Requiem for a Decent Chinese Communist
By Andrew L. Jaffee, January 22, 2005
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Zhao Ziyang, former Secretary-General of mainland China’s Communist Party, died at a Beijing hospital last Monday. Good riddance to another communist? In this case, no. Not all tigers are incapable of changing their stripes. During his tenure in China’s one and only political party, Zhao took steps that truly can be called “reforms.”
Zhao's greatest moment occurred during the pro-democracy rebellion of 1989, which was centered in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. He opposed the use of China’s vast military might against the peaceful protestors gathered in the square. On May 19, 1989, Zhao personally pleaded with the protestors, mostly college students, to leave Tiananmen Square. His appeal was impassioned – tears filled his eyes. He didn’t want to see the brave demonstrators hurt. But China’s other communist leaders saw the protests differently.
In early June 1989, China’s hardliners crushed the pro-democracy rebellion with heavily-armed troops and tanks. Between 2600 and 5000 protestors were killed and from 7,000 to 10,000 were injured. Zhao was placed under house arrest and never seen in public again. Zhao’s only triumph was not Tiananmen Square, and his political career was no cake-walk. According to the BBC,
After working as a party official during the liberation war of 1937-49, he rose to prominence in the party in Guangdong province from 1951.
One can only wonder what China would be like now if Zhao would have been able to “transform China into a modern, democratic socialist state by the year 2000.” While the hardliners were successful in suppressing democratic reforms in 1989, they are slowly sowing the seeds of their own destruction.
Despite the Chinese government’s horrific oppression of its people, dissent persists. On August 19, 2004, six women held a protest on an apartment building rooftop in Beijing. They waved a banner reading, “We accuse the police, the prosecutors and the courts in Liaoning province of corruption and trickery.” The women threatened to commit suicide if their demands were not met, but were later taken away by police. The protest took place not far from communist government headquarters. A similar incident occurred several weeks ago. According to the BBC,
A growing number of Chinese have been bringing petitions to Beijing to try to gain the attention of central authorities.
Business as usual for the communists who, incidentally, aren’t communists at all if you look at their economic policies. So just what are China’s leaders, capitalist-communists? What happened to their Marxist dogma? In 2003, China knocked the US out of first place as the largest recipient of direct foreign investments. China took in $33.9 billion in investments during the first 6 months of 2004, up 12% from last year. Volkswagen is planning to spend $900 million on three new factories in China, while General Motors will spend $3 billion there by 2007. What? Communists taking evil investment dollars from the Great Satan? The communists are kicking middle class people out of their homes to build highways and shopping malls. Is this advocacy for the proletariat? Ol’ Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin must be turning in their graves.
”Loosen up the economy while maintaining political control,” is what Soviet leader Gorbachev was thinking when he rolled out perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). But it all slipped through his fingers and the Soviet Union disintegrated. China is similarly a sprawling conglomeration of at least 56 ethnicities and people who claim Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, or Taoism as their faiths. I just wish the economic reform would have led to political change sooner.
But the Chinese communists have plenty to deal with. At least 500,000 pro-democracy demonstrators filled the streets of Hong Kong on July 1, 2003. That day marked the 6th anniversary of transfer of control of the city-state from British to Chinese rule. Protestors were out to harangue their appointed (not elected) leader Tung Chee-hwa and his push for Hong Kong's "legislature" to pass an "anti-subversion bill." The bill basically would have allowed the city-state's government to imprison a person for life for "acts of subversion." This time around, the communists didn’t pull a Tiananmen Square. The Beijing-appointed Hong Kong government peaceably withdrew the anti-subversion bill on September 5, 2003. A glimmer of hope?
With the conflicts in Iraq, North Korea, the Sudan, etc., we can’t afford to forget the Chinese people’s struggle for democracy.