罗波特.汤姆森 / 萧政丰 译
（卜算子 咏梅 1961）
The Chinese revolutionary who changed the way that we live
WHEN YOU purchase a Chinese-made television set, which may be hiding its true identity behind a Japanese brand name, you are paying homage to Zhao Ziyang. If your personal computer is replaced this year with a newfangled desktop from IBM, just taken over by a Chinese company called Lenovo, you are paying homage to Zhao Ziyang. And if you are encouraging, if not forcing, your children to learn Mandarin because of the inevitable opportunities that the language will create in their lifetime, you are paying homage to Zhao Ziyang.
Not that Zhao, whose death this week has been assiduously ignored by the Chinese Government, would have been a hostage to such homage. Despite the imperial tradition of intimidation and of systems of sycophancy that even London luvviedom would eye enviously, Zhao introduced the concept of self-effacement to Chinese politics, daring to commit the ultimate act of institutional anarchy — joking at his own expense in public.
The Turandotty riddle for the Communist Party is that most of the ruling elite know that they owe their current position to Zhao and yet to laud him is to challenge the very existence of the party. When Zhao made an emotional visit to protesting students in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the bemused official who accompanied him was Wen Jiabao, now the country’s Prime Minister. Because of Tiananmen, Wen’s admiration for Zhao is the political love that dare not speak its name.
For most outside commentators, the problem is precisely the opposite. Too much analysis in the days since Zhao’s death has focused solely on the tragedy of Tiananmen, in part because journalists, fond of telling personal anecdotes about their experience in Beijing at that time, perceive the preceding 5,000 years of Chinese history as a commercial break that presages their own appearance on the scene. The experience of foreign correspondents in China does not always replicate the experience of the Chinese in China.
The perversity of viewing Zhao through the puny prism of limited personal experience is that the significance of his influence on policy and the potential significance of his policies for other developing countries is obscured. He was among a cadre of reformers who had witnessed first-hand the inhumanity of ideology run amok, and who knew that the reason for decades of deprivation was the combination of a fraudulent philosophy and a leader, Mao Zedong, who fashioned that philosophy in his own image, creating a secular spirituality with himself, naturally enough, as godhead.
There was a large library of devotional literature, including miraculous tales of complicated operations being performed under the gauche guidance of The Little Red Book and of inspired deaf-mutes at the Liaoyuan Mining Administration suddenly able to sing the praises of Chairman Mao. Even in 1985, when I arrived in Beijing as a correspondent and Zhao was Prime Minister, this genre of tragi-comic nonsense still had a hold on hundreds of millions of people. Not that they necessarily believed every weird word, but because it was still politically dangerous to suggest publicly that you did not believe every word.
Curiosity was discouraged and integrity was incidental. During the Cultural Revolution (officially 1966-76) a stray conversation was enough to raise suspicion and the purges were only partly political. If you had a grudge against a neighbour, and coveted his Flying Pigeon bicycle, then spreading a few rumours about “bourgeois tendencies” would be enough to excite the street committee to action. The desired result was that your own ideological purity would be proved and you would have a better bicycle.
As the Cultural Revolution was drawing to a close, Zhao was in Sichuan, experimenting with the economic and psychological therapy that would be required to reconstruct a country that did not trust itself, let alone anyone else. The great, world-changing Chinese export boom began in small villages, where farmers were allowed to sell produce on free markets once their state quota had been filled and encouraged to develop sideline businesses. For a population too familiar with famine, the punning peasant rhyme of the era was: Yao chi liang, zhao Ziyang — if you want to eat grain, look to Ziyang.
China’s political system is far from reformed, as the Communist conundrum over Zhao’s passing has reinforced, but the personal and economic emancipation continues. Young Chinese studying in Britain have choices almost unimaginable when they were born, and yet if those early experiments in Sichuan had failed, and if Zhao and a few others had not institutionalised change, those same students would be sitting mute in classrooms contemplating whether or not “class struggle ” was relevant in a society in which all were impoverished.
Perhaps it is best to bid farewell to Zhao, a tolerant and humble humanist, with a stanza from Mao Zedong, a far better poet than he was a leader:
Sweet and fair, she craves not spring for herself alone,
To be the harbinger of spring she is content.
When the mountain flowers are in full bloom
She will smile, mingling in their midst.
(From Ode to the Plum Blossom, 1961)
The author is Editor of The Times