During the state memorial service for the late Zhao Ziyang, the former pro-democracy leader of China, some high-ranking CCP officials who were present stated that, while Zhao had made contributions to China’s economic reform, he had also made a “serious mistake.”
It was a strange memorial service.
Beijing was on high alert with police and police cars everywhere as though some great imminent danger was approaching. Many regular civilians and dissidents were blocked from the ceremony. Why fear allowing people to remember Zhao’s legacy? