Politics & EconomyBiography & MemoirHistoryPolitical Biography & MemoirChinese HistoryInternational Politics
"Zhao may be more dangerous in death than he was in life."
How often can you peek behind the curtains of one of the most secretive governments in the world? Prisoner of the State is the first book to give readers a front row seat to the secret inner workings of China's government. It is the story of Premier Zhao Ziyang, the man who brought liberal change to that nation and who, at the height of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, tried to stop the massacre and was dethroned for his efforts.
When China's army moved in, killing hundreds of students and other demonstrators, Zhao was placed under house arrest at his home on a quiet alley in Beijing. China's most promising change agent had been disgraced, along with the policies he stood for. The premier spent the last sixteen years of his life, up until his death in 2005, in seclusion. An occasional detail about his life would slip out: reports of a golf excursion, a photo of his aging visage, a leaked letter to China's leaders. But China scholars often lamented that Zhao never had his final say.
As it turns out, Zhao did produce a memoir in complete secrecy. He methodically recorded his thoughts and recollections on what had happened behind the scenes during many of modern China's most critical moments. The tapes he produced were smuggled out of the country and form the basis for Prisoner of the State. In this audio journal, Zhao provides intimate details about the Tiananmen crackdown; he describes the ploys and double crosses China's top leaders use to gain advantage over one another; and he talks of the necessity for China to adopt democracy in order to achieve long-term stability.
The China that Zhao portrays is not some long-lost dynasty. It is today's China, where the nation's leaders accept economic freedom but continue to resist political change.
If Zhao had survived -- that is, if the hard-line hadn't prevailed during Tiananmen -- he might have been able to steer China's political system toward more openness and tolerance.
Zhao's call to begin lifting the Party's control over China's life -- to let a little freedom into the public square -- is remarkable coming from a man who had once dominated that square. Although Zhao now speaks from the grave in this moving and riveting memoir, his voice has the moral power to make China sit up and listen.
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The internal workings, and funtionary names, of the Chinese Communist Party can be dizzying but Ziyang's very detailed account, from the General Secretary's seat, of the politics involved in China's turn toward a market economy makes interesting and timely reading. The fact that Ziyang composed the book in secret while under decades of house arrest and it was smuggled out for publication after his death, may overshadow and give some undue weight to his testimony.more
This is a somewhat enlightening and educational look at the inner workings of the Chinese Communist Party leadership during the late 1980s, including the Tiananmen Square massacres, as seen through the eyes of then Chinese Premier and General Secretary, Zhao Ziyang.Zhao Ziyang came to power in 1987, through the support of acknowledged supreme Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, with the charge to modernize the Chinese economy and pursue a path of political liberalism. When the Chinese student protests broke out, in response to the death of Zhao’s predecessor, this pursuit of political liberalism evaporated under the heat of the reactionary members of the Chinese Central Committee. When these members were able to persuade Deng to support their policy of martial law and military response, Zhao’s role in Chinese government came to an end.This book is a transcription of Zhao’s thoughts concerning his period in power and the circumstances leading to his downfall and subsequent house arrest. The tapes that he made were certainly not authorized by the Chinese authorities and were only published after being smuggled out in pieces and reassembled outside China.While the first half of the book deals with the final years of his Communist Party leadership, the book then reverts to the earlier years of his service and at this point, the book lost much of its interest in my opinion. Quite frankly, it was terribly boring and something of a chore to complete. Suffice it to say that Zhao was a pawn in the leadership struggle between Deng Xioaping and other aged conservative Communist members of the Central Committee.By their nature, the writings are somewhat disjointed and poorly presented, though the editors do the readers a service by beginning each chapter with a historical context. The plethora of Chinese names is confusing and at times, difficult to follow from scene to scene. However, the inner workings of the Chinese Communist government during this historically monumental period in Chinese and world history are possibly enlightening and educational for those with an interest in the subject.First and foremost, Zhao seeks to absolve himself of any responsibility for the 1989 student massacres and the preceding economic upheavals, and by comparison to many of the other Communist hardliners, he was certainly a voice of moderation. Almost comically, however, he spends many pages arguing the illegality of his removal and subsequent house arrest, quoting chapter and verse from Communist Party procedural manuals and “Chinese Law”, as though he were not a participant in a repressive, Communist autocracy, but instead was due the benefits of a western style democracy, governed by the rule of law. It was enough to make one exclaim, “DUDE, YOU ARE IN CHINA!! The same people that ordered the massacre of Chinese students are dealing with your case now. Deng Xiaoping is the putative Emperor of China; you are at his mercy and he is not pleased with your actions.”The final half of the book is mired in economic theory and endless explanations and excuses for why the Chinese economy foundered during the relevant period. Again, it is hopelessly boring and poorly put together. I can truthfully give the first part of the book 3½ -4 stars due to the historical importance of the Tiananmen Square events and the behind the scenes look at the Chinese government’s decision making process. At the point where the book reverts to Zhao’s early years, however, the book becomes a one start effort. Go to the library, read the first half of the book and skip the rest.more
This book was easy reading for someone who has watch the Chinese situation in the last 20 years. It develops an inside perspective of the Communist hierachy under Deng after Mao and particularly during the 1989 student crises. It shows the conflict in China about control and gives one a better feel of governmental operations.more
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