Zhao Ziyang Biography

Zhao Ziyang was a Chinese politician and prime minister best known for introducing radical and successful market-oriented reforms to his country's economic system in the 1970s and '80s.


Born in 1919, famed Chinese politician Zhao Ziyang joined the Communist Youth League as a teenager. He became secretary of the Guangdong province in 1949. Zhao was appointed party secretary for the area in 1964, and was removed from power during the Cultural Revolution of the late '60s. Wth the help of Zhou Enlai, in 1973, Zhao became the top leader of the Sichuan province, where he made economic reforms. He was named prime minister in 1980. During his time in power, Zhao oversaw the implementation of a new, radical and ultimately successful "market socialist" and "open door" economic program. He became general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 1987, and was removed from power two years later, following his perceived support of student pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Zhao died in Beijing in 2005.

Early Life and Career

Longtime Chinese politician and prime minister Zhao Ziyang was born Zhao Xiusheng in Hua county, Henan province, China, on October 17, 1919, the son of a wealthy landlord. He became politically active in his teens, joining the Communist Youth League in 1932, and moving up the Communist Party ranks to become secretary of the Guangdong province in 1949. There Zhao continued to excel, becoming the province's first party secretary in 1964.

Zhao experienced a reversal of fortune during the Cultural Revolution of the late '60s: He was dismissed from his post and paraded around wearing a dunce cap. Zhao struggled for several years before being rehabilitated by Premier Zhou Enlai in 1973, and soon became first party secretary of China's largest province, Sichuan. In this post, he introduced radical and successful market-orientated rural reforms, in turn gaining the political support of leading Chinese politician Deng Xiaoping. Deng helped advance Zhao's career with his induction into the Politburo as a full member in 1979 and his appointment as prime minister a year later.

Top Chinese Official

As premier, Zhao Ziyang oversaw the implementation of a new, radical and ultimately successful "market socialist" and "open door" economic program, which helped attract foreign investment in the country and boosted foreign trade. In 1987, Zhao replaced the disgraced Hu Yaobang as the Communist Party's general secretary.

But Zhao wouldn't hold on to the Communist Party's top spot for long: In 1989, he made a controversial visit to the student protestors in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, where he spoke to the demonstrators through a megaphone, imploring them to go home. "We have come too late and it is only right that you criticize us," Zhao said, according to The New York Times. This proved to be his final public appearance. Party officials objected to what they deemed his over-liberal handling of student pro-democracy demonstrations, and had him dismissed from his post. Zhao was arrested and confined to his home while being investigated for a possible role in the uprising.

Final Years

Fallen from grace, Zhao Ziyang dropped out of the public eye. He was never convicted of any crime for his perceived support of the students in Tiananmen Square Square, but he lived the remainder of his life in a form of political exile. He suffered from poor health in his final years. After a series of strokes, Zhao died on January 17, 2005, in a Beijing hospital. He was survived by his second wife, Liang Boqi, and his five children.

In May 2009, Zhao's memoirs were released to the public. The book, entitled Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang, is thought to have been derived from secret recordings made during the 15 years when Zhao was under house arrest.

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