07 April 2004

Zhao Ziyang Ill

China-based blogger Andrés Gentry calls attention to a recent New York Times report that Zhao Ziyang is ill.
This should be getting more play in the China-blog community.... Why is that important?
... lower-level party officials, or students or intellectuals outside the party, may make Mr. Zhao's death an occasion to press for political liberalization. China's long tradition of paying homage to the dead makes it unseemly for the police to repress mourners, potentially opening a window for people to express grievances along with condolences.

In fact, the 1989 demonstrations first gathered steam after the death of the reform-minded leader who preceded Mr. Zhao as Communist Party chief, Hu Yaobang, who died 15 years ago this month.

"It is clear that leaders will have taken every measure to prevent any protests from happening," said one Chinese political analyst who asked not to be quoted by name. "But the impact of such an event would be very unpredictable and risky for the leadership."
Andrés then adds further insights.
There are other more recent instances of the government getting caught flatfooted in their response to demonstrations. The Belgrade Embassy bombing springs immediately to mind. While there was certainly a lot of anti-foreign/anti-American anger, I know for some people that was simply a vehicle to express their dislike of the CCP. It was a dangerous time for everyone really since if the demonstrations continued it's likely that they would have begun focusing their energy on China at least as much as on NATO/America. However, if they were cut off too soon then the government could be accused of being unpatriotic and anger would definitely have moved on from foreigners to the CCP.
See also his earlier post on the likelihood of massive demonstrations after Zhao's death and the CCP's need to come to terms with the events at Tiananmen in 1989.

Earlier demonstrations in Tiananmen to honor another popular leader, Zhou Enlai (d. 1976), culminated in the Democracy Wall movement.
For some, the Cultural Revolution marked the beginning of an independent political consciousness and the means to express it, as seen, for example, in the controversial wall poster signed by Liyizhe, a pseudonym of its three authors, that appeared on November 7, 1974 in Guangzhou. It denounced the lawlessness, despotism, recklessness, and killings of the Cultural Revolution and called for democratic and individual rights. A larger-scale expression of increasing political independence occurred on April 5, 1976 with a demonstration in Tiananmen Square supposedly to honor Zhou Enlai, who had died in January 1976 without much official note. In actuality, the demonstration was an organized attack on the Cultural Revolution and the tyranny of the Gang of Four and implicitly of Mao. The April 5th demonstration was the first time since 1949 that ordinary Chinese had taken the initiative to launch their own movement and establish a public space where people could freely express their opinions. But it was suppressed after just a few days.Whereas purged party officials and skilled workers had planned the parades and the placards to be carried into the Square months before April 5, 1976, the Democracy Wall movement appears to have begun somewhat spontaneously. Against the background of the party's official repudiation of the designation of the April 5th demonstration as a "counter-revolutionary" movement in the fall of 1978 and the official media's calls for "socialist democracy and rule of law," individuals and groups suddenly began to put up large-character posters and gathered together to discuss political issues at the Xidan wall on a busy street in the middle of Beijing in November 1978.
For more on one of the principal Democracy Wall activists, see this post on Wei Jingsheng.

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