonomy of peasants, to the urban economic system reform, expanding the autonomy of enterprises, and on to formulating development strategy for the coastal economy. After Zhao fell from power, there was no further official mention of a development strategy for the coastal regions, but the strategy of “big inputs and big exports; both sourced overseas” hadn’t changed at all. It was still Zhao’s idea, and had, moreover, become the development strategy for the entire economy. In fact, in his book, Zhao did not, as the official refutation claimed, usurp the title of chief architect of reform and opening; he only described his exploration process.

[T]o say that Deng is the chief architect of reform and opening does not tally with the facts. At the very least, it is inaccurate, an official misleading [of the public]. If we must bestow some kind of title on Deng, it has to be preceded by a modifier: the chief architect of the lame duck reform and opening.

It cannot be denied that Deng Xiaoping, as the supreme leader, had an extremely large role in reform and opening. Without Deng’s approval and support, the reform and opening could not have succeeded. But the more important aspect of Deng’s role was having the final say in decision-making. As Professor Mac Farquhar says, he was the godfather; he didn’t bother with the details. There are similar examples of this in history. Without the gracious approval of the Empress Dowager, the Westernization Movement of the late Manchu Qing Dynasty would have failed. But nobody has ever said that the Empress Dowager was the representative figure of the Westernization Movement; it was Li Hongzhang7 and Zhang Zhidong.8 Again, with the Hundred Days Reform [of 1898],9 in spite of the fact that it was the Guangxu Emperor who issued the edict [to launch it], it was known as Kang’s and Liang’s Reform10 rather than as the Guangxu Reform. Thus, whether looking at it realistically or historically, to say that Deng is the chief architect of reform and opening does not tally with the facts. At the very least, it is inaccurate, an official misleading [of the public]. If we must bestow some kind of title on Deng, it has to be preceded by a modifier: the chief architect of the lame duck reform and opening.

“[P]ractice is ahead of theory, the masses are ahead of the leaders.”

Hu Ping: I have also commented on this “chief architect” issue. What we’re talking about here, of course, are China’s economic reforms.

Actually, with regard to China’s economic reforms, there was a saying at the time: “practice is ahead of theory, the masses are ahead of the leaders,” which is to say that, whether we’re talking about the rural household responsibility system, urban long-distance transport, or even private hiring of laborers, at first it was the masses themselves at the bottom who started it, if only because in those days the political environment was relatively relaxed and this was not immediately repressed. Second, specific reform ideas and policy decisions were primarily proposed or adopted by Zhao Ziyang. In the same way we say Shang Yang’s Reforms, not the Qin Duke Xiao’s reforms, or Wang Anshi’s Reforms, not the reforms of the Song Emperor Shen Zong,11 Deng at most played the role of an emperor—nothing happened without his nod or tacit consent. But Deng’s role was somewhat smaller than that of an emperor, because Zhao did not acquire his position as Premier entirely through Deng’s individual power, while in ancient times—Shang Yang’s, for example—if the monarch did not promote you, you were nothing. Zhao was able to gain the position of decision maker with regard to economic reform and his reliance on Deng was by far smaller than Shang Yang’s reliance on Duke Xiao of the Qin.

The Party wants both to reform and to discard socialism, to bring in capitalism, as well as to protect its socialist name and in so doing preserve its own autocratic power. The ambiguity of the “primary stage of socialism” seems to be allowing it to simultaneously wear two hats.

Besides, everyone knows that Zhao Ziyang had a large group of aids and advisors around him, whether real or bogus, self-proclaimed or genuine. Deng Xiaoping had no aids or advisors by his side because, as everyone knows, Deng didn’t care about such things. So anyone who had a plan or a policy to offer did not go to Deng with it, because they knew that he didn’t care about that sort of thing at all. Communist officials themselves were very clear about this kind of relationship, but they couldn’t very well compare Deng’s role to that of an emperor. The term “chief architect” is very modern, so that was the label they slapped on him. Mac Farquhar says his role resembles that of a godfather, which is very similar to what I mean.

The section where Zhao speaks of the 1987 reforms is also very significant, where he talks about “the primary stage of socialism.” He puts it very clearly. He says that the reforms were an invalidation of the measures and policies adopted since the 1950s.Deng had said something similar as well, that the reforms were a second revolution. Well, what would he have been referring to as the first revolution? Not the Xinhai Revolution of 1911,12 but indeed that of 1949. That is to say, the members of the Communist Party were all very clear that when the reforms had reached a certain stage, they were going to change everything that the Communist Party had originally stood for—all that they themselves had done.

But this is just leading to trouble. If the Communist Party clearly says that the reforms mean changing what the Communist Party itself originally stood for, isn’t that tantamount to admitting that the Communist revolution had been a mistake? So what’s the basis for the Communist Party to still be ruling the country? The legitimacy of your regime is completely gone! At the time some people were saying that we should be learning the lessons of capitalism, others that we should return to [Mao’s idea of] New Democracy. Zhao Ziyang said both of these arguments made sense, but could not be accepted because they would lead to controversy and chaos. It would be tantamount to cutting the ground from under your own feet and the top leadership would definitely not let that happen. So Zhao adopted the formulation “the primary stage of socialism.”

The beauty of this kind of phrasing is that, on the one hand, the Communist Party can in practice be vigorously getting rid of socialism and vigorously restoring capitalism; on the other hand, it can have the gall to proclaim that it is still socialist, in the “primary stage of socialism,” stubbornly insisting that today’s reforms are a continuation of yesterday’s revolution, allowing the Communist Party to continue to hang onto power. The Party wants both to reform and to discard socialism, to bring in capitalism, as well as to protect its socialist name and in so doing preserve its own autocratic power. The ambiguity of the “primary stage of socialism” seems to be allowing it to simultaneously wear two hats. That’s why some people mockingly said at the time: “The primary stage is a big basket, stuffed with anything and everything.” In reality, the people of good sense can see right through this kind of wordplay and camouflage. So following the 13th Party Congress, as the economic reforms increasingly intensified, not only was the legitimacy of the Communist Party’s autocratic power not consolidated, it also met with many more challenges.

One can see from this part of Zhao Ziyang’s discourse that among the Communist Party leaders there had in fact long been a tacit understanding about economic reforms being the negation of the revolution.

Xia Ming: I differ a bit from my friends here. I’ve brought up and discussed the question of who is the chief architect in my book The Dual Developmental State, published in 2000. I think it is obvious that Deng Xiaoping is not the chief architect, because his “wading across the river by feeling for the rocks,” his “white cat/black cat theory,” and, later, his “three advantages,” all lacked ultimate rules and master blue prints. However, the position of Deng Xiaoping, tome, is that of a midwife. The so-called midwife, according to the philosophy of Socrates is, first, the person who says, I am an old man, incapable of giving birth to a lot of innovative ideas. So young people, be it the ones exploring reform in China at the time or trail-blazers, they have a great many new ideas, and Deng Xiaoping wanted to deliver them successfully into the world. From his interaction with Zhao Ziyang, Wan Li,13 and others, including [in the context of] the rural contract policy, we can see Deng Xiaoping’s position. Zhao Ziyang and Wan Li were, of course, in the forefront, but it was Wan Li who came into direct conflict with the Central Committee. Wan Li had a conflict with Hua Guofeng14 back then about the rural contracts, whether to take the “single plank footbridge” or a “broad highway.” In the end, Deng Xiaoping sided with Wan Li. Wan Li said, you have to give me a “certificate of legitimate birth,” because the countryside is already stirring.

