The Times - Editorial:
January 18, 2005
The death of the man who reformed China and changed the world
When political figures are evaluated for their impact on history, it is the curse of the Chinese, apart from Mao, that their names are unpronounceable and that their policies are made difficult to divine by the demands of Politburo intrigue. But there is no doubt that few politicians have exercised more positive influence in the past century than Zhao Ziyang, the engineer of China’s economic reforms and an architect of gradual political reform who was consumed by the authoritarian system that he sought to change.
A straight line can be drawn from the top of Shanghai’s skyscrapers to the paddy fields of Sichuan in the 1970s, when Zhao oversaw the first phase of reforms designed to end the famines caused by the ideological extravagances that were the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. His successful experiments were conducted in the home province of Deng Xiaoping, who was appalled by China’s impoverishment and astounded by the results of reforms based on the concept of individual autonomy.
That early success in the south west was the starting point for the profound changes that have touched every Chinese. Zhao’s motivation was simple enough; communism had created a grinding, humiliating poverty and institutionalised a system in which any show of initiative or creativity was perceived as an act of insurrection. For almost a decade, Zhao attempted to work the Politburo in Beijing, convincing unreconstructed comrades that it was in their interest to relax control and feigning fealty to the dogmatic drivel of Marx and Lenin.
He commissioned local elections and encouraged public debate, which ultimately prompted a fatal conflict with Deng and his commode Communists, who purged Zhao days before the brutality of Tiananmen in 1989. Zhao had sympathised with some of the arguments, if not the methods, of protesting students and was put under house arrest — the first official recognition of his existence since that moment was the two-sentence announcement yesterday of his death.
Zhao is more than merely a symbol of the opacity of Chinese politics, and his personal experience and political thoughts deserve to be influential in the global debate over remedying poverty. He was canny enough not to ascribe success to his own pragmatic thinking, but to cast it in the Communist tradition: market reforms, he said, were necessary in the “primary stage of socialism”, though, knowingly, he would never be drawn on the duration of that “primary stage”.
His life is also instructive for politicians in the West fond of ceremonial distance and pseudoscientific symbolism. The mystification of Chinese power long preceded Mao, but Zhao was contemptuous of the “mandate of heaven” and had the courage to demystify power, daring to appear relaxed in public and to allow journalists to pose questions in press conferences broadcast nationally, which, in 1980s China, was genuinely revolutionary.
Zhao was far from a perfect democrat, but his ideas and policy changes improved the lives of hundreds of millions, materially and psychologically. That Maoism remains an influential ideology in parts of the world is an abomination. If politicians and academics want to understand China’s rise, they should study Zhaoism and, like Zhao Ziyang, have more faith in the integrity of markets and of people. Forget Mao — and remember Zhao.
转自新世纪 萧政丰 译