The conditions under which Zhao Ziyang lived at the time of his death, in utter isolation from Chinese society due to an illegally imposed 16-year house arrest, shames both Chinese justice and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Zhao’s persecution was the persecution of a leader who dedicated himself for over a decade to groundbreaking efforts that became the foundations of China’s economic reform. In the late 1970’s, Chinese peasants had long since lost their rights to own their land, owing to collectivization and the establishment of the People’s Commune. It is a right they have never regained. Zhao, however, was the first to advocate giving autonomy back to the peasants and so initiated the first pilot tests to abolish the People’s Commune.
Chinese industry had been transformed into subsidiaries of government through nationalization and central planning. Zhao was the first to propose “expanded autonomy for Chinese enterprises” and “restoration of a healthy relationship between government and industry.” Expanded autonomy for enterprises and the peasantry were critical first steps whose success led eventually to full-blown economic reform.
These were among the many incremental victories Zhao won to help China’s people break out of the suffocating stagnation of Maoist socialism. As China’s Premier, Zhao implemented ten years of economic reforms that brought steady progress in which the people, especially the peasantry, enjoyed tangible improvements.