Also, the midwife has another function in Socrates’ philosophy: when young people have wild fantasies or weird thoughts, the midwife has the responsibility to put an end to them, either by refusing to deliver them, or, once the deformed children are born, by strangling them. If we look at him as a midwife, Deng Xiaoping’s role through the entire period from 1978 to 1989 is consistent. In the course of his interactions with Wan Li, Zhao Ziyang, and others, he delivered the new [ideas] he wanted to bring to fruition. But on the other hand, when it came to 1989, and even including the bourgeois liberalization of 1986 and the earlier anti spiritual pollution, he thought of them as weird and he did not allow them to be born, or he killed them after birth. This was his consistent role.

I would also like to raise another dissenting view, which is that when we look back on history today, and clearly in passing judgment on Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang, it’s easy for us to make the mistake of using [the knowledge of] what’s already come to pass today to criticize the extremely complex political policies and choices of the 1980s. Especially given the June Fourth massacre and the many new problems that have emerged in today’s reforms, if we use the deaths of the June Fourth Massacre and then the many long-standing mistaken ideas of today’s reforms to judge Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang, we can easily develop a tendency to moralize—to juxtapose light and dark, to juxtapose justice and evil, such that it’s easy to turn Zhao Ziyang into the embodiment of justice and the representative of China’s future, the spokesperson for China’s democratization, while turning Deng Xiaoping into the representative of despotism, the embodiment of conservatism and reaction.

[W]hen young people have wild fantasies or weird thoughts, the midwife has the responsibility to put an end to them, either by refusing to deliver them, or, once the deformed children are born, by strangling them.

This sort of juxtaposition of moralistic dualities is problematic, so I have a basic question to pose: Did Zhao Ziyang’s thinking undergo a great change? When we bestow all kinds of titles on Zhao Ziyang today, when we say that Zhao was a pioneer of democratization and wanted to carry out democratic reforms, I’m afraid that this Zhao Ziyang is the Zhao who had lost power, the Zhao of his later years, or that this is an elegy for Zhao Ziyang, the political legacy that he left behind before departing from this world. I think that if we separate these things, it will be much clearer. Did such an evolution, such a turning point in Zhao really exist? Furthermore, at this sort of turning point, in this evolution, what factors made him endorse parliamentary democracy, rather than continue to uphold the Communist system? Yet, he also said in the past in his book[s] that he was a committed Communist. In the past he believed that only the economy needed reform and that one ought to be conservative in politics. So I wonder if there hadn’t been some significant events in all this that influenced him.

He: Actually, I said long ago that Deng Xiaoping was a chief architect of reform who does not design. The title of chief architect only emerged in the 1980s; it did not exist when Deng Xiaoping first became the political master. Judging from the entire reform process and the current situation, Zhao Ziyang really ought not to be considered the chief architect of the reforms. I recently finished two essays, one called “The Lopsided Development of State Capacity and Its Results during the Reform,” the other “"Opening for 30 Years: The Disillusioned Myth of Foreign Investment in China.” According to my analysis of the reform and opening in these two articles, they were most certainly not designed by Zhao Ziyang. Why? Zhao was the engineer of some technical details, but he was not the chief architect of reform and opening. This “reform and opening” implemented in China can be called a kind of reform of state opportunism, characterized by the privatization of power and influence and lacking in fairness and justice.

After a period of time, as our distance from history and historical figures increases, our evaluation of them might get more objective.

Early on, Deng had said in an internal meeting that China’s reforms were like straw sandals for which there is no model; their shape emerges as you weave them, so to insist that there was a grand blueprint for reform and opening, that somebody on top had drawn up an outline, is a deception. Because, except for the words “reform and opening” themselves, [when it comes to] the specific content of the reform and opening, virtually every state leader has gone about it in his or her own way, step by step right up to the present. Besides, I would like to add, there is really no point at all in arguing now over who was the “chief architect of reform and opening,” because any historical event needs time to sink in. After a period of time, as our distance from history and historical figures increases, our evaluation of them might get more objective. As for Zhao Ziyang’s role in this historical era and his relationship with Deng Xiaoping, as well as their historical roles in reform and opening, I think that later some relatively objective assessments will gradually appear. Discussing it like this now, I think, we will not be able to come up with a relatively objective conclusion.

Nathan: Bao Pu, in this part of our discussion there are two questions. One is that of the chief architect, and the other is the question raised by Xia Ming, whether prior to 1989 Zhao was a true democrat. Could you say something about these two issues?

Historical Legacies

Bao: I agree with He Qinglian’s view that the question of whether there had after all been an architect of reform and opening should be left for later discussion; after the history settles, we may all see it more clearly. Architect, godfather, midwife, I don’t think that Zhao wanted to contend for any title in this book; he only laid out fairly clearly what happened at that time and what each leader did. This is first-hand information, and everyone can do their own research on whether what he said is right or not. I think the most important thing is what sort of role each leader played at that time, in China’s reform and opening, what they did, and this is very clear. This is enough. The facts have been laid out clearly. As for commentary, every individual has their own point of view.

Then, as to whether Zhao was a pioneer of democracy, which Xia Ming raised—I don’t think that Zhao thought of himself that way, nor have I heard of any sound commentary that made that claim. As far as I know, from staff who worked at Zhao’s side and from Zhao’s family members, this was Zhao’s actual evaluation of himself: he didn’t see the choices he made during the 1989 Democracy Movement as the most significant thing he had done in his life. He simply said, “Even though I am the General Secretary, I cannot be a general secretary who opens fire [on people], I cannot play that role.” That was his starting position, and that’s how he fixed his standing. To him, his political achievement, what he appreciated about himself, where he thought he had made a significant contribution, was indeed in China’s economic reforms. I don’t think we can say that he had a blueprint for China’s economic reforms, that everyone then worked out the plans based on his blueprint, and realized it in the end. That’s not what I mean at all, but that as a premier, in that position, he was conscious that the direction of China’s reforms was to get rid of everything Mao had stood for. This is what he was conscious of politically. What was the contribution he made in his position? It was to overcome various political difficulties, which basically means to suppress the political opposition and create for those who were concretely implementing China’s reforms nine years in which to do so. He played the role that he could play as a politician.

