BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese magazine has published a memoir praising purged Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang, making a rare break with the official taboo about the leader ousted in the bloody and still-sensitive upheavals of 1989.
History lingers long over Chinese politics, and more than 21 years after he was purged, the late Zhao remains a test case for some liberal Chinese former officials and intellectuals, who see his erasure from history as part of the ruling Communist Party’s reluctance to pursue bolder political liberalisation.
The memoir by Yang Rudai, a former official who worked under Zhao, appeared in the July issue of “China Through the Ages” (Yan huang chun qiu), which reached subscribers on Thursday.
Zhao’s name rarely appeared in publications after he was ousted in 1989, when the ruling Communist Party was beset by protesters demanding democratic reform.
Mentions of him are not unprecedented, but this tribute appears to be part of a push by former officials seeking to rehabilitate the reformist figurehead, who died in 2005.
Before the army crushed the protests centred on Tiananmen Square on June 4 that year, Zhao was pushed aside by conservative leaders who accused him of being soft on protesters.
Du Daozheng, the chairman of the magazine who oversaw the publication of the new memoir, said the time was ripe to speak up about Zhao’s achievements.
“The Communist Party and government are more open and tolerant than before,” said Du. “This is not a landmine.”
Du, who helped assemble Zhao’s own memoirs recorded during his years in house arrest and published in Hong Kong last year, said the new essay did not amount to official “rehabilitation”.
“That awaits to be seen. We have to observe what happens,” he said when asked about possible official reactions to the memoir.
“Zhongnanhai is not a single piece of iron,” he said, referring to the Communist Party’s walled headquarters in central Beijing. “There are more enlightened and democratic views in it, and there are firmly conservative views. There is a struggle and contention between these forces, and there always has been.”
Yang recounts Zhao’s time as Party chief of southwest Sichuan province from the late 1970s, when Zhao was one of the first provincial leaders to experiment with economic liberalisation. Yang does not mention Zhao’s career as a central leader or the tumult of 1989. That time remains too sensitive to broach.
Du praised Zhao in passing in an interview in the June issue of “China Through the Ages.” In 2008, the magazine came under pressure from censors for an essay that praised Zhao without referring to him by name.
(Editing by Sugita Katyal)