• Mon
  • Dec 22, 2014
  • Updated: 11:15pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 August, 2013, 2:52am

China needs more people like Zhu Rongji

The deft handling of protesters in Shanghai by Zhu Rongji after the June 4 crackdown helped avert bloodshed and catapulted him into the central leadership.

Reading the conciliatory speeches that helped defuse a potentially explosive situation in his new book, one wonders with a sense of sadness what might have been if the central government under Deng Xiaoping had acted in a similarly skilful way towards the students and workers in Beijing. A national tragedy might have been averted and the rancour many Chinese, especially Hongkongers, feel about Beijing today might never have formed.

But, you might say, of course he would sing his own praises. In that case, I urge you to read a new book, Wealth and Power, by veteran China observer Orville Schell and academic John Delury. It contains a long chapter on Zhu's achievements, as Shanghai's boss and as premier in charge of China's economic transformation and entry into the World Trade Organisation. Certainly no Beijing apologists, the two American writers bear out Zhu's account.

"Shanghai's spring under [Zhu] played out very differently than the carnage unleashed in Beijing under Deng," the two wrote. "In Shanghai, the mass demonstrations reached their zenith on the evening of June 8 but then subsided without violence … after Zhu boldly appeared live on television to calm the situation."

Of course, the scale and intensity of the protests leading up to June 4 in Beijing were on a different order of magnitude. Some student leaders such as Chai Ling were intransigent and sometimes spoke as if they welcomed a bloody denouement. And, seeing the ruthless crackdown in Beijing, the demonstrators in Shanghai no doubt had second thoughts.

Zhu promised not to send in the army or punish protesters if they voluntarily disbanded. In the event, he deployed worker "volunteers" to patrol the streets, rather than public security officers.

In Red Capitalism, finance specialists Carl Walter and Fraser Howie described Zhu's reforms as economic tsar "transformative", especially when compared to the subsequent "wasted decade" under Wen Jiabao , and Hu Jintao . One only hopes officials of Zhu's calibre are in the current leadership.


Related topics

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

That's a rather black-and-white perspective, don't ya think? For starters, this is not a East vs. West cultural matter. Not all western countries enjoy the level of freedom and equality as those in heavily industrialized countries like the US or Germany. And Mao's personality cult was modeled after that of Stalin's from Soviet Russia, definitely not eastern culture.
What really matters for a country's political progress is its socioeconomic standing. Asian countries and regions like S. Korea and Taiwan transformed from totalitarian states to democratic ones AFTER their significant economic progresses in creating sizable middle classes.
And lastly, you're just being naive if you honestly believe that western politicians actually consider themselves "servants of the people". All politicians are dirty and greedy. The ones in developed countries just have more effective mechanisms keeping them in check.
Before 1918, in the United Kingdom, women were not allowed to vote for the parliamentary election. In the western world, women's suffrage only started to happened in the late 19th century. In fact, "persons/citizens" were only men; slaves, women, and children were the possessions of men.
In Europe, "Individual freedom" was only a philosophical idea before 20th century! On freedom, Asians/oriental people had been brainwashed by the western colonial masters for years. Very likely, your education is very British.
**** Alex. Your point being what? If things had got out of hand in Shanghai, would Zhu Rongji have allowed another cultural revolution by the students or would he have ordered violent repression?
Zhu was just another senior CCP cadre with perhaps more intelligence, foresight and perhaps humanity than most, but he was still a willing party to an autocratic system.
The fundamental problem is the 2,000 year old Chinese mindset which regards power as a prerogative of those who control force, not of those with civilised values. Remember that Mao Tse Tung said that power comes from the barrel of a gun. China has a long, long way to go before, if ever, it can be ruled by people who regard themselves as servants of the people, instead of the other way round.
The basic conflict between the West and East is that thousands of years ago the West developed a philosophy of individual freedom where every person was, subject to circumstances and abberations, basically equal with certain legal rights. The Eastern tyrants never did that, instead allowing its rulers to be absolute despots expecting the people to worship the rulers as Gods. Mao's cult of the personality was just such an arrogant, ignorant, stupid piece of blasphemy. He is still burning in hell.
Zhu operated in a practical manner and made contributions to improve the lives of millions in an imperfect system. If he was to flat out reject the system (as you are suggesting) what contributions could he have made? He would have been another Zhao Zi Yang, locked up in house arrest, futile in helping to improve the lives of the China. Hong Kong politicians should learn something from Zhu in order to actually do their jobs and improve the lives of Hong Kong people.
Shanghainese are nowhere as confrontational or bull headed as their brethren up north and are overly proud of their (in China) reputation of being cosmopolitan and refined. That should be factored in to Mr. Zhu's outcome of good luck vs. bullets and tanks.
Great post. Still Zhu Rongji sponsored the retreat of the government from the economy which led to many years of policy. The reassertion of the state (Guojin Mintui) under Hu Jintao will inevitably lead to much slower growth or economic collapse. Zhu Rongji like policies would have continued the high growth for a number of more years.


SCMP.com Account