June Fourth was a moral choice, not a political one. The best politicians demonstrate their moral choices in their political choices. Moral choices are very easy. Every one of us can casually make moral choices, but politicians are flatly unwilling to make them. For example, when Hu Yaobang fell from power, Zhao did not make amoral choice, and that was in fact his political choice. It was fine, as long as he didn’t strike the person who was already down, as long as he could protect his subordinates from the fate of the superiors and protect many cadres from being forced out. This was the kind of choice he made at the time. Then in 1989, he was forced to grudgingly make the moral choice, or else he wouldn’t have been able to casually have the showdown with Deng Xiaoping. We must examine Zhao from the angle that he was a politician; only from this angle can our consideration of him be relatively accurate. I think that labels like architect, midwife, or democracy pioneer are not important. I think that Zhao was a very good politician.

June Fourth was a moral choice, not a political one. The best politicians demonstrate their moral choices in their political choices.

Hu: This question [of Zhao as “chief architect”] and the following question [of whether Zhao was a true democrat prior to 1989] are connected. When Zhao Ziyang spoke, he put it very clearly: prior to 1989, he did not at all consider undertaking political reform. Moreover, prior to 1989, he was for a while even expressing a great deal of interest in neo-authoritarianism. In this sense, there is no basis for saying he was a democracy pioneer. It’s also out of the question to call Hu Yaobang a democracy pioneer. But they have one point in common, and it is that Zhao Ziyang was unwilling to suppress, unwilling to kill people. What’s more, when he spoke about opposing liberalism in 1987, he kept wanting to lighten the [meted out] punishment as much as possible. Zhao says he was not in favor of the anti-bourgeois liberalism campaign, but he felt he couldn’t get in the way of it. What he could do was to protect people as much as possible. This is a fairly new piece of information given in this book.

In my view, being able to do as much was quite an accomplishment! Because the so-called Communist Party dictatorship is, in the final analysis, repression. As long as you do not repress people—if you don’t repress people today, tomorrow you’ll have democracy. If you carefully examine Gorbachev’s “New Thinking” of that year, it actually contains very little that is democratic, and could not hold up theoretically under our scrutiny. It is simply an unwillingness to make people suffer. If in the 1989 Democracy Movement the students had been scared off by the April 26 editorial15 and had turned back, Zhao Ziyang would have been able to handle it and would not have gone on to do anything. Since the editorial did not intimidate the students and even more students took to the streets, Beijing residents took to the streets too, and faced with such a large-scale mass protest, the Communist Party had to either kill people or give in. These were the only two choices. People like Zhao Ziyang and Hu Yaobang were unwilling to kill people. Had the 1989 Democracy Movement not ended in a massacre, the gate to China’s democratization would have been opened and the aftermath would have been entirely different.

What happened to Zhao Ziyang and Hu Yaobang just goes to prove that under the Communist system it all comes down to whether you are willing to persist in carrying out political persecutions. If you renounce political persecution, the whole political system will immediately be transformed. In his preface, Bao Tong says that during these 20 years since June Fourth, little Tiananmen incidents have been taking place everyday, because the Communist Party knows that it must act this way, that the moment it abandons repression, things will immediately be different. The June Fourth Incident demonstrates that statements as to whether the Communist system will be democratized, whether it will undergo political reform, whether reform will be radical or gradual all fail to grasp the main point. Only one point is crucial, and that is whether your Communist party kills people. If not, your system will collapse. To maintain the system of the Communist Party dictatorship, You must kill people; if you don’t, you will not survive. That’s all there is to it.

Gao: Zhao should indeed be evaluated appropriately; I’m not in favor of overrating him either. But the present issue is that there has been an official injunction on Zhao’s historical role in economic reform. This has been A major trend. The problem now is not that too much has been made of Zhao’s achievements in reform and opening, but that people hardly know about them at all. Through this book, we can recover the original features of history. As for the issue of political reform, I think that there was an evolutionary process in Zhao’s thinking. The book also mentions that he did not have any intention of pursuing democratization while he was in office, and that to say so is an exaggeration. The way Zhao puts it is that he indeed did not intend to change the Communist Party’s governing position; he only wanted to change its governing methods.

After Zhao fell from power, he still thought in the 1990s that the Marxist “scriptures” were good, but that forked-tongue monks like Mao Zedong had twisted their meaning. Yet, upon reflection during his house arrest, he in the end came to the conclusion that China should implement a system of parliamentary democracy. And this is the last question raised by Professor Nathan. When Zhao speaks about the Western system of parliamentary democracy in the book, he does see problems with it, but he still sees it as the best of the political systems we now have, and as one that can solve the problem of corruption in Chinese society. Six months before Zhao Ziyang’s death, there was an article on the Internet, “A Visit to No. 6, Fuqiang Hutong,” which spoke of Zhao’s view of the current political situation. It and Zhao’s secret journal shed light on each other. First, he thought that China was pursuing the worst sort of capitalism, an abnormal combination of unrestricted power and market economy leading to serious corruption; to solve this problem there must be political reform. Second, his authority was insufficient to undertake the political reform; only one person could have done it, and that was Deng Xiaoping. But Deng wouldn’t do it.

Here, I’d like to say something about a historical evaluation of Deng Xiaoping. Deng was a pragmatist, a mixture of old and new. Though we say that he created his own era, the other half of him was mired in the Mao era, and he played the double role of a reformer and a conservative. He was a reform-dabbler, on the one hand vigorously carrying out economic reforms, while on the other stubbornly rejecting political reform. Deng’s goal in economic reform and opening was very clear: an attempt to use the market economy to preserve a one party dictatorship. Deng said internally that the core of the Four Fundamental Principles of Socialism was to secure the leadership of the Party, everything else could be changed, but the political system of one-party dictatorship must not be touched. But Hu and Zhao were more sincere than Deng, or you might say that these two were the last idealists in the Communist Party. It is precisely because of this that Hu and Zhao in the end parted ways with Deng.

Everyone writes their own history. At an important historical juncture, Zhao Ziyang opted to give up his position as General Secretary and not open fire on the people, changing the way people saw him, including me. What made people respect him even more was that he was a person of great integrity who remained under house arrest until his death without giving in or making a self-criticism.

And let me talk about the change in my own understanding of Zhao Ziyang. I was once inside the system. When Hu Yaobang died in 1989, he was universally seen as a man of sincerity. He gave people the feeling that he was affable and respectable, while the impression Zhao gave was of being open-minded and highly perceptive, but not of as fine a character as Hu. Why would this be the case? Because people felt that there was a bit too much maneuvering and scheming about Zhao; he did not have the candor of Hu Yaobang. Of course, the negative side of Hu’s candor was that he was not politically mature and did not understand political maneuvering. Bao Pu had also raised this issue just now. On the question of Hu’s ouster, Zhao’s choice was political, not moral. Evaluating individuals based on their political and moral choices is an interesting angle, but I don’t think that a politician’s moral choices are unimportant. Actually, what stays with people in the long run are a politician’s moral character and personal charisma, especially in traditional Chinese culture. Secondly, the two cannot be completely separated, and it’s difficult to accommodate both. In Hu’s ouster, Zhao remained neutral. He did not extend a helping hand, and his moral image suffered; he was criticized. On the other hand, on the issue of June Fourth, Zhao’s choice was amoral one, he did not consent to repression and was eliminated as a result, losing later influence on political developments.

Everyone writes his or her own history. At an important historical juncture, Zhao Ziyang opted to give up his position as General Secretary and not open fire on the people, changing the way people saw him, including me. What made people respect him even more was that he was a person of great integrity who remained under house arrest until his death without giving in or making a self-criticism, which is something Hu Yaobang was unable to do. Of all the General Secretaries in the history of the Communist Party of China, only Chen Duxiu16 can stand in comparison. And this is not all. During his 16 years under house arrest, Zhao continued to be concerned for and ponder state affairs, and he left a political legacy. On the issue of where China was headed in the future, he said the country should go the route of parliamentary democracy. This was the burst of glorious splendor in his later years. Mao Zedong’s political legacy is the Cultural Revolution. Deng Xiaoping’s political legacy is the lame duck-style reform and opening, revitalizing the economy and ensuring the death of politics. Jiang Zemin’s legacy is the “Three Represents.” Hu Jintao is now proposing the “Harmonious Society.” If we compare these various legacies, Zhao’s legacy will undoubtedly have the most lasting value in historical terms; it is the only path for China’s future.

Understanding Democracy and Political Reform

Nathan: Could we continue with a discussion of Zhao’s concept of democracy? I want to pose a two-part question. First, prior to 1989, he said himself that his idea was that the governing position of the Communist Party would not change but that the governing methods must change. But he later said that the change of governing methods involved six aspects: one, transparency; two, opening channels of communication, including allowing some social groups to exist; three, changing the electoral system; four, separation of Party and government; five, effective guarantees of civil rights; and, six, lifting the ban on [the expression of] public opinion. Don’t these six amount to genuine democracy?

Second, they say that after 1989 Zhao’s concept was parliamentary democracy. Was his concept of parliamentary democracy tantamount to genuine parliamentary democracy? I want to pose this question because in 2000, parliamentary democracy in his eyes was probably Taiwan’s parliamentary democracy. Because Zong Fengming says in his book that Taiwan has a parliamentary democracy, but says that Taiwan’s KMT Party can still hold on and that the opposition parties are a minority. I suspect that his concept of parliamentary democracy differs hugely on these two issues after 1989. He doesn’t give more details, but shouldn’t we understand that his concept of parliamentary democracy means calling a parliament and letting it discuss, but still having the Communist Party rule?

He: I think that a discussion of Zhao Ziyang’s thinking on democracy only makes sense if we consider it under one premise: if we separate the understanding of democracy and the role played by Zhao, the Party and state leader prior to 1989, from Zhao, the individual post- 1989. Zhao did indeed make some attempts at political [reform], for example, at the separation of Party and government, and the separation of government and business. These were gradually abandoned in the Jiang Zemin era, and by Hu Jintao’s time there was basically a return to the fusion of the Party and the government, and the merger of the government and business. Moreover, Party branches were established in foreign and private enterprises. This was tantamount to a rejection of all Zhao’s early attempts, as the Party used yet another method to strengthen its control over business.

It should be said that the gains of Zhao’s reforms had been pretty much wiped out by Hu Jintao’s time. As for the six points Andy [Nathan] just mentioned, I think that at the time Zhao raised them, he still intended them to be [implemented] under Party control. That is to say, it was the Party that bestowed democracy on everyone. Up to now, the only objective of democracy discussed—whether by Hu Yaobang or Zhao Ziyang, or even presently at the high levels within the Party, dissatisfied with the current leadership—is democracy within the Party, collective leadership, and opposition to Mao’s style. Such inner-Party democracy means that those in the Party will have even more power than the people outside it.

Up to now, what China has meant by democracy and what democracy is in Western society, whether denotatively or connotatively, are, I believe, two different things, similar only in terminology.

A few years ago, Yu Keping called democracy a good thing,17 after all is said and done, a goal: by first implementing democracy in the Party, you divide Party members and Party cadres from ordinary people into two [distinct] groups. It’s okay to talk of democracy within the Party, but not for the ordinary masses to do so. This is an entirely different thing from Western democracy. Up to now, what China has meant by democracy and what democracy is in Western society, whether denotatively or connotatively, are, I believe, two different things, similar only in terminology. Personally, I feel that all of them—Deng Xiaoping, Hu Yaobang, or Zhao Ziyang—had an implicit premise when they spoke of democracy back then, and that is the preservation of Communist Party rule. Under the premise of maintaining Communist Party rule, you could change the methods of governance a little, allow for a little more inner-Party democracy by, for example, implementing collective Party leadership, slightly increasing local decision- making power, etc. As for Zhao Ziyang’s reflections after 1989, since he was no longer a high-level leader of the Communist Party, his reflections were significant for the sublimation of his individual thinking, but no longer had any impact on the political life of the country. I’m afraid that parliamentary democracy as Zhao understood it was not what we would think of as Western- style democracy. In fact, it is certain that he probably wasn’t yet too clear about the differences between European-style democratic politics and American-style democratic politics. And he may not have been very clear about the differences between Japanese-style democratic politics and those of Europe and the U.S., or the differences between Asian-style democracy and that of Europe and the U.S. We, too, have only discovered these differences as our age increased and as our understanding of the world outside China gradually deepened. The impact of Zhao’s highly overrated democratic thinking on the course of Chinese politics is probably not very objective.

I feel that the significance of remembering Zhao Ziyang lies in the fact that once he had become a prisoner of the state, he began to reflect on some issues that he could not reflect on as a national leader, and this still had a positive meaning in the sublimation and perfection of his personal thinking. From the list given in Zong Fengming’s book,18 the reader can see that Zhao really read a great number of books while under house arrest, especially books and articles critiquing China’s current politics and economics. He was in touch with current issues in China and reflected on them. But, being an old man in his seventies, his reflections had much in common with those of others of his generation, who just felt that the Communist Party could be improved. He certainly did not feel like we do that the Communist revolution was in itself a disaster for China. Of course he most decidedly did not think like us. That’s how I see it.

Nathan: Zong Fengming states in his book that Zhao read He Qinglian’s China’s Pitfall and Gao Wenqian’s Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary. In his talk at a forum held at Columbia University, Hu Ping said he also read newspaper reports.

He: The issues that arose later, in the late 1990s, may well have been beyond the scope of what Zhao could imagine, since the problems while he was in office in the 1980s were very different from those that arose later. So it’s almost inevitable that at times he seems to be at a loss, unable to understand. The actions of the Communist government in the 1990s went beyond the scope of what he could understand. His value lay in his willingness to read these things and his willingness to ponder the factors that caused these issues. I have heard a few stories; one of them was that after my book came out, Liu Shaoqi’s secretary paid for 30 copies out of his own pocket and took them around by bicycle to give them to some of his old cadre friends so they could read it, telling them, here’s what the reforms have turned into, I hope you’ll all read this book. They understood my book on the basis of their own vision, ever hopeful that the Communist Party could find a better route to reform, and that the present unjust reforms were something the Communist Party would be able to overcome.

