How much has China changed in fifteen years?
Zhao Zhiyang, the former leader of the Chinese Communist Party until the Tiananmen Square crackdown, has died. Jasmine Yap has an obituary in Bloomberg; here’s a link to the New York Times obit by Jim Yardley. Combined, the obituaries make a telling point about China in the eighties — and set up a test to ...
Zhao Zhiyang, the former leader of the Chinese Communist Party until the Tiananmen Square crackdown, has died. Jasmine Yap has an obituary in Bloomberg; here's a link to the New York Times obit by Jim Yardley. Combined, the obituaries make a telling point about China in the eighties -- and set up a test to see how much China has changed. As Yardley points out:
Zhao Zhiyang, the former leader of the Chinese Communist Party until the Tiananmen Square crackdown, has died. Jasmine Yap has an obituary in Bloomberg; here’s a link to the New York Times obit by Jim Yardley. Combined, the obituaries make a telling point about China in the eighties — and set up a test to see how much China has changed. As Yardley points out:
At Mr. Deng’s behest, he acted boldly, embracing economic reform by expanding self-management for peasant farmers and some industries. In 1987, after the ouster of Hu Yaobang, who was deemed too lenient toward student protests, Mr. Zhao became general secretary of the Communist Party, a job that made him Mr. Deng’s presumptive heir.
Yap’s obit points out the initial trigger for the Tiananmen protests:
Zhao, also a former prime minister, lived under house arrest after he opposed the military crackdown on pro-democracy activists and was removed from power by then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. He was last seen in public on May 19, 1989, begging student protesters to leave Tiananmen Square, a day before Chinese authorities declared martial law in the capital and shot dead hundreds of the demonstrators. Students began filling the square in April 1989 to commemorate the death of former party Secretary General Hu Yaobang, whom they considered was sympathetic to demands for more democracy in China. By May, the square had turned into an encampment for students from across the nation, who called for democracy and an end to Communist Party corruption and defied government orders to leave.
If Hu’s death triggered Tiananmen, one wonders whether Zhao’s death will trigger any similar kind of political mobilization against the government. To be honest, I’ll be surprised if it does. This is for one of three reasons:
1) China’s communist government has delivered robust economic growth in the 15 1/2 years since Tinanmen; 2) The Chinese government’s tools of political coercion and suppression have become more sophisticated and aware since 1989 — therefore, they are more likely to nip a poential Tiananmen in the bud; 3) China’s citizenry has become more nationalist in the past fifteen years, and therefore do not have the same amount of political antipathy towards the government.
Developing…. UPDATE: Looks like the Chinese government is attempting to try hypothesis no. 2 out, according to the New York Times‘ Joseph Kahn:
Chinese leaders imposed a ban today on news reports about the death of Zhao Ziyang, the former Communist Party chief who opposed the 1989 crackdown on democracy protesters, suggesting that his official obituary would treat him as a pariah. The New China News Agency issued a terse dispatch announcing that Mr. Zhao, who was 85 years old, died early today. But the news agency identified Mr. Zhao simply as a “comrade,” not as China’s former top political leader, and the main evening news broadcast made no mention of his passing. Editors said that propaganda officials had ordered television stations and newspapers not to report about Mr. Zhao, and popular Web sites were instructed to ban public discussion of the former leader.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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