Zhao Ziyang Was Like a Defensive Driver

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Tiananmen Crisis
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He knows he has to keep the elders happy and yet find a way to push the system towards more flexibility...

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<p>So, what really happened in 1984 and '85 was not so much that reform started in the urban areas as that a new wave of urban reform started that certainly drew some very important elements from rural reform, but also reflected several years of frustrating experience and reformulating and trying to figure out an approach that would work in the Chinese circumstance. Now, clearly, the key leader in this was Zhao Ziyang. Zhao Ziyang had taken direct authority over economic policy in 1980, whereas the elders had been in charge of economic policy before that time, Chen Yun and Li Xiannian. So, Zhao Ziyang had been in charge for a while. He had to deal with a kind of conservative backlash in '81-'82, but he had weathered it, and he had thought carefully about how to maneuver in the direction that he wanted to move. And so, I think it really makes sense at this period to think of Zhao Ziyang as a &ndash; he&rsquo;s like a defensive driver. He&rsquo;s maneuvering. He knows he doesn&rsquo;t have absolute power. You know, the elders like Deng Xiaoping and Chen Yun have more power than Zhao Ziyang does, but he has his hands on the day-to-day levers of authority, and he knows he has to keep the elders happy and yet find a way to push the system towards more flexibility and an opening towards marketization. And I think that as Zhao Ziyang does this, he also becomes, in a sense, more radical, that he begins to believe that the system really needs to be transformed into something that&rsquo;s more of a truly market-based economy. And I think also he becomes committed to a degree of political reform. So, in that process, he works hard, and creates a model of economic reform that ultimately succeeds. But, at the same time, on both political and economic grounds, runs into increasing conflict with the elders. And that ultimately leads to the debacle at Tiananmen Square.</p>
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Barry Naughton discusses the political struggle between Zhao Ziyang and the CCP elders leading up to the period in 1984-1985 when urban reform really started to yield results.