Is reform buried with Zhao?
The funeral for Zhao Ziyang, former General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, was held last weekend after many twists and turns, nearly two weeks after he passed away. This tells us that the final evaluation of the former Communist Party leader remains a difficult and sensitive issue.
Although Zhao Ziyang is gone, China will not be free from or go beyond the ideas that he presented for political and economic reform. Until now, China's reforms have been carried out substantially in the direction of consistently putting Zhao's propositions into practice.
Zhao's basic concept was development, including the economic liberalization and political democratization needed to bring about that development. Zhao was not so much a man of theory as of action, and his important contribution was that he awakened Chinese society to the notion that economic liberalization and political democratization were the basic trends in the development of human society.
After Deng Xiaoping's southern tour lecture - a speech in 1992 on his tour of the special economic zone in southern China that advocated a reform policy and the acceleration of economic growth - economic liberalization has consistently been a basic proposition of China's economic reform.
All such practices, ranging from market-economy-oriented internal reform to an opening-up policy to merge into the international system, stemmed from Zhao Ziyang, although Deng Xiaoping's southern tour speech also played a critical role in establishing Zhao's economic liberation as the basic proposition of Chinese economic reform.
Zhao had a unique view not only of economic liberalization but also of political democratization. He had a deep understanding of the ills of Chinese politics through diverse experiences in the central and local political arenas. Therefore, through his political report at the 13th Plenary Session of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, Zhao set up political reform as the important political agenda during his term in office.
Zhao put into practice his ideas regarding the organizational reform of the Communist Party with a focus on the separation of administration from politics, decentralization and a small government. The 13th Plenary Session was the most democratic convention of the Chinese Communist Party since its founding, at least from the aspect of putting principles into practice.
Success or failure aside, the Zhao era can be assessed as a period when political reform was pursued most actively and experiments with reform were practiced most frequently in Chinese society.
From the Jiang Zemin regime to the present, there have been many measures and efforts to carry out political reform in China, but the implications of the political reform that they have pursued are far from those of the political reform that Zhao pursued in the past.
In other words, if the basic direction of Zhao's political reform was to reconstruct the party and national institutions, China's political reforms after the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989 have largely focused on the rationalization of national organizations and the consolidation of the ruling party's power and governing capability.
Although we cannot deny that the ongoing political reforms in China have their own rationality, regrettably they lack the ingredients of democracy.
Compared to the Zhao age, China is now constantly seeking economic freedom through the market mechanism and is being fused into the international community through globalization. But in the present Chinese society, political reform for democracy is not being carried out, and the occurrence of complicated and serious problems in this regard is rapidly increasing.
Corruption and the polarization of the rich and the poor are growing worse. The weak groups or classes that have emerged according to this social differentiation find it realistically impossible to establish a mechanism that reflects their interests in the political process.
Zhao's reaction to the social contradictions emerging in Chinese society was none other than political reform. In this sense, Zhao Ziyang's ideology or proposition of political reform is closely related to Chinese society today.
* The writer is a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.