Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Comrade Zhao, Who came too late

I'm reading a bit of Chinese history on the Tienanmen Square Massacre. When the students went on a hunger strike that lasted 7 days, the Communist Party Leader, Zhao Ziyang, came and told the students that,

Students, we came too late. We are sorry. You talk about us, criticize us, it is all necessary. The reason that I came here is not to ask you to forgive us. All I want to say is that students are getting very weak, it is the seventh day since you went on hunger strike, you can't continue like this. As the time goes on, it will damage your body in an unrepairable way, it could be very dangerous to your life. Now the most important thing is to end this strike. I know, your hunger strike is to hope that the Party and the government will give you a satisfying answer. I feel that our communication is open. Some of the problem can only be solved by certain procedures. For example, you have mentioned about the nature of the incident, the question of responsibility, I feel that those problems can be solved eventually, we can reach a mutual agreement in the end. However, you should also know that the situation is very complicated, it needs a procedure. You can't continue the hunger strike for the seventh day, and still insist for a satisfying answer before ending the hunger strike.

You are still young, there are still many days yet to come, you must live healthy, and see the day when China accomplishes the four modernizations. You are not like us, we are already old, it doesn't matter any more. It is not easy that this nation and your parents support you to study in colleges. Now you are all about early 20s, and want to sacrifice lives so easily, students, can't you think logically? Now the situation is very serious, you all know, the Party and the nation is very antsy, the whole society is very worried. Besides, Beijing is the capital, the situation is getting worse and worse from everywhere, this can not be continued. Students all have good will, and are for the good of our nation, but if this situation continues, loses control, it will cause serious consequences at many places.

In conclusion, I have only one wish. If you stop hunger strike, the government won't close the door for dialogue, never! The questions that you have raised, we can continue to discuss. Although it is a little slow, we are reaching some agreement on some problems. Today I just want to see the students, and express our feelings. Hopefully students will think about this question calmly. This thing can not be sorted out clearly under illogical situations. You all have that strength, you are young after all. We were also young before, we protested, laid our bodies on the rail tracks, we never thought about what will happen in the future at that time. Finally, I beg the students once again, think about the future calmly. There are many things that can be solved. I hope that you will all end the hunger strike soon, thank you.

"We are already old, it doesn't matter to us any more" became a famous quote after that. Zhao's visit to the Square was his last public appearance. Ziyang was seen as being even too sympathetic towards the students and was placed on house arrest, never to be seen again in public. He died in 2004.

Had he not been deposed and made a “non-person”, Mr Zhao might have transformed China into a country very different from the one it is today, politically if not economically. The party prefers to believe that the course China took then was right: brutal repression followed by an explosion of capitalist energy that has propelled it into the front ranks of the world’s economic powers. Mr Zhao, by contrast, believed that capitalism was possible without terrifying the party’s critics into silence.

That said, his behavior during Tienanmen was never that of a hero. Students in the square did not especially admire him, and his appearance there may have been designed to further his own political ambitions. He showed no sign either before or after Tienanmen of opposing one-party rule. But in a political environment that brooked no dissent, he was undoubtedly a reformer.

After his downfall, Mr Zhao never resigned from the party. He did not court the media. Yet, to many, his nuanced non-conformism with the post-Tiananmen order was an inspiration. He could have salvaged something of his political career by publicly acknowledging his “errors”, but refused to. In his guarded compound in a quiet alley close to Beijing’s main commercial district, he lived out his last years without openly challenging the party. Foreign leaders politely avoided mentioning him when visiting Beijing. Yet the party remained in fear of Mr Zhao until his dying breath.

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