Tied to the mast
…but orange now and black

A new perspective on Tiananmen and China more generally

Jonathan Mirsky has a fascinating review in the NYRB of the secret journal of Zhao Ziyang; a dissident high-ranking party official who had been central to China’s economic liberalization:

Twenty years ago, just before the Tiananmen killings on June 3 and 4, 1989, Zhao was thrown out of office for sympathizing with the students; until his death in 2005 he spent almost sixteen years under house arrest. Born in 1919 and a member of the Communist Party since 1938, once he achieved great power he was a political loner, with only—a big only—Deng Xiaoping to back him. But when Deng decided to smash the Tiananmen demonstrations, he also smashed Zhao. When Zhao died in 2005, he was nearly forgotten; but the state was still put on high security alert.

Zhao’s hopes for China’s political future were expressed during the internal exile in which he ended his days. Nothing can be more perilous in China today than saying this, which appears in the memoir:

In fact, it is the Western parliamentary democratic system that has demonstrated the most vitality. This system is currently the best one available. It is able to manifest the spirit of democracy and meet the demands of a modern society…. Why is there not even one developed nation practicing any other system?

If Zhao had uttered these words in public, he might have ended in prison, not under house arrest.

The account of the back-room history surrounding the Tianenmen protests seems particularly relevant in light of current events in Iran.


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