Zhao's Call for Democracy

A former aide releases the memoirs of China's late premier, shattering an official silence on the June 1989 crackdown.

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zhaoziyang-305.jpg Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang addresses student hunger-strikers, May 19, 1989.
HONG KONG—Twenty years after the People's Liberation Army crushed the student-led pro-democracy movement in China with guns and tanks, a former top Communist Party official has released audio recordings in which former premier Zhao Ziyang calls for parliamentary democracy for China.

Zhao, who fell into political disgrace in the wake of the crackdown, described it in recordings as "a tragedy to shock the world, which was happening in spite of attempts to avert it."

He recalls hearing the sound of "intense gunfire" on the evening of June 3, 1989 while sitting at his Beijing home, where he was held under house arrest until his death. He concludes in extracts read from an unpublished political memoir that the only way forward for China is a parliamentary democracy.

"Of course, it is possible that in the future a more advanced political system than parliamentary democracy will emerge," Zhao said. "But that is a matter for the future. At present, there is no other."

He said China could not have a healthy economic system, nor become a modern society with the rule of law without democracy.

"Instead, it will run into the situations that have occurred in so many developing countries, including China: the commercialization of power, rampant corruption, and a society polarized between rich and poor."

Released by aide

Zhao's former political aide, Bao Tong, who served a seven-year jail term in the wake of the crackdown, released the tapes ahead of the 20th anniversary of the violent suppression of the 1989 student movement, in which hundreds, perhaps more than 1,000, died.

"Zhao Ziyang left behind a set of audio recordings. These are his legacy," Bao wrote from under house arrest at his Beijing home.

"Zhao Ziyang's legacy is for all of China's people. It is my job to transmit them to the world in the form of words and to arrange things," he said.

"Their contents have implications for a history that is still influencing the people of China to this day. The key theme of this history is reform," Bao said.

Authorities in Beijing suppressed any public displays of grief for Zhao in the days after his death on Jan. 17, 2005, detaining dozens of people for wearing white flowers in his honor or attempting to pay their respects at the former premier's home.

Zhao was openly mourned by thousands in the former British colony of Hong Kong, however, which is seen by many as a symbol of the territory's own struggle for political change.

Educating China's youth

Bao said his purpose in releasing the tapes, which he described as a "political task," was partly to educate a whole generation of young people in China who had never heard of Zhao Ziyang.

"On the mainland at the current time, this part of history has been sealed off and distorted, so it will be useful to discuss some of this history for younger readers."

"The name of Zhao Ziyang was erased from news media, books and periodicals, and the historical record within China," Bao wrote in a six-part essay accompanying the tapes, titled "The Historical Background to the Zhao Ziyang Recordings."

"Zhao wanted to address the issues of official corruption and democracy which were the concerns of most ordinary Chinese people, using the principle of the rule of law," Bao wrote of the conflict between his former political mentor and late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping.

"He wanted to instigate reforms of China's political system alongside deepening economic reforms, concentrating the attention of the whole of society onto the issue of reforms."

The Chinese authorities have already begun tightening security in and around Beijing ahead of the sensitive anniversary.

Articles and forum posts connected in any way to the events of 20 years ago are being deleted regularly from Chinese cyberspace, including an appeal for the rehabilitation of Zhao and Hu Yaobang, whose death on April 15, 1989 triggered the student movement.

Original reporting by RFA's Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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