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Zhao Ziyang

Premier of the People's Republic of China, 1980-1986

Zhao Ziyang

Zhao Ziyang was born in Henan Province on October 17, 1919, the son of a wealthy landlord, and joined the Communist Youth League in 1932. After working as a party official during the War of Liberation (1937-1949), Zhao rose to prominence in the Party in Guangdong Province, where he introduced a number of major agricultural reforms. By 1965 he was the Party Secretary of the Province, despite not being a member of the Central Committee. By 1967, however, Zhao had lost favor within the CPC and he was purged from the Party during Mao's Cultural Revolution.

Rehabilitated by Chou Enlai in 1973, Zhao was sent to govern China's largest province, Sichuan, which at that time was on the verge of economic and political collapse. Zhao turned the province's economy around, increasing industrial production by 81%, and agricultural output by 25% within three years. His achievements earned him the notice and respect of Deng Xiaoping, who had him elected into the Politburo in 1977.

Zhao was named Premier in 1980, and assumed the post of General Secretary of the CPC in 1987. His stated goal was to transform China into a modern, democratic socialist state by the year 2000. Under his guidance, China's light industry and agriculture saw marked improvements in output. He introduced measures to streamline the bureaucracy and to reduce corruption. He also expanded trading links with the West, particularly the United States, and American companies were encouraged to invest in China.

But the fast pace of economic growth fueled inflation, which in turn weakened the effectiveness of many of the reforms. Zhao shouldered much of the blame for China's economic problems, but it would be his reaction to student protests that would prove to be his downfall. The death of Hu Yaobang in 1989 led to massive demonstrations across China, especially in Beijing. When students took over Tiananmen Square, Zhao hoped for a peaceful resolution, but was "outvoted" by Deng. On May 19, 1989, he made a personal appearance before the protestors, telling them that their protests were useless. He was removed from power soon after, and the world saw tanks crush the protest on June 4.

Zhao addressing the students in Tiananmen Square
Zhao addressing the students in Tiananmen Square

Zhao Ziyang spent the last years of his life under house arrest, although he did retain his position in the Politburo. He died on January 17, 2005.

"Obituary: Zhao Ziyang" BBC News
"The Prisoner of Conscience: Zhao Ziyang, 1919-2005" Time

Mao Zedong
Chou Enlai
Deng Xiaoping
Hu Yaobang

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The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> Asia >> China >> History >> People's Republic, 1949 to Present

This page was last updated on January 17, 2018.