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
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extracts read from an unpublished political memoir that the only way forward for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
"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,
"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
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
"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
"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
The Chinese authorities have
already begun tightening security in and around Beijing ahead of the sensitive
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.