Paper Praises Zhao Ziyang

Ousted Chinese leader gets first known positive reference in local media.
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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.

An outspoken commentary in a cutting-edge newspaper has praised late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, whose name has been all but erased from the public record.

In a recent article dedicated to the memory of a liberal official in the city, Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily quoted a comment by late provincial governor and reformist politician Ren Zhongyi:

"Guangdong wouldn't have got where it was today without the contribution of [Deng] Xiaoping, [Hu] Yaobang and [Zhao] Ziyang," Ren is reported to have said, listing the key reformers of the post-Mao era.

Zhao was demoted and held under house arrest for nearly two decades, however, after he favored a conciliatory approach to mass student-led pro-democracy protests in 1989.

A former general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, his name has been edited out of official records and history books, along with those people who died during the Tiananmen military crackdown.

The Ren Zhongyi quotation was visible on some Chinese websites on Friday, but with Zhao and Hu's names blocked out by censors, or paraphrased as "other top leaders."

"A lot of people who have lived through the breakneck reforms of the opening up era say that Guangdong wouldn't have got where it was without Ren Zhongyi," the paper said in an article commemorating Ren's political secretary.

"Ren Zhongyi's reply was that Guangdong wouldn't have got where it is today without Xiaoping, Yaobang and Ziyang," the article said, in the first known positive reference to Zhao in the Chinese media since his fall.

Political shift?

Xiao Jian, editor of the Hunan Daily, said he suspected a subtle shift in political thinking in Guangdong.

"They must have caught wind of something behind the scenes," he said. "Otherwise they wouldn't just write this sort of thing so nonchalantly."

"This sort of thing couldn't happen without something going on in the background."

He said certain political factions were likely to call for further political reforms in the run-up to the 18th Party Congress next year.

"Some of the old comrades are still around," Xiao said. "The controls on the media are so tight now that even if they wanted to place an article they'd have a hard time doing it."

Beijing-based scholar Shi Binhai said Zhao's name was still a "forbidden zone" for Chinese journalists and editors. "But maybe some places simply fear to mention him because of how sensitive it is," he said.

"It's probably OK for Guangdong to speak like this, but you definitely wouldn't be able to say this at a national level."

He said many of China's media outlets self-censored far beyond the requirements of the central propaganda department, which issues regular directives to news organizations on the approved treatment of specific news stories.

"These orders don't always come from higher up," he said. "Sometimes those in charge at newspapers are imposing self-censorship."

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





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