You cannot expect a person to reach to the sky by pulling himself up by his own hair, to surpass by far the thinking level of his contemporaries. Looking at it from this angle, Zhao Ziyang is one man who went further than others of his generation.

I once had a conversation with Li Shenzhi,19 Li Rui,20 and Zhu Houze.21 When we were wrapping up, Li Shenzhi asked the other two: We were high cadres, Party members. Facts are facts. Why did we not even think of these problems while we were in office, when we see them so clearly now? Li Rui thought for a moment and said: Where you sit determines how you think, doesn’t it? Where your interests lie—that’s where you look for issues. They asked me what my view of the Communist Party rule really was. I said that China in the modern era has relied on the propping up by five rogue political groups: following the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom we had [Zeng Guofan’s] Hunan Army, [Li Hongzhang’s] Huai Army, the Northern warlords, the Kuomintang, and the Communist Party, five political-military groups. These five political groups did not emerge independently, from separate shells, they are related by birth, each conceived in the womb of its predecessor, each one more gangsterish than the last. At the time they asked me why I hadn’t published this view and I said, if I did, could I remain in China?

Someone has said that Zhao Ziyang was a Marxist to the day he died and that therefore he shouldn’t be thought of too highly. I think historical figures should be evaluated in comparison with others of their own era, to see whether they have gone further, whether they have reached heights others of their era did not, rather than comparing them with those who have come after. You cannot expect a person to reach to the sky by pulling himself up by his own hair, to surpass by far the thinking level of his contemporaries. Looking at it from this angle, Zhao Ziyang is one man who went further than others of his generation.

Xia: I’d like to follow up by raising two points. One concerns Zhao Ziyang’s political reforms and contribution. The 13th Party Congress political report clearly and systematically expressed what he envisaged on this score. Andy [Nathan] just brought up those six points. The first thing Zhao wanted to do as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China was weaken the Party’s power and position. For example, he wanted to start weakening the system of Party organizations in enterprises and universities. I think this is a tremendous contribution. This is not a matter of position determining standpoint. I think for a general secretary to proceed to weaken the power and position of the Party is highly significant.

I have two questions I’d like to ask of Bao Pu, to ask his view on the basis of having edited this book. The first is that I don’t feel it’s entirely necessary that we set Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang against each other on moral grounds. I’m thinking, Deng and Zhao had worked very well together for a long time; why did this cooperation break apart? Why let suspicion have the upper hand? Did the lines of communication completely fail in the end? I’m thinking, Deng Xiaoping’s reforms were marked by uncertainty. Deng had no clear direction or certainty about his future prospects. If Hu Yaobang and the later Zhao Ziyang were the explorers of reform, did they propose better-defined thinking to solve the problems brought on by Deng’s uncertainties? Were there feasible, systematic, and clear plans and methods? Does the book get into this?

My second question concerns Zhao Ziyang’s problems with those of his own generation and his problems with those of the younger generation. There were obviously a lot of young people around Zhao—including of course Bao Tong, Chen Yizi’s Institute for Economic Structural Reform, and several research centers under the State Council. Obviously, Zhao was surrounded by people who were younger and whose thinking was more modern than his own, so in 1989, was it ultimately Zhao who used these young people to exert his influence in Tiananmen, or was he, as some maintain, taken captive by these young people and dragged down by them? There were in fact many young people in Beijing at the time who proposed a “submarine policy”: if Zhao Ziyang won’t come to our aid, we’ll lie in wait under water and, when the time is ripe, suddenly surface; by pursuing reform this way, we can achieve our goals. So I’d like to hear your views.

Bao: I think what Xia Ming just said about the uncertainty of Deng’s reforms is wrong, because Deng was very certain. He was politically extremely certain: his certainty was the one-party dictatorship. From the anti rightist polices of 1958, Mao’s fall from favor, the shift of the blame for the crimes of the Cultural Revolution from Mao onto the Gang of Four, to, finally, his positing of the Four Fundamental Principles; from the 1979 Democracy Wall to the repression of 1989, Deng was extremely certain politically that the one-party dictatorship could not be changed. As for whether Zhao Ziyang used the students, I don’t think there was any such thing. For one, at the time the students were not at all a political force that could be used. As to whether Zhao made use of the academia, I think everyone should take a look at the official investigation report on Zhao Ziyang. If it doesn’t say that Zhao used the students, then he didn’t—unless you think the official investigation was not thorough enough, or you have new evidence.

Hu Yaobang, Deng, and Zhao

Gao: I have several questions for Bao Pu. To me, as a bystander, Zhao Ziyang’s memoirs raise a number of questions I’d like explained. One is his relationship with Hu. A lot of space in the book is devoted to the differences the two had over economic reform, giving it more or less the same weight as to the fight between Li Xiannian22 and Chen Yun23 of the conservative faction. Second, when he met with Gorbachev on May 17, he revealed the secret decision that Deng Xiaoping had the final decision-making power within the CPC, and there are many explanations of this in the book. Also, as far as using the student movement, Zhao went to [North] Korea after Hu Yaobang’s funeral and this caused a public stir at the time. The general feeling was that he threw this hot potato to Li Peng to see how he would handle it; if he did a poor job, he’d see to him when he came back. But the actual result was quite the opposite. This gave Li Peng an opportunity to get to Deng Xiaoping first with his report. This led to Deng’s April 25 speech,24 followed by the April 26 editorial, forming an intractable knot in the political situation. You edited the book, and then there’s your family background, so you know about it more than the average person. I’d like to hear what you think about it.

Bao: On the subject of Hu Yaobang who was also the subject of another tape that was in fact not included in this book. It’s not part of this series of tapes, but it also talks about Hu Yaobang. I can say with certainty that Zhao talked about Hu at least twice. Once in the present book, and also when Wu Jiang’s book25 came out, he talked about him again. I have his tapes all sorted out. Actually it’s my view that he made this tape because he was indignant. Wu Jiang’s book did not include all the facts, so Zhao specifically addressed that. At the time he had no channel for speaking out and when he had finished, the tape was put aside for several years before I got it. That was after 2000, while Zhao was still alive. The tape was made as a vindication of who Hu Yaobang really was. Zhao says that a book has been published that contains a lot of hearsay. And since he still had no channel of communication, he made this tape, wanting to leave something [about this] behind. In the end, I didn’t publish it. He said much the same thing in this book, actually, which was why the tape wasn’t included in the index. He really wanted to provide an explanation. It was really because at the time there were rumors attacking Hu, and Zhao felt that they were unfair to Hu, as well as unfair to himself. So your feeling on this is correct. His intention was indeed vindication. All he wanted was to set out the facts and let everyone draw their own conclusions. This matter is fairly clear, and receives considerable space and emphasis.

