Zhao Ziyang

For the past 26 years, Chinese authorities have done everything they can to erase the name of Zhao Ziyang. But he still lives in the memory of those who want the truth about China's contemporary history to be told.

As General Secretary of the ruling Chinese Communist Party from 1987 to 1989 , Zhao was outspoken in his support for freedom of speech and expression.

He was removed from office following the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests of 1989. But his legacy can be found in tape recordings he made more than 30 years ago on the progress of reforms.

Zhao Ziyang devoted all his energy to the progress of Chinese society. Everyone who shared this goal will wish to acknowledge it, continue to work together, and remember him.

- An exerpt from a commentary by Bao Tong, former aid to Zhao Ziyang

His Legacy

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.

A picture of Zhao Ziyang dated 17 October 1980 in Beijing. Photo by AFP

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.

Bao Tong shows a photo of his former boss, Zhao Ziyang. Feb. 22, 2011.
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.

- An exerpt from a commentary by Bao Tong, former aid to Zhao Ziyang

Tiananmen Square

Zhao had been general secretary for only a year before the protests on Tiananmen Square began on April 15, 1989. He treated the protesters with sympathy and opposed millitary action against them. On the morning of May 19, he appeared on Tiananmen Square and, using a loudspeaker, delivered his famous speech to the students.

Zhao Ziyang, to students on hunger strike

You are still young, we are old. You must remain healthy, and see the day when China accomplishes the four modernizations. You are not like us. We are already old, so we do not matter.

In his speech, he pleaded with the students to stop their hunger strike and continue trying for open dialogue with government officials.

After his visit, Zhao was placed under indefinite house arrest.

Learn more about Zhao Ziyang and His involvement in the Tiananmen Square protests

Timeline of Events in Tiananmen

From the death of former Communist Party chief Hu Yaobang accused of leniency toward China's young protesters�to the lifting of martial law eight months later, see the events that shaped this key period in Chinese history, 20 years ago.

Remembering Tiananmen

Through pictures and video, we explore the evolution of a pro-democracy movement that began peacefully but ended in tragedy on the night of June 3-4, 1989. This book marks the 24th anniversary of the Chinese army crackdown on student demonstrators and the citizens who supported them.


Learn more about Zhao Ziyang from RFA articles and commentaries.