Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang

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Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang
By Adi Ignatius
Simon & Schuster, 2009
336 pp. $26.00

After refusing to authorize the crackdown on student hunger strikers in Tiananmen Square in 1989, Zhao Ziyang, then general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, was placed under house arrest. He remained there until his death in 2005. Around 2000, he found a way to make secret tape recordings, in which he refuted his rivals' charges against him. His fair-minded account of the events during the crisis tracks with what is known from The Tiananmen Papers (which I co-edited). Most revealing here is Zhao's measured, substantive account of his work as China's premier from 1980 to 1987, when he was responsible for implementing Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms. Zhao shows that Deng was an impulsive, sometimes contradictory decision-maker, whose political maneuvering could not prevent the widening split over the consequences of economic reform, a disagreement that broke into the open in 1989. Only during house arrest, says Zhao, did he come to believe that parliamentary democracy was the best form of government for China -- one under which, however, he thought the leading position of the Chinese Communist Party could be maintained "for a very long time."

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