Zhao Ziyang was Prime Minister of the People's Republic of China from 1980 to 1987 and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China from 1987 to 1989. As a high-ranking government official, he was a leading reformer who implemented market reforms that greatly increased production and sought measures to streamline the bloated bureaucracy and fight corruption. On January 17th, 2005, Zhao Ziyang has died at the age of 85, after suffering a series of strokes.
Rise to power
Born in 1919, Zhao Ziyang joined the Communist Youth League in 1932 and worked underground as a Communist Party official during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) and subsequent Civil War. He rose to prominence in the party in Guangdong from 1951 and introduced numerous successful agricultural reforms. In 1962, Zhao Ziyang began to disband the commune system in order to return private land to peasants while assigning production contracts to individual households. He also directed a harsh purge of cadres accused of corruption or having ties to the Kuomintang. By 1965 Zhao Ziyang was the Party secretary of Guangdong province, despite not being a member of the Communist Party Central Committee.
As a supporter of the reforms of Liu Shaoqi, he was dismissed as Guangdong party leader in 1967 during the Cultural Revolution, paraded through Guangzhou in a dunce cap and denounced as "a stinking remnant of the landlord class". He spent four years in forced labor at a factory. In 1971 he was assigned to work as an official in Inner Mongolia and then returned to Guangdong in 1972. Zhao was rehabilitated by Zhou Enlai in 1973, appointed to the Central Committee, and sent to China's largest province, Sichuan, as first party secretary in 1975. Sichuan had been economically devastated by the Great Leap Forward. Zhao turned the province around by introducing radical and successful capitalist rural reforms, which led to an increase in industrial production by 81% and agricultural output by 25% within three years. Deng Xiaoping saw the "Sichuan Experience" as the model for Chinese economic reform and had Zhao inducted into the Politburo as an alternate member in 1977 and as a full member in 1979. He joined the Politburo Standing Committee in 1982.
A Reformist leader for China
Zhao Ziyang was appointed Prime Minister in 1980 to replace Hua Guofeng, Mao's designated successor. He developed "preliminary stage theory", a course for transforming the socialist system that set the stage for much of the later Chinese economic reform. As Prime Minister, he implemented many of the policies that were successful in Sichuan, including giving limited self-management to industrial enterprises and increased control over production to peasants. Zhao Ziyang sought to develop coastal provinces with special economic zones that could lure foreign investment and create export hubs. This led to rapid increases in both agricultural and light-industrial production throughout the 1980's, but his economic reforms were criticized for causing inflation. Zhao Ziyang also persisted in advocating an open foreign policy, fostering good relations with western nations that could aid China's economic development.
In the 1987 Communist Party Congress Zhao Ziyang declared that China was in "a primary stage of socialism" that could last 100 years. Under this premise, China needed to experiment with a variety of economic systems to stimulate production. According to western observers, the two years Zhao Ziyang served as General Secretary were the most open in modern Chinese history—many limitations on freedom of speech and freedom of press were relaxed, allowing intellectuals to freely propose improvements for the country.
Zhao Ziyang's proposal in May 1988 to accelerate price reform led to widespread popular complaints about rampant inflation and gave opponents of rapid reform the opening to call for greater centralization of economic controls and stricter prohibitions against Western influence. This precipitated a political debate, which grew more heated through the winter of 1988 to 1989.
Tiananmen and house arrest
The death of Hu Yaobang on April 15, 1989, coupled with growing economic hardship caused by high inflation, provided the backdrop for the protest movement of 1989 by students, intellectuals, and other parts of a disaffected urban population. Student demonstrators, taking advantage of the political atmosphere, reacted to a variety of causes of discontent, which they attributed to the slow pace of reform. The party hardliners increasingly came to the opposite conclusion, regretting an excessively rapid pace of change for causing the mood of confusion and frustration rife among college students. The protests called for an end to official corruption and for defense of freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. Protests also spread through many other cities, including Shanghai and Guangzhou. These protests were occurring at a time when Communist governments throughout Eastern Europe were collapsing.
When China's leaders Deng Xiaoping, Yang Shangkun, Li Peng, and Hu Qili were finalizing their plans to declare martial law, Zhao Ziyang waded into the students and spoke to them and pleaded with them to abandon their vigil saying he had already come too late. This was the last time Zhao was seen in public.
A day after Zhao Ziyang's May 19 visit to Tiananmen Square, martial law was declared. In the power struggle that ensued, Zhao was stripped of all his positions. Zhao Ziyang was placed under house arrest and replaced as General Secretary by Jiang Zemin.
January 17th, 2005
In February 2004, Zhao had a pneumonia attack that led to a severe lung malfunctioning and was hospitalized for three weeks. Zhao was hospitalized again with pneumonia on December 5, 2004. On January 15, 2005, he was reported to be in a coma after multiple strokes. Zhao Ziyang died on January 17th in a Beijing hospital at 07:01 at the age of 85. He is survived by his second wife, Liang Boqi, four sons, and a daughter.