Chen Xitong

Chen Xitong praises reformists

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2012, 12:00am


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Former Beijing party secretary Chen Xitong, widely believed to be a political enemy of liberal leaders Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang and to have actively plotted the latter's downfall, has heaped praise on both men and described himself as a fellow reformist.

In a new book, Conversations with Chen Xitong, he is more critical of former president Jiang Zemin, former premier and National People's Congress chairman Li Peng and former president and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference chairman Li Xiannian. And he is particularly bitter towards former superior Li Ximing , Beijing's party secretary in 1989 when Chen was the capital's mayor.

In eight interviews in the book between January 2011 and April 2012 with scholar Yao Jianfu, a retired official and researcher, Chen, 81, provides some rare glimpses of top leaders in the 1980s and 1990s. The book was released by New Century Press publisher Bao Pu in Hong Kong this week.

For many years Chen was deemed a hardliner who opposed reforms. But he said he was actually an advocate of economic liberalisation.

Chen was particularly impressed by Hu, the former party general secretary known for his liberal thinking and daring reforms. 'Under the leadership of Hu Yaobang, we had done many good things,' Chen said. 'He was a thorough Marxist and had many admirable qualities.'

Chen also said the party had not fairly assessed Zhao, who was removed as party general secretary and put under house arrest for refusing to back the use of military force against the pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

'I always see Zhao as a reformist. He had the most accurate understanding of the socialist market economy - even today not many people understand it as well as he did,' Chen said. 'Zhao was willing to listen to other people's views. He made contributions to China's reform.'

But Chen also said Zhao should take responsibility for letting things run out of control in 1989, when the People's Liberation Army was sent into Tiananmen Square to end the protest. 'Any state leader should step down when the country is in such big turmoil,' he said.

Chen's portrait of Jiang is more sinister. Without directly criticising Jiang, who still wields considerable political influence, Chen described him as 'power crazy'.

Chen said Jiang once asked him: 'Where do you go [in your spare time]?'

'I think that he was actually asking me which leader's home I regularly pay homage to. I found [the thinking] base. It reduces your relations with your superior to the relations of a master and a servant.'

Chen was also critical of Li Peng and said Deng Xiaoping was angry with Li Peng after 1989, when the then premier was reluctant to push for economic reforms.

After Deng's famous 1992 southern tour, which the paramount leader used to restart the reform programme, Deng visited Beijing's Shougang steel company, accompanied by Chen and Li Ximing. Deng told Chen to relay a message to Li Peng - who in that year's government work report had set the economic growth rate for China at 5 per cent. Chen said Deng was visibly angry at the lack of progress.

'Before he left, he said 'somebody accused me of practising capitalism - I'm very happy to hear that!' He then stormed out,' Chen said. 'Deng asked me to tell Li Peng that 5 per cent is 'totally unacceptable'. After I passed on the message to Li, he didn't say a word. But he quietly changed the work report, raising the projected growth rate to 7.5 per cent.'

Chen was particularly bitter towards his predecessor Li Ximing, describing him as a 'hardline conservative'. He said Li did not pass on crucial information about top leaders' decisions on June 4.

Chen also revealed that Li Ximing later believed Jiang had betrayed him and was bitter about it. 'After Deng's southern tour, Jiang picked Li as the scapegoat [for the lack of reform measures] and sidelined him. Jiang himself survived and kept his hold on power,' Chen said. 'Li felt betrayed and he told me that Jiang was a cheat and a political opportunist.'