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An abnormal country
Frank Ching, SCMP
The death of former Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang is a reminder of the tragedy that befell China 15 years ago when the People's Liberation Army was called on to shoot down unarmed demonstrators, students and civilians. But it is also a reminder that China, even today, is far from being a normal country, where the rule of law holds sway.
For one thing, the 85-year-old Zhao had never been convicted of any crime. There was no criminal charge, no trial and no verdict. Yet, in 1989, he was deprived of liberty for the rest of his life simply for disagreeing with the actions of the leaders of the party, who themselves were acting illegally. Deng Xiaoping , for example, was theoretically in retirement, yet he was the one who was actually in charge.
This is not to dismiss Deng's huge contributions to the country in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. It is simply a statement of fact that those who had ostensibly given up their power made decisions that they did not have the legal authority to make.
Since then, of course, China has moved on. Today, it is a major trading power, and its economy is an important engine of growth for the region and the world. Yet, in terms of the rule of law, it still has a very long way to go. Political reform is desperately needed.
At the time, Deng was blamed for the disturbance and dismissed from all his posts. But after the death of Mao Zedong , Deng was rehabilitated and became China's new paramount leader.
In 1989, when Hu Yaobang, Zhao's predecessor as party leader, died, the square was once again filled with mourners. This time, student leaders were in charge, demanding an end to corruption, collusion between officials and businessmen, as well as democracy. The party leader then was Zhao, who did not want to suppress the students, but he was overruled.
Now, Zhao himself is dead, and clearly those in power are fearful that, once again, the "masses" - who, theoretically, are the masters of the country - may once again pour into the square and protest. That is why, even while Zhao lay dying in his hospital bed, new rules were put in place requiring 1,000 police officers to guard Tiananmen Square every day, and for all visitors to be escorted by the police.
The China Daily website carried a brief report on Zhao's death on Monday. At the end was the customary invitation to "comment on this article". In the early afternoon, there were only a few comments, virtually all favourable. By late afternoon, the invitation had been withdrawn. Clearly, the powers that be are taking no chances.
Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator.
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