Former secretary general of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽), who was removed from the government 15 years ago, has passed away. His passing is a sensitive political issue, for Zhao's fate underlines the high degree of instability in China's government and the international commu-nity's hope for reform in China. For this very reason, it is likely that the government will ban any public commemorative activities.
The tight control that the government will likely exercise, coupled with the fact that Zhao has been out of office for the last 15 years, make it very unlikely that there will be a repetition of the 1989 Tiananmen Incident, which was sparked by the death of another party general secretary, Hu Yaobang (
But with the contradictions within Chinese society becoming increasingly fraught, people are now urgently seeking an outlet for their social discontent, so it is likely that there will be scattered commemorative events, and possibly even protests, organized by laborers and urban communities.
Whether these scattered events will converge into a larger social movement will depend largely on the attitude of the authorities. The harder they seek to prevent any commemorative activity, the more likely it is that there will be a powerful social reaction.
We can also expect that Zhao's death will prompt a wave of interest in Zhao as a person, as well as a revisiting of the Tian-anmen Incident, especially by academics based overseas. This will indirectly affect the atmosphere in the CCP.
It is worth noting that Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) was formerly Zhao's secretary, and even accompanied him when he spoke with the students in Tiananmen Square. Wen's attitude toward his mentor will be an important index of his character, especially in Chinese society, with its emphasis on repaying the kindness of others.
Under the Communist system, Zhao played a tragic role. Similar examples abound in the history of the CCP. For such people, early political choices become a fatal error of judgement. When they realize what has happened, it is already too late, and they have turned into a type of person hateful to themselves, the sort of person they wished to overthrow when they first joined the revolution. Is there anything more tragic?
By 1989, Zhao had already perceived the CCP's inborn resistance to democracy. The party that deprived him of his liberty and erased all trace of his contributions, was the party to which he had dedicated his life. The pain that Zhao must have felt is not something that we can easily comprehend.
Zhao's death offers us an opportunity to re-evaluate the true face of China. During Zhao's time, reform was regarded as encompassing the whole spectrum of life, even including political issues. But reform today has become restricted to the economic sphere. This will create problems.
Political, social, educational and cultural development simply cannot keep pace with China's economic development, and this will lead to imbalance. This is the true face of China, and is also the root of its instability.
There are those who -- viewing China exclusively from an economic perspective -- believe that it can achieve stable development even without social and political reform. But this is only possible because of their narrow perspective.