Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Zhao Ziyang


For anyone interested in the events surrounding Tiananmen Square 20 years ago, this should be an interesting read.

Zhao Ziyang was General Secretary to the CCP Central Committee and the man given day-to-day responsibility for running of the PRC. He was a political moderate and within the party championed political, not just economic, reform and opening. His stance on negotiating with the demonstrators drew considerable criticism from the hardliners, in particular the Premier Li Peng.

As events spiralled out of the government's ability to understand let alone control, he drew flack from both demonstrators as the public face of government; and from the party hierarchy for failing to resolve the crisis and for breaking party discipline by publicly disagreeing with the official verdict of 'turmoil' that the leadership had placed on the motives behind the demonstrations.

His last effort to resolve the crisis, in the face of ill health and radicalising attitudes on both sides, came when he went to the Tiananmen Square protest camp at 5am accompanied by just one aide and a driver. Using a megaphone borrowed from the student leaders, he made an emotional plea to the crowd to break their hunger strike, leave the Square and seek conciliation.

(Incidentally, the chap by his left shoulder looking at the camera is the aide, Wen Jiabao - the current Premier and Zhao's protege.)

Shortly after this last desperate attempt Zhao was removed from his post and placed under house arrest until his death from pneumonia in January 2005. Without his presence Li Peng as leader of the hardline faction, was able to convince the Standing Committee to vote by a slender majority 3-2 for clearing the Square by force.

Very few of China's post-90s student generation - my wife included - even recognise Zhao's name.

You are still young, there are still many days yet to come... You are not like us, we are already old, it doesn't matter to us any more.

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