Rest In Peace, Zhao Ziyang ...A Hero for Democracy
The Word Unheard out of Beijing (still) is that Zhao Ziyang, former Chinese Party Secretary has recently passed.
It is sad commentary that likely 98% of Americans can not identify who Zhao Ziyang is and equally as sad that they would fail to recognize the error in tense. Surely the most courageous Chinese governmental figure of our lifetime, Zhao Ziyang died just days ago. Zhao was (and in death remains) a hero to many thousands of students who risked (and met) slaughter at the hands of Deng’s PLA in 1989 at Tiananmen Square and elsewhere throughout China
To the unaware, Sol Sanders’ 20Jan05 column should serve as a starting point in a required reading plan. It is never too late to learn.
Former Chinese Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang’s death in mid-January was a non-event. Never mind Zhao had been No. 2 in China for almost a decade, acolyte of the sainted Supreme Leader Deng Xiaoping.
Never mind Zhao had initiated the economic liberalization in his [and Deng’s] native Sichuan, a model for the country. Never mind Zhao had been under house arrest for 15 years, given minimal conditions during his terminal illness. Chinese leadership was terrified Zhao’s death might set off new organized resistance — just as the passing of another reformer, Hu Yaobang, had led to events which ostracized Zhao.
Zhao’s cardinal sin: he had proposed political liberalization to accompany creation of a market economy. Perhaps Zhao’s finest moment came at dawn on May 19, 1989, when as Party leader he suddenly appeared among protesting students in the pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. He sadly told them [with the present Prime Minister Wen Jiabao at his side, something everyone now wants desperately to forget] he had been overruled. He pleaded with them to leave. Two weeks later, in their hundreds, perhaps in their thousands [we may never know], tanks slaughtered them. Zhao was removed from office never appearing in public again.
If, going forward with your reading, you are not fond of reading historical texts as any step in your learning plan, I would strongly recommend that you read Seeds of Fire by Gordon Thomas. It is the most readable chronicle of the events of, leading up to and following the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre I have come across. Thomas does a masterful job of storytelling, pieced together through personal interviews of firsthand witnesses of the events. You will find Seeds of Fire a gripping page-turner of factual events that reads like a well-written novel and worth every penny and every hour spent engrossed within in its pages. Hardly mentioned in reviews is the fact that the entire second half of the book nearly exclusively chronicles the events of Tiananmen Square and the bloodbath that concluded it.
The people of China continue to thirst and quest for freedom and a democratically elected form of government responsible to the people, not for the people.
This is Zhao Ziyang's legacy.
Rest in peace, Zhao Ziyang.
UPDATE: The Christian Science Monitor has an excellent article noting that Hong Kong is the only place in China where any public memorial to Zhao is permitted.
Zhao, who opposed the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown on student protest in 1989, and whose ideas prefigured China's economic rise, is still airbrushed out of Chinese history. Four days after his passing, after living under house arrest in Beijing for 15 years, state media has still given only four lines of comment, run next to a weather map, on the death of "comrade" Zhao.
Now Beijing's effort to silence discussion about Zhao at home has jumped the mainland's borders and landed in the heart of Hong Kong. The city is the only place on Chinese soil where Zhao can be publicly remembered. But a request Tuesday for a minute of silence for Zhao in the parliament here was ruled unconstitutional by the assembly president - outraging pro-democracy lawmakers. Wednesday they stood quietly for a minute, anyway. That caused pro-Beijing members to walk out, shutting down the legislature for the first time ever.
With uneasy streets in Beijing, the Chinese communist government begrudgingly permitted mourners to visit the home of their democratic champion...with an eerie catch.
Zhao's famed willingness to go down into the square to meet students in 1989 sealed his legacy as beloved of the people - one reason the atmosphere in Beijing Thursday was said to be tense, and why Tiananmen Square had been cleared for the first time since the Falun Gong protests several years ago. Some sources indicate that Beijing officials are now considering a modest state funeral.
Apart from Tuesday's four-line obituary, no mention of Zhao is heard on state TV or in newspapers. Chinese Internet chat rooms are being monitored and messages regarding Zhao erased. Earlier this week, Chinese hoping to visit and pay respects at Zhao's home were turned away or asked to register with state police.
Thursday, both the Zhao home and Tiananmen Square were awash in plainclothes security. Police were no longer registering Chinese visiting the home, but a team was inside filming every visitor. Zhao's aid, Bao Tong, remains under house arrest.
The question that begs to be asked:
Is there anyone brave enough to be the next Zhao Ziyang?
China is calling on you.