Zhao Saw People 'As People'

A former premier's aide says a country's best leaders don't treat people as 'props.'
By Bao Tong
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Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang addresses student hunger-strikers, May 19, 1989.
Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang addresses student hunger-strikers, May 19, 1989.

Today is Jan. 17, and a lot of people got up early to buy fresh flowers to give to Zhao Ziyang.

I heard that more people went to [his family home in] Fuqiang Alley this year than in previous years. I think this is a good sign.

However, this doesn't mean that the fewer people who went in previous years had forgotten to commemorate him.

Rather, It was because some people wouldn't allow the public to have memorials for him. Perhaps there aren't so many people stopping them this year, and that's why more came. Excellent!

The person in charge of conducting the "main theme tune" this year is the same person as in previous years. He didn't go. This is easy to understand, because he doesn't necessarily care about the same things that ordinary people care about.

He can just sit there in his leadership office, controlling everything, planning, and strategizing.

People as 'human beings'

Zhao Ziyang had a particular characteristic: he treated people as human beings ... This doesn't sound very extraordinary ... but it's not a misunderstanding to understand him in this way, nor is it an exaggeration.

He was instrumental in protecting the autonomy of farming communities, because he saw farmers as people. He was instrumental in protecting the autonomy of enterprises, because he saw entrepreneurs and their workforce as people.

He was instrumental in stopping the Party pronouncing on everything, because he didn't see the Party as a judge.

He was also instrumental in stopping the Party from censoring books and newspapers, because he thought authors should be authors, and not the subject of constant inspection.

Perhaps it was his tendency to treat people as people that led so many people to appreciate Zhao Ziyang. Perhaps it is this very tendency that leads some people now to pretend that no such person ever existed.

Affront to superiority

Of course, in an ordinary citizen, such a quality isn't anything unusual. But the leadership at various levels seem to regard treating people like human beings as an affront to their own superiority. I'm not talking about a myth; I'm talking about our country's modern history.

To put it in a more abstract manner, if the one who conducts the main theme tune decides that he wants to stake out his political territory, then people become a target to be silenced.

If hard reasoning tells one to go out and get rich, then people become the trees that money grows on, or the goose that lays the golden egg.

If a performance is meant to create a sensational effect, then people come in handy as extras and props. So you see, people don't often get treated as people.

To give a concrete example: Mao Zedong was number one, the leader in charge of everything. Because of this, no one else, not Liu Shaoqi, Peng Dehuai, nor Xi Chongjin could be treated as people. They were simply there to be led by Mao.

They had to surrender utterly to his will, and not the tiniest breach of his edicts was tolerated.

The final say

Deng Xiaoping was a second-generation commander-in-chief whose maxim was: "I have the final say." This meant that other people, whether Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang, or the students weren't people.

They were just there to be directed to do this or that as passive recipients of his orders.

They have been getting better and better at this, from the first to the second and from the third to the fourth generations. And the leaders who are best at it never treat people as human beings.

Zhao Ziyang was the worst at this out of the two leaders who were bad at it.

No wonder all those leaders who were good at it were scrambling to put some distance between them.

Some people ask why it is that we just can't forget about Zhao Ziyang.

I think one of the reasons is that Zhao Ziyang stands out as special and worthy of commemoration compared to the pack of leaders who have modeled themselves on Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, and who don't treat people like people.

If China's leaders modeled themselves instead on Zhao Ziyang, then no one would have to traipse through the cold and fog and smog on a special trip [to bring him flowers].

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, political aide to the late ousted Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.

Comments (1)


Deng Xiaoping and especially Mao Zedong were chieftains, not statesmen, who viewed the populace much like a collection of insects or plants that can be crushed or uprooted without so much as a second thought if they become inconvenient from the chieftain's perspective.

Jan 20, 2013 02:14 PM





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