Remembering and Forgetting Zhao Ziyang

So, at last former Chinese Premier and Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang has died. But the political agenda that he espoused while in office passed away long ago, on May 19, 1989, when he appeared in Tiananmen Square just before dawn to beg tearfully for the forgiveness of protesters. “I am very sorry,” he said to startled onlookers. “I have come too late.” After that, he existed more as an historical chimera than as a real person.

When his bizarre and unscheduled appearance in the square was broadcast on Central Chinese Television the next morning – during one of the last days of uncensored media coverage – people across China were stunned by this fleeting moment of all-too-human, official anguish. After all, Party leaders rarely evince their personal feelings in public, much less transgress the Party line as brazenly as Zhao did. Such individualism fit neither Leninist nor traditional Chinese proscriptions for behavior by a high official.

As the crackdown following those heady weeks of free expression and assembly came to its apocalyptic end on the night of June 3-4, Zhao vanished, sucked down the Party’s memory hole into which so many other leaders have vanished since China’s “socialist liberation.” To the discredit of the democratic world, hardly any head of state remonstrated on Zhao’s behalf, minimally demanding that some accounting be made for his illegal and immoral incarceration. Instead, Zhao was allowed to remain in suspended animation, under house arrest, conveniently forgotten like some cryogenically frozen celebrity with no hope of resurrection.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

To read this article from our archive, please log in or register now. After entering your email, you'll have access to two free articles every month. For unlimited access to Project Syndicate, subscribe now.

required

By proceeding, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which describes the personal data we collect and how we use it.

Log in

http://prosyn.org/N9Y0mVY;

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.