China's Prisoner of Conscience

The secret journals of Zhao Ziyang, once China's best hope for political reform, surface in a new book.

Zhao with students in Tiananmen Square, 1989.

Excerpt 3: Socialism

Pages 205-206 (from Part 4: War in the Politburo, Chapter 4: Preparing for the Main Event)

Former Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang's secret journals were smuggled out of China and are to be published May 19th, for the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations.

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English Transcript

Nevertheless, we had practiced socialism for more than thirty years. For those intent on observing orthodox socialist principles, how were we to explain this? One possible explanation was that socialism had been implemented too early and that we needed to retrench and reinitiate democracy. Another was that China had implemented socialism without having first experienced capitalism, and so a dose of capitalism needed to be reintroduced.

Neither argument was entirely unreasonable, but they had the potential of sparking major theoretical debates, which could have led to confusion. And arguments of this kind could never have won political approval. In the worst-case scenario, they could even have caused reform to be killed in its infancy.

While planning for the 13th Party Congress report in the spring of 1987, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to resolve this issue. I came to believe that the expression “initial stage of socialism” was the best approach, and not only because it accepted and cast our decades-long implementation of socialism in a positive light; at the same time, because we were purportedly defined as being in an “initial stage,” we were totally freed from the restrictions of orthodox socialist principles. Therefore, we could step back from our previous position and implement reform policies more appropriate to China.

Related

From the Inside, Out
Book Review: Zhao Ziyang Continues His Fight Postmortem

Secret Memoir Reveals Dissent
Zhao Ziyang violated one of the central tenets of Communist Party doctrine: He spoke out.

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