Former Chinese Party Chief Zhao Ziyang Dies

Purged Chinese Party Chief Zhao Ziyang Dies (ABC-Reuters)

Zhao Ziyang, a Chinese reformist toppled as Communist Party chief in 1989 for opposing an army crackdown on the Tiananmen Square democracy protests, died in hospital Monday, his family said. He was 85.

The one-time heir-apparent to Deng Xiaoping, his long party career defined by his tearful pleading with student protesters in the square, spent his last 15 years confined to house arrest by successors fearing his residual influence as an icon of reform. “He is free at last,” Zhao’s daughter, Wang Yannan, said in a statement obtained by Reuters. Her father died in a coma at a Beijing hospital early on Monday after a series of strokes.

He spent the final years of his life sequestered behind the red doors of a courtyard home in central Beijing, emerging only for brief visits to the provinces or to the golf course. Unmarked cars and police were ever-present on the street outside. The long years of house arrest were “a showcase of shame for Chinese justice and for the Chinese Communist Party itself,” Zhao’s former aide, Bao Tong, wrote. Bao himself was jailed for seven years in 1989 and remains under close surveillance. Zhao was accused of splitting the party after opposing the decision of Deng, then China’s paramount leader, to crush the Tiananmen protests. He remained a politically sensitive figure amid government fears that his death could spark protests.

Truly bizarre. It’s difficult to imagine the government of any other major power getting away with this kind of conduct.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    A little perspective here please. Zhao is very fortunate to have lived as long as he did and die a natural death. Many of his generation weren’t so fortunate. Just look at the fates of revolutionary heroes like Liu Shaoqi and Pan Dehui during the cultural revolution. We are talking about a still totalitarian one party state. By this measure things have come a long way and the party cannot get away with just killing its opponents. Not much by western standards, but quite a change by Chinese standards.

  2. DC Loser says:

    “It’s difficult to imagine the government of any other major power getting away with this kind of conduct.”

    How about Putin’s consolidation of power, his government’s vendatta against Mikhail Khodorkhovsky and the takeover of Yukos assets? That’s pretty blatant to me and I’m surprised this hasn’t caused much of a stir in this country.

  3. McGehee says:

    It’s difficult to imagine the government of any other major power getting away with this kind of conduct.

    Russia hasn’t been a major power since 1991 — when Gorbachov tried to head off the first Gulf War with a proposal for peace talks, and was almost universally ignored.

  4. DC Loser says:

    “Russia hasn’t been a major power since 1991..”

    I dunno. The fact that they still possess enough nuclear weaponry to blow us into kingdom come any moment would qualify them as a major player in my book. They’ve also got themselves invited into the G-8, which is a big boys’ club by any measure.