Pain of isolation shines through heartfelt story of confinement

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 May, 2009, 12:00am

In memoirs that are largely objective but calm, Zhao Ziyang opens his heart to recount the pain of his isolation after the bloodletting at Tiananmen when he was put under a house arrest that was illegal and extremely secretive.

The reformist leader was stripped of all party posts soon after the crackdown. On September 3, 1989, the party set up a special group to investigate his 'crimes'. He was accused of manipulating the turmoil to undermine paramount leader Deng Xiaoping . As party general secretary, Zhao 'was the ideal candidate to lead counter-revolutionary forces at home and abroad to restore capitalism'. The investigation lasted a year and made no solid findings. However the Central Committee dragged it out and continued to use it as an excuse to keep Zhao under house arrest.

He re-emerged in October 1990, when he decided to go golfing. At the time neither party general secretary, Jiang Zemin , nor premier Li Peng were in Beijing and after much struggle the security bureau allowed Zhao to play at a Japanese joint-venture golf course. But Japanese media found out and the story spread around the world. But it also frightened party heavyweights Mr Jiang, who succeeded Zhao after the crackdown, and Mr Li.

'They condemned the decision and began an investigation to find out who had allowed me to go out to play golf,' Zhao writes. 'After this disturbance, they notified me verbally in the name of the Central Committee that I was prohibited from going out during investigation.'

When the investigation finally ended in 1990, Zhao sought the restoration of his personal freedoms by the party, but received no answer.

The party had secretively imposed six rules to limit his freedoms, although they did not tell him face to face - 'possibly because they felt guilty and feared being caught with evidence that could be exposed to the outside world and get media attention', Zhao writes.

The paranoia of the party leaders was such that they did not allow Zhao to visit Guangdong on the grounds that then Hong Kong governor Chris Patten was instituting democratic reforms in Hong Kong.

'As the investigation was over, I asked to take a trip to Guangdong for the winter because of my trachea problem, which causes me to cough severely in the dry northern winter,' Zhao writes.

'They responded by saying that Chris Patten was attempting to extend democratic elections in Hong Kong, so the situation was delicate and it was not convenient for me to go ... I thought that was ludicrous!'

Gradually, after his repeated protests, they allowed Zhao limited outings. But all such excursions from his home were closely controlled. He was not allowed to meet old friends and all his movements had to be approved beforehand.

'With the addition of so many rules and procedures, it has become too troublesome for many people [to visit me]. As a result, the entrance to my home is a cold, desolate place,' he writes. 'I receive even fewer visitors when I travel outside of Beijing. Besides service personnel and top provincial leaders, no one is allowed to know about my arrival. They are kept secret.'

The reformist leader, who was never convicted of any crime, repeatedly wrote to party leaders, including Mr Jiang, asking for his liberty to be restored.

'I hope my house arrest will be lifted and my personal freedoms restored, so that I will not spend the rest of my years in these lonely and despondent conditions,' he wrote in one letter to Mr Jiang.

But Mr Jiang never answered his letters and Zhao's confinement lasted until his death.