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Last Updated: Monday, 17 January, 2005, 01:18 GMT
Obituary: Zhao Ziyang
Zhao Ziyang: Chinese reformer
Zhao Ziyang: Chinese reformist leader

A former secretary-general of the Chinese Communist Party, Zhao Ziyang was a leading reformer. But he was toppled in 1989, after trying to find common ground with the student demonstrators in Tiananmen Square.

Born in the central Chinese province of Henan in 1919, the son of a wealthy landlord, Zhao joined the Communist Youth League in 1932.

After working as a party official during the liberation war of 1937-49, he rose to prominence in the party in Guangdong province from 1951.

He set about introducing agricultural reforms and became one of few government officials to be appointed to a top provincial post without first serving on the Communist Party's central committee.

Zhao Ziyang in Tiananmen Square in 1989
Zhao went to meet students in Tiananmen Square in 1989
But he fell foul of Mao Zedong in the 1960s. The Maoists felt he had betrayed his ideological principles for the sake of capitalist reforms.

During Mao's so-called Cultural Revolution, Zhao was paraded through the streets of Guangzhou in a dunce's cap and denounced as "a stinking remnant of the landlord class".

Zhao was rehabilitated by Zhou Enlai in 1973 and was sent to govern China's largest province, Sichuan.

The province was on the brink of collapse thanks to political upheavals and Mao's disastrous economic plan, the so-called Great Leap Forward.

Making his mark

Shortages were so severe that some peasants were reported to be exchanging their daughters for food ration cards.

Zhao Ziyang
Zhao was appointed to the Politburo by Deng Xiaoping
Zhao turned the province's economy around, increasing industrial production by 81%, and agricultural output by 25% within three years.

His achievements caught the eye of Deng Xiaoping who had emerged as the dominant figure in Chinese politics after Mao's demise.

Deng saw in Zhao's policies in Sichuan a blueprint for China as a whole. He had Zhao inducted into the Politburo as an alternate member in 1977 and as a full member in 1979.

After six months as vice premier, Zhao was appointed prime minister in 1980 and later assumed the post of Communist Party general secretary.

Under the mantle of Deng's "two Chinas" policy, Zhao's goal was to transform China into a modern, democratic socialist state by the year 2000.


He introduced market reforms to improve output. Heavy industry proved difficult, but he achieved greater success with light industry and agriculture.

He also introduced measures to streamline the country's bloated bureaucracy and to reduce the endemic corruption.

Zhao also expanded trading links with the west, particularly the United States. Under Zhao, trade with the US increased tenfold. American companies were encouraged to invest in the new China.

But the overheating Chinese economy of the late 1980s caused inflation, and Zhao shouldered much of the blame.

When he visited the protesting students in Tiananmen Square and showed sympathy for their cause, he sealed his political downfall. Within three weeks of the crackdown, he was ousted from all his government posts.

Despite his disgrace, Zhao was allowed to remain a party member and no charges against him were ever pressed.

He was often seen playing golf in Beijing and remained a popular figure in China as a whole.

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