01/17/2005, 00.00
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The dissident of Tiananmen: Zhao Ziyang's courage and the Party's fear

by Cai Chongguo

The government is trying to uproot his memory, but China needs his democratic proposals.

Paris (AsiaNews) - Cai Chongguo, age 48, was in Tiananmen Square when Zhao Ziyang, secretary of the Communist Party, went to see the students that for 6 weeks had been filling the world's largest open space in their fight for democracy and against corruption.  After the Tiananmen massacre and Zhao Ziyang's sidelining, Cai fled to the west.  Today he lives in exile in Paris, where he works to support the workers and farmers of China in their struggles.  He agreed to share with AsiaNews his views on the former Chinese political leader who died this morning.


Zhao Ziyang was an exceptional person, even if Communist.  In his days as First Secretary of the province of Sichuan, in the 1970s, he made important economic reforms to the agricultural system.  As a result, the living conditions of farmers were improved.  So much so that Sichuan became an example of a positive model for development.  Farmers had even come up with a saying: "If you want to eat well, look for Zhao Ziyang".

Later, he was promoted to the position of prime minister and brought about initial economic reforms which loosened the constraints of the Maoist system.  He had also proposed political reform, but his power was limited by Party conservatives and in particular by the dictator Deng Xiaoping.  In 1987, he became the Party's Secretary General.  At that time, he did all he could to stand in the way of purges against intellectuals and called for democracy.  In 1989, with the birth of the democratic movement, he opposed Deng Xiaoping's repressive policies.  The Party was planning military intervention and the massacre and Zhao went in tears to see the students.

We knew him well: we knew he wanted to resolve problems democratically, but we also knew that he was alone.  After that gesture, he was isolated and eliminated from the Party.  He was a man of exceptional courage: he put himself against the power of the Party.

Economic reforms without democracy

He spent 15 years under house arrest and 24-hour surveillance.  The government knew that the people respected him and, for this reason, tried to uproot his memory: there was no talk of him; no photos were even shown.  But today, Zhao is still loved and respected, while farmers and workers detest Jiang.

The government is so corrupt, so mediocre, cowardly.  Such fearful behaviour toward any political reform condemns the government vis-à-vis the people, who instead praise Zhao Ziyang.

Fifteen years later, the economic reforms, initiated thanks to Zhao, have turned, without him, into an unbearable burden for the people of China, a perverse burden that has produced greater poverty among farmers and large-scale job loss among workers.  The reason is that economic reforms have gone ahead without the equally required political reforms.  And this is exactly what Zhao Ziyang had foreseen.

With Zhao out of the picture, the Chinese government's sole preoccupation was social stability.  Even now, the government is afraid that Zhao Ziyang's death might be a cause for some kind of protest.  But nothing will happen.  Beijing is almost under martial law: there are policemen everywhere – even tourists are being checked.  The government started making its plans two weeks ago, when Zhao's conditions worsened.

Forget Zhao?

For the future, the Party has but one line: forget Zhao as fast as possible.  But, it won't be easy.  In China, people want more democracy.  Party corruption has become so bad that people want to have their say.  Even journalists are becoming more explicit and tension between media and government is increasing.  Intellectuals are calling for democracy and greater concern for farmers and workers.  Mine explosions, strikes, sit-ins, petitions, police clashes are by now the daily agenda.   China needs what Zhao Ziyang wanted to bring about in the 1980s, namely social democracy: that workers and farmers could freely form unions; the separation of political and judicial powers; the separation of state and politics.

As for the international community, I hope that Zhao is remembered by those who knew him in the past: George Bush Sr, Margaret Thatcher, and others.  I hope they remember him also out of respect for the Chinese, who are keeping him, even after his death, alive in their hearts.  Zhao is remembered with respect; Jang Zemin, even if still alive, is a cadaver that people have forgotten.

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See also
Reformist Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang dies
Zhao Ziyang, a prophet for today's China
Chinese media give Zhao's death little notice
Pressure mounts for release of Zhao Ziyang
Hundreds expected at Zhao's funeral