Book Delayed by Crackdown Fears

Former aides to ousted premier call for political reform in China.

Zhao Ziyang (C) addresses the Tiananmen Square student hunger strikers in Beijing, May 19, 1989.

Twenty-two years after the fall of late Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang, a group of Chinese scholars is calling in a new book for Beijing to follow the path of political reforms he laid out.

But their voices now seem unlikely to be heard amid the current crackdown on dissent.

"Some of our friends and advisers in mainland China think it would be appropriate to postpone the book launch for the time being," said Zhang Boshu, a former philosophy researcher at the prestigious China Academy of Social Sciences.

"The main consideration is the [political] force in mainland China over the past few months," Zhang said. "More than half the book's authors are from mainland China."

"We have to take into consideration the safety of some of the authors," said Zhang, who is the overall editor of the book, The Zhao Ziyang Road.

Chinese authorities have detained or placed under surveillance dozens of dissidents, rights activists, and lawyers since February, amid fears of a "Jasmine" revolution inspired by recent uprisings in the Middle East.

This year also marks the 90th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Chinese Communist Party on July 1, with the authorities ordering a slew of patriotic TV programs and public celebrations and stepping up security in the capital.

Former top aides contribute

The 35,000 character book includes contributions from former top Zhao aides Bao Tong and Yan Jiaqi, former Chinese University of Hong Kong professor Wu Guoguang, and Party elder Xin Ziling.

In the book, they call on China's leadership to take the "Zhao Ziyang Road" and implement political and constitutional reform, eventually leading to a democratic system.

Australia-based contributor Feng Chongyi said the book focuses on the political thought of Zhao's later years.

"Its contributors are former top officials under Zhao, pro-democracy supporters as well as pro-democracy scholars," Feng said. "We had planned to bring the book out on the anniversary of June 4 [1989]."

"Its main aim is to argue that we should pursue the path of parliamentary democracy."

Zhao, who was ousted during the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square for not taking a hard enough line with protesters, spent nearly two decades under house arrest.

Hundreds died during the subsequent military crackdown, which used tanks and machine guns on unarmed civilians, and which was ordered by then supreme leader Deng Xiaoping.

Zhao's legacy 'a focal point'

Zhao's name is now seldom spoken in Chinese political circles, and his death under house arrest on Jan. 17, 2005 went unnoticed by many in China.

However, his legacy has become a focal point for those who have become increasingly disgruntled with the current government.

Those who were close to him, both personally and politically, tend to use a moderate form of criticism similar to Zhao's own when in office, and to avoid inflammatory or revolutionary language.

Zhao's posthumous memoir, titled in English Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Zhao Ziyang, went on sale in 2009 to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the military crackdown—which Zhao opposed at the cost of his political career and personal freedom.

No form of public memorial has so far been held for those who died when the People’s Liberation Army cleared the thousands of student-led pro-democracy protesters from the center of Beijing.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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