Zhao `Bashing' Could Backfire

Public campaign to discredit former leader may instead create a new rallying point. CHINA: PARTY PURGE

CHINA'S old guard is blaming former Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang for the democracy movement in a campaign that is likely to backfire on its conservative sponsors, analysts say. Veteran cadres are publicly claiming that Mr. Zhao is a closet liberal reformer who sought to supplant senior leader Deng Xiaoping, scuttle Marxism, and curb party power.

Some party elders believe they can bolster their own power by pursuing the purge of Zhao and his reformist coterie, say Western diplomats and other analysts.

But the attack instead has elevated Zhao as a rallying figure for liberal activists. It will further alienate numerous party and government officials who strongly support the former party general secretary and his market-oriented economic reforms, analysts say. And it could hurt the image of the aging leaders by underscoring the divisiveness in the party, they add.

The campaign ``will heighten the concern of people throughout both the provincial and central bureaucracies who have been Zhao followers that a severe purge will follow,'' says Kenneth Lieberthal, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan.

Although thousands of liberal activists have been arrested and at least a dozen executed, the leadership has apparently not yet launched a widespread purge of the think tanks and ministries that showed the most enthusiasm for Zhao's reforms or the liberal struggle.

The motives of the hard-line leaders vary. Those who advocate a command economy have attacked Zhao in an effort to discredit and curtail his economic reforms, diplomats and analysts say. The assault is also a glancing blow at Mr. Deng, father of the reforms and former mentor to Zhao. Some veteran cadres believe the campaign will undermine Deng's esteem and induce him to share power, they say. The ``veteran proletarian revolutionaries,'' as Deng calls them, returned from semi-retirement this spring to endorse the brutal crackdown on activists that began June 3.

In another measure of renewed Marxist orthodoxy, the party will order university students to work up to two years after college before pursuing graduate studies. The new rules appear to be an attempt to prevent a recurrence of this spring's pro-democracy student movement. About 3,500 students had planned to begin master's and doctoral degree programs this fall, the official China Daily newspaper says.

Zhao is now under house arrest at the walled leadership compound of Zhongnanhai in Beijing, stripped of all posts but his party membership. The party may punish him further after investigating his family's finances and his activities during the spring demonstrations, a Chinese source said on condition of anonymity.

By vilifying Zhao and attributing to him liberal aims he never publicly endorsed, the veterans are creating a liberal martyr like Hu Yaobang, Zhao's predecessor.

Like Zhao, Hu did not openly espouse a free press, free speech, or other liberal values, but merely tolerated limited dissent. Yet Hu became a hero for China's activists for democracy after his ouster in 1987 for allegedly sympathizing with students who rallied nationwide for democracy.

The death of Hu in April gave university students the pretext to take to the streets for memorial marches that they eventually turned into massive demonstrations for democratic reform and ``clean government.''

While the chances of a Zhao comeback are slim, the party may have to revive some of his pragmatic and moderate policies if repression and the deteriorating economy provoke renewed unrest, the diplomats and analysts say.

Since sacking Zhao in late June, the party has blamed him for virtually all its problems: corruption, the public's widespread snub of Marxism, growing disparities in income, and severe economic ills such as high inflation.

Recently the party began publicly accusing Zhao of supporting the democracy movement, which it brands as ``antigovernment, counterrevolutionary rioting.'' Such a charge could subject Zhao to severe punishment.

In its harshest public attack against him so far, the party claimed that he colluded in backing the democracy movement with Yan Jiaqi, a former top political theorist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and now a leader of China's liberal struggle in exile.

``Working in conjunction [with Zhao], the small handful of people who plotted and organized the riot attacked comrades Deng Xiaoping, [Premier] Li Peng, and [President] Yang Shangkun,'' says an article in the party newspaper People's Daily. Implying that Zhao and Mr. Yan cooperated, the article accuses Yan of ``supporting Zhao through overthrowing Deng.'' The article says Zhao ``again made the target of attack Deng Xiaoping'' on May 16 when he publicly acknowledged that party leaders secretly agreed in 1987 to recognize Deng as the ultimate authority. The statement was widely viewed as an attempt by Zhao to disassociate himself from the party's harsh policy toward the liberal movement.

Zhao also allegedly sought in 1987 to lead the party away from socialism and downgrade Marxism and the party's totalitarian hold on power, according to an Aug. 9 editorial in People's Daily.

``When some comrades then mentioned that it was essential to stress socialism, he [Zhao] went so far as to say that nobody can say for certain at present what the socialist road is,'' the editorial says.

Another People's Daily article alleges that when Zhao was asked to speak at a meeting on how to strengthen the indoctrination and organizational power of the party, he used a Chinese adage to express his reluctance, saying, ``Asking me to do that is `like driving a duck up a ladder.'''

Although Zhao has never publicly endorsed liberalism, he indicated in recent years that the party should tolerate a measure of pluralism and allow groups in society to voice their interests with a degree of independence, says Dr. Lieberthal, the China specialist.

By quelling the democracy movement, rather than compromising with the groups involved, the party has affirmed its claim to be the sole articulator of the interests of all social groups in China, Lieberthal says.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Zhao `Bashing' Could Backfire
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today