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Purported Zhao Ziyang Interview Warns Against Neglect of Reform

January 28, 2005

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has obtained a copy of an article purporting to record a conversation with purged Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang shortly before his death, in which Zhao is quoted as urging China to move toward democracy in order to avoid the violent tragedy of a new revolution.

HRIC obtained this document (appended in full to our Chinese press release) from Chen Yizi, who was a member of Zhao’s brain trust while Zhao was still in charge of formulating China’s reforms. Chen, who now lives in the United States, obtained this document from someone who said he visited Zhao Ziyang in the summer of 2004 and recorded Zhao’s analysis and assessment of China’s political situation. Chen considers this source reliable, but made inquiries through a variety of channels to authenticate the contents. Although HRIC is not in a position to attest to the veracity or authenticity of the report, it is offered here for the insights it may provide into the sustained suppression of political dissent.

The document quotes Zhao Ziyang as making comments on the following points:
-- that China’s current form of capitalism will prevent China from making significant progress, and that continued control of resources by the Communist Party will prevent effective control of China’s pervasive corruption;
-- that present-day China resembles the late Qing Dynasty under the Empress Dowager, who rejected reform in favor of suppression. By the time humiliation at the hands of Western armies won new support for reform, it was too late, and the dynastic power eventually fell to Sun Yatsen’s revolution. Zhao is quoted as observing that today’s China will be equally vulnerable if social sentiment becomes overwhelming;
-- that China’s one opportunity for effective reform was under Deng Xiaoping, but that while Deng allowed considerable latitude in economic reform, he was “very much on guard” against political reform. Zhao is quoted as saying that he himself favored gradual political reform, but as this satisfied neither the progressives nor the conservatives, he was gradually rendered ineffectual.

In the document, Zhao is quoted as expressing deep dissatisfaction with his long house arrest following the 1989 crackdown, and as having told a visiting central government official that, “If things continue this way, I’ll end my life under house arrest, and that will be part of the historical record.”

“It is known that Zhao Ziyang’s long oppression was a result of his disagreement with other officials on crucial points of reform,” said HRIC president Liu Qing. “It is a travesty of justice that Zhao Ziyang ended his days in captivity for no reason other than adhering to his principles. This document may provide valuable insights into China’s political development over the past twenty years, and the dominant political rationale that continues to perpetrate injustice against dissident voices today.”