As for the second point, concerning the conversation with Gorbachev, in actual fact, to add something more about Hu, the day Hu was ousted, I went home and asked my father what was really behind it. My father said it was like cutting off your right arm. At the time, Hu and Zhao were seen as the right and left hands of reform, so an attack on Hu was not possible. Then after May 17 and Zhao’s talk with Gorbachev, as it was widely rumored among the circle of high cadres in Beijing after June Fourth, Deng lost his temper over the conversation with Gorbachev and split with Zhao Ziyang. Everyone felt that this was the reason Deng did not trust Zhao. And I think Zhao wanted to come out with an explanation. I mentioned this in the English version. I think Zhao only talked about things he knew, that is: Why did I have that conversation with Gorbachev? Entirely out of a desire to protect Deng. Why did Deng get suspicious over this? We don’t know what was really in Deng’s mind; we have to wait for new information to surface. But why think this was aimed at him? What did really happen at the time? We don’t yet have Deng’s side of the story. As far as I know Zhao had no intention of abandoning Deng. At the time, my father had included that statement [that Deng Xiaoping had the final decision-making power within the CPC] in the minutes of the meeting, and the reason he did so was because it was consistent with Zhao’s earlier statements. The minutes by the International Liaison Department of the CPC Central Committee contained this statement.

So why did Zhao and Deng have a showdown after all? This, I think, remains a riddle to this very day. But we know that the day before Zhao left Beijing for North Korea, there was as yet no indication that a showdown was coming—no sign of opposition. Because what Zhao and Deng talked about was Zhao’s assuming the double post of CPC General Secretary and Chairman of the Military Commission, and of Deng’s intention to retire. Those were the two things they talked about. Why did he go to Korea? The book says very clearly that, first, Zhao proposed three points for dealing with the student movement and they had no difference of opinion on this, or at least none that was expressed. Deng was supporting him, but, even more crucially, Yang Shangkun had been supporting Zhao all along. His approach to the student movement had consistently not been tough. Before Zhao went to North Korea, the Supreme Leader was on his side and Yang Shangkun supported him. If Deng had wanted to move troops, he could have never done it without Yang’s support!

It is now very clear that as soon as Zhao reached Korea, the entire situation had changed. Everyone should pay attention to this point, it is very important: Zhao says that Yang Shangkun played a very bad role. This statement is very important. Zhao very seldom made such a direct comment. This criticism of Yang is very important, and very pointed. It was after Zhao went to Korea that Yang got to know what Deng’s intentions were. Yang was a soldier, and he said, I have to follow the Supreme Commander; and he consequently shifted his position. I think that the role Yang Shangkun alone played in June Fourth surpasses that of anyone else. Namely, he started one way, and then went the other way, which was crucial in the way the situation developed. This plays an extremely crucial role in Zhao’s discussion of June Fourth in the book.

Zhao and Human Rights


Sharon Hom, HRIC Executive Director: Some people have said that this book has absolutely nothing to do with human rights. I think that, in addition to making historical comparisons, we should also talk about the book and human rights. It took China 15 years, from the 1980s all the way up to 2001, to join the World Trade Organization. We can therefore not see economic reform as a merely domestic event, but should look at it as the process of China entering the international community. For instance, transparency and accountability are both norms in international trade, and domestic laws and regulations had to be revised to bring them in line with international standards. Secondly, China has signed many human rights treaties and is increasingly taking part in international human rights activities. This book not only makes readers better understand the history before and after 1989, it also has an important role in terms of China’s development and reform, especially in the areas of human rights and political reform.

He: In evaluating Zhao Ziyang, one thing is extremely important. I have devoted my essay commemorating Zhao, “History is both merciless and loving,” to this issue. Workers, who have today been reduced to a vulnerable and powerless group, ay no longer know that Zhao Ziyang once created an opportunity to change their fate. In late 1988, Zhang named Zhu Houze, a rather well-known member of the reform faction, to the chairmanship of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions. In so doing he fundamentally restored the original meaning of union, clearly stipulating that unions were to protect the interests of workers, and that in the future, when the workers went on strike, the unions would have to stand with them and were absolutely not allowed to side with party committees and factory directors. If we consider the present social and economic status of workers in China, and the fact that in every interest scheme Chinese workers as a social group are always in a disadvantaged position, we can come to one natural conclusion: had Zhao Ziyang’s reforms been able to continue to move forward at the time, today’s China would not have become such a paradise for the influential and the wealthy to wantonly plunder public property. I think that Zhao’s attention to the matter of protecting the workers’ rights and interests reflects his simple concept of human rights.

Bao: Although he did not explicitly mention “human rights” in the book, it is very, very closely related to the issue of human rights. Roughly ten percent of the book talks about what he himself did when his own rights were violated. He was a common citizen then, not the General Secretary, and when his own rights were violated, he records in detail how he took the law and the Party Charter to strongly argue his case. Mac Farquhar, who wrote the preface for this edition, has had some doubts about this. He’s asked, “Why this sudden great interest in the law on Zhao’s part?” We have to look at this in the context of Zhao as a politician. Zhao has recorded every instance where they [the Party leaders] violated the law. This is equivalent to completely exposing all of one’s political opponents’ weaknesses. Should there be a political transformation one day in the future, it can be easily put to use: violations of the law, violations of the Party Charter, failure to follow regulation procedures prior to taking action at the time. As a citizen, Zhao made a contribution to human rights, and in the book, he tells [other] citizens how to defend their rights. He is a rights defender too! In mounting a defense of his own rights, he has made a good model for others to follow. Also, He Qinglian has mentioned that some of his views on unions and on intellectuals touched upon the issues of rights and freedom–namely, he endorsed their value. When he was General Secretary, the Public Security Department asked if he had any requests and he said: “All I ask is that from now on you act within the law.” All these examples illustrate where his values lay. All his life, during his tenure as Premier and as General Secretary, he made many political choices. These choices reflect his values. One only gets a sense of them from his actions.

As a citizen, Zhao made a contribution to human rights, and in the book, he tells [other] citizens how to defend their rights. He is a rights defender too!

Xia: Zhao Ziyang proposed that political conflicts be solved through democracy and the legal system, not through bloodshed. I feel this is the most basic declaration of human rights, the most basic form of respect for the value of life. He expressed his respect for human rights with his actions in specific situations.

Gao: That Zhao was held under house arrest until death is a typical example of the situation of human rights violations in China. Zhao expressed different views in high-level Party meetings, but he violated neither the Party Charter nor the Constitution. He merely did not go along with the will of the great patriarch Deng Xiaoping, and so he was stripped of his personal liberty for as long as 16 years. There is absolutely no basis for this in the Party Charter or in China’s law. Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao are all liable for this debt. What befell Zhao reminds me of Liu Shaoqi. If we say that Liu Shaoqi’s was the most serious miscarriage of justice during the Cultural Revolution, then Zhao Ziyang’s is the most serious case of a human rights violation in China at present, in the classic sense. When even the General Secretary of the Party can be criminalized for what he says, when even he cannot protect himself, what hope is there for ordinary citizens?

