Why Zhao Couldn't Play Golf

By putting him under house arrest, the government made him a non-person, says Adi Ignatius
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: Why wasn't Zhao persecuted more heavily?

Adi Ignatius: I think that’s a good question. He hadn’t actually broken any laws, probably, even by Chinese standards, but, in earlier purges—certainly during Mao’s time—people who challenged the official line were treated far more harshly. I think they made a calculation that the crackdown in 1989 was so severe—it really plunged China into darkness for a few years before reforms and the economy started moving again—the Chinese government had to sense pretty quickly they had control over society, they had control over propaganda, and they did not need to fear Zhao. They could keep him under house arrest.

In his book it’s almost comical, certainly Kafkaesque, as he describes attempts to get out from time to time to play golf. At one point he wanted to play pool at the pool hall where the old party officials go and they said no. He said, “How can you say no?” They finally let him go but before he went they cleared the place of every single person. So Zhao went out to play pool with his friends and he's in this giant club all by himself, with the pool cue.

So they succeeded in making him a non-person and that’s what was important, without making him a martyr which is what might have happened if they jailed him or treated him more harshly. So, to be honest, in terms of what Beijing wanted to do—they basically wanted to erase his memory—they succeeded just fine the way they treated him. Until now that suddenly, out of nowhere, this memoir has come out where Zhao is speaking from the grave. When this news broke, the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed piece with the headline ''Zhao Ziyang's Revenge'; he is having the last word on what happened back then.

Recorded on: June 19, 2009