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 4: Economic Reform

Pages 112-113 (from Part 3: The Roots of China’s Economic Boom, Chapter 4: Finding a New Approach)

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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The reason I had such a deep interest in economic reform and devoted myself to finding ways to undertake this reform was that I was determined to eradicate the malady of China’s economic system at its roots. Without an understanding of the deficiencies of China’s economic system, I could not possibly have had such a strong urge for reform.

Of course, my earliest understanding of how to proceed with reform was shallow and vague. Many of the approaches that I proposed could only ease the symptoms; they could not tackle the fundamental problems.

The most profound realization I had about eradicating deficiencies in China’s economy was that the system had to be transformed into a market economy, and that the problem of property rights had to be resolved. That was arrived at through practical experience, only after a long series of back-and-forths.

But what was the fundamental problem? In the beginning, it wasn’t clear to me. My general sense was only that efficiency had to be improved. After I came to Beijing, my guiding principle on economic policy was not the single-minded pursuit of production figures, nor the pace of economic development, but rather finding a way for the Chinese people to receive concrete returns on their labor. That was my starting point. Growth rates of 2 to 3 percent would have been considered fantastic for advanced capitalist nations, but while our economy grew at a rate of 10 percent, our people’s living standards had not improved.

As for how to define this new path, I did not have any preconceived model or a systematic idea in mind. I started with only the desire to improve economic efficiency. This conviction was very important. The starting point was higher efficiency, and people seeing practical gains. Having this as a goal, a suitable way was eventually found, after much searching. Gradually, we created the right path.

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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