Bao Pu just said that Zhao made a contribution to the defense of human rights and this content certainly takes up a big section of the book. We can see how Zhao made repeated appeals in defense of his own rights and interests, but to no effect. Things like this always happen in China; it makes one sad. During their tenure in office, leaders make no effort to change the Constitution—it’s just a scrap of paper. When they leave office and want to plead for legal protection for themselves, it is already too late. When Liu Shaoqi thought of the Constitution back when he was criticized and denounced during the Cultural Revolution, he said: I’m still the President of the People’s Republic of China and am protected by the Constitution. When Zhao Ziyang was deprived of his freedom, he took up the law and the Party Charter to argue his case. An article on the Internet said that six months prior to his death, Zhao reminded the deputy director of the General Office of the CPC Central Committee who came to see him: I’ve already been under house arrest for over a decade, if this situation continues, it will be house arrest for life. This will go down in history! And now it has gone down, as an indelible disgrace on the face of the CPC, a long way from a modern political party and a modern civilized nation. The tragedy of Liu Shaoqi and Zhao Ziyang illustrates the importance of establishing the authority of the Constitution and truly making it a legal weapon for the protection of citizens’ rights that nobody tramples on. This is relevant for every individual—not excepting those who hold the reigns of power, for it also protects them.

A moment ago the relationship between Hu and Zhao Was mentioned and you said that there was another tape. I’d like to ask whether this tape was part of the whole series of tapes, or one that Zhao made separately on his own?

Bao: That tape is not part of the series. The series is complete. Nothing is missing; every tape is numbered. The tape concerning Hu is separate from the series. It was recorded in the 1990s, prior to the start of the recording of the series in 2000. The tape is particularly targeted at the rumors circulating at the time. After Wu Jiang’s book came out, there was some talk that Zhao had brought down Hu, so he made this tape in response to such talk at the time. When we were editing this present book, those debates were a thing of the past. I don’t know whether these debates ever had any significance anyway. We thought it was more appropriate to stick to the discussion of Hu in the series, so we didn’t include that tape here.

When even the General Secretary of the Party can be criminalized for what he says, when even he cannot protect himself, what hope is there for ordinary citizens?

Hu: This book is closely related to human rights in a direct way. The most important sentence in it is Zhao Ziyang’s saying that he would absolutely not be a general secretary who represses the people. That is, when the people express their views by peaceful means, Zhao Ziyang refused to use military force to suppress them. This is exactly what we mean by the most basic human rights.

We know that the so-called “basic human rights” originally meant inherent rights that exist so long as a government does not obstruct them; freedom of speech, for example. How can we realize our freedom of speech? Namely, when we publish our views, you, the government, impose no bans, make no arrests, that’s how. We are not asking you, the government, to do anything; we are asking you not to do anything. As long as the government does not ban, does not suppress any form of anybody’s speech, we will have realized free speech.

Many official scholars in China nowadays, such as Yu Keping and others like him, also say that democracy is a good thing. They also acknowledge free speech. But you often get the feeling from their talk that the government in China is already no longer a dictatorship, that it’s become democratic, or that it’s already made the turn toward democracy. In response, you just have to ask them one little question: Since in China [free] speech is still a crime, for example, Liu Xiaobo got arrested, and a lot of dissident speech is still banned, doesn’t this demonstrate that the current regime is still a dictatorship? How can you say that they have already made the turn toward democracy? How can you not protest against all this? On the issue of freedom of speech, there is no gradual reform, no question of doing it slowly. If you just end the arrests and release the people, that will do it, won’t it?

The June Fourth Incident broke through the moral bottom line, leaving [the Chinese leaders] with no more face to lose, and after that they no longer care if something they do results in a loss of face or not.

A moment ago Gao Wenqian said that the CPC illegally put their own former general secretary under house arrest for 15 years, house arrest for life, and that this was their disgrace. Of course this is a disgrace. But I’m afraid that the current CPC leadership does not care much about this issue, and does not feel that they’ve lost face. If they were capable of the disgrace of killing people on Tiananmen Square, Zhao Ziyang’s 15-years-long illegal house arrest doesn’t seem like much in comparison. The June Fourth Incident broke through the moral bottom line, leaving them with no more face to lose, and after that they no longer care if something they do results in a loss of face or not.

Besides, Zhao Ziyang’s image was much greater than Liu Shaoqi’s. When Liu was in office, he too was involved in political persecution. Early on in the Cultural Revolution, he also persecuted people, and Mao used this against him to discredit him among the people. During the CPC’s anti-bourgeois liberalization campaign of 1987, Zhao Ziyang refused to go along and tried hard to soften it. Not to mention that in 1989 he was ousted because he refused to repress the people, and later refused to give in and admit his mistake. So Zhao’s image is much greater.

To get back to the human rights issue, because the basic question with reform in Communist nations is whether they will recognize basic human rights. Zhao Ziyang refused to use armed forces against the people. This is a genuine human rights issue, the most fundamental human rights issue. So I think that this is where the greatest significance of Zhao’s taped memoirs is.

Xia: I’d like to ask a technical question. You published the Chinese and English versions simultaneously. Are the two identical, or are their emphases different?

Bao: They are not completely identical. The Chinese version strives for accuracy. It has over 250 footnotes; the English edition has none. In the Chinese edition we were not concerned with whether an event was spoken of from one side first and from the other later on. In English, repetition and length are really taboo, so if something was described one way, and then another way, we took the second description out. In the main, we were satisfied as long as changes did not affect Zhao’s intentions. The English edition is not at all an academic work; the style is more popular, the language simple, easy to read and easy to understand. That’s the emphasis of the English edition. It reflects the choices we made at the outset. We have also made some structural changes in English owing to length.

Nathan: Should we perhaps sum up? Bao Pu, do you have something you want to say by way of closing?

Bao: If I may add a point about whether this material has a new angle on June Fourth, I think it does. It is widely believed that when the student movement achieved a certain size there was no way to control it and that this therefore led to the dispute between two factions. One maintained that they had to open fire; that there was no other option. I think this view is wrong. The book proves one point: before the student movement began there were already two factions, based on disputes over reform. As soon as the student movement began, one faction wanted to use harsh measures because it thought that using such methods could extend the anti-bourgeois liberalization campaign into the realm of economic reform. Adopting harsh measures against the student movement was actually a certainty even before the student movement began. It was just that nobody thought at the time what methods might be employed as the impact of the student movement grew and the situation developed. However, the faction represented by Zhao Ziyang saw that there was no way to carry out political reform. Although it had been [nominally] adopted, there was no way to push it through. They thought that if they could, when the student movement began, find a channel of communication through dialogue and consultation, they might be able to continue to pursue political reform. Zhao’s bottom line was that the anti-bourgeois liberalization campaign should be brought to an end and that the fruits of the economic reforms that had been implemented should be protected against reversal. This in fact explains why the Communist leadership took the approach it did to June Fourth. It actually explains what the motivating force behind the two factions was, and this, I think, is extremely significant.

Translated by J. Latrourelle


1. Du Daozheng (杜导正) was the director of the General Administration of Press and Publications in the late 1980s and was the publisher of a monthly magazine, Yanhuang Chunqui (炎黄春秋), for more than 10 years. He is one of four retired officials who helped Zhao Ziyang secretly record his memoirs when he was under house arrest. ^

2. Yao Xihua (姚锡华) is a former chief editor of Guangming Daily and one of four retired officials who helped Zhao Ziyang secretly record his memoirs when he was under house arrest. ^

3. Xiao Hongda (萧洪达) is a former Deputy Director of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and one of four retired officials who helped Zhao Ziyang secretly record his memoirs when he was under house arrest. ^

4. Du Xingyuan (杜星垣) is a former Secretary-General of the State Council and one of four retired officials who helped Zhao Ziyang secretly record his memoirs when he was under house arrest. ^

5. Ren Zhongyi (任仲夷) was the First Secretary of the Provincial Party Committees of Heilongjiang (1956–1977), Liaoning (1977–1980), and Guangdong (1980–1985), and is credited with making Guangdong one of the most economically developed provinces in China. Since his retirement he has continued to advocate for political reform in China. ^

6. Li Chang (李昌) was a liberal member of the Central Advisory Commission of the CPC Central Committee, who was criticized after the Tiananmen crackdown for sympathizing with the students. ^

7. Li Hongzhang (李鸿章) was a late Qing court minister general under the Empress Dowager Cixi, who played an instrumental role in late Qing attempts at Westernization. He negotiated and signed the Boxer Protocol Treaty (also known as the Treaty of 1901), and was known as one of the “Four Famous Officials of the Late Qing” (四大名臣), along with Zhang Zhidong, Zeng Guofan, and Zuo Zongtang. ^

8. Zhang Zhidong (张之洞) was a late Qing Dynasty court minister under the Empress Dowager Cixi. With Li Hongzhang, he advocated for reform and Westernization under the slogan “Chinese learning for fundamental principles, Western learning for practical application,” and was known as one of the “Four Famous Officials of the Late Qing” (四大名臣) along with Li Hongzhang, Zeng Guofan, and Zuo Zongtang. ^

9. The Hundred Days Reform Movement of 1898 (戊戌变法) was an attempt by the Guangxu Emperor to reform the examination, education, and economic systems. His reform failed when Empress Dowager Cixi led a successful coup against him. ^

10. The Kang and Liang Reforms (康梁变法) were edicts put in place during The Hundred Days Reform Movement of 1898. They were named for two leaders of the reform movement, Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao. These reforms aimed to modernize China by making it into an industrialized, capitalistic, constitutional monarchy. ^

11. Shang Yang’s Reform (商鞅变法) and Wang Anshi’s Reform (王安石变法) are two of the most famous reforms to have occurred in ancient China. In 361 B.C.E., with the support of Duke Xiao of the Qin State, Shang Yang implemented a reform that laid the foundation for the later unification of China by Qin Shi Huang (the First Emperor of China). In 1068 C.E., the Northern Song Dynasty emperor Song Shenzong imparted Wang Anshi with the important task of implementing a reform aimed at revitalizing the dynasty. Due to their hasty approach, this attempt ended in total failure. ^

12. The 1911 Revolution (辛亥革命), also known as the Xinhai Revolution, began in Sichuan Province in response to a government plan to nationalize the railway. The Wuchang Rebellion, which erupted on October 10, 1911, ended with the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China. ^

13. Wan Li (万里) was the party secretary of Anhui Province in the late 1970s and one of the pioneers (the other was Zhao Ziyang) to implement the Household Responsibility System in the countryside. Later he was promoted to the position of deputy premier in the Central Government. In 1989 he was the Chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. ^

14. Hua Guofeng (华国锋), appointed as successor by Mao Zedong, became the paramount leader of China after Mao’s death in 1976.After Deng Xiaoping’s comeback in 1979, he faded from the political stage. His three key positions as Party leader, Premier, and the Chairman of the Central Military Committee were divided amongst Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang, and Deng Xiaoping. ^

15. The “April 26 editorial” (四二六社论) was an editorial published on April 26, 1989, in People’s Daily, entitled “It Is Necessary to Take a Clear-Cut Stand against the Turmoil” (必须旗帜鲜明地反对动乱), referring to the student protests. It was meant to be a warning to Tiananmen protesters, stating that, “Our country will have no peaceful days if this disturbance is not checked resolutely.” ^

16. Chen Duxiu (陈独秀) was a founder and the first General Secretary and Chairman of the CPC. Chen was relieved of his duties in 1927, and expelled from the party in 1929. He was imprisoned by the Nationalist government from 1932–1937. Upon release from prison, he rejected overtures by both the Nationalists and the Communists and lived in seclusion until his death in 1942. ^

17.Yu Keping (俞可平) is the deputy director of the Central Translation Bureau and director of the Center for Chinese Government Innovations at Peking University. He is the author of Democracy Is a Good Thing (Brookings  Institution Press, 2008) and a regular advisor to President Hu Jintao. He is also a professor of politics at Peking University. ^

18. Zong Fengming [宗凤鸣], Zhao Ziyang ruanjin zhong de tanhua [赵紫阳软禁中的谈话-宗凤鸣] (Hong Kong: Open Books, 2007). ^

19. Li Shenzhi (李慎之) served as head of the International Department at Xinhua News Agency from 1949–1958.He was labeled a “rightist” during the Anti-Rightist campaign and dismissed from office. After the Cultural Revolution he became Director of the United States Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and its Vice-President. He received severe disciplinary warning from the Party for opposing the government suppression in 1989, and was dismissed from his posts. ^

20. Li Rui (李锐) was a former secretary to Mao Zedong. Labeled a member of the “Peng Dehuai anti-Party clique,” he was relieved of all his duties and expelled from the party in 1959 for opposing the Great Leap Forward. He was a noted proponent of democracy within the Party. ^

21. Zhu Houze (朱厚泽) was one of the proponents of democracy within the Party and Head of the Central Propaganda Department from 1985–1987.He was relieved of his post in 1987, due to his affiliation with Hu Yaobang. In 1988, he was appointed first secretary of the National General Labor Union, a post he held for only one year before he was again dismissed because of his support for the students. ^

22. Li Xiannian (李先念) was the President of the People’s Republic of China from 1983–1988, and the President of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference from 1988 until his death in 1992. He was one of the “Eight CPC Patriarchs” who made the decision to impose martial law in 1989. ^

23. Chen Yun (陈云) is a CPC leader with long-time involvement in economic policymaking and one of the “Eight CPC Patriarchs” that made the decision to impose martial law in 1989. He was the second highest-ranking leader after Deng Xiaoping during the period of reform and opening, considered the representative of the conservative faction on account of his “birdcage” economic theory. ^

24. The “April 25 speech” (四二五讲话) refers to a speech given by Deng Xiaoping entitled “This Is Not an Ordinary Student Movement But a Turmoil.” In his speech, Deng referred to the student movement as a conspiracy, and revealed that violent repression would be used against the Tiananmen protesters. ^

25. Wu Jiang (吴江) is the author of Shi nian de lu: He Hu Yaobang xiangchu de rizi [十年的路:和胡耀邦相处的日子](Hong Kong: The Mirror Post Cultural Enterprises Co. Ltd., 1995), a book about the life of Hu Yaobang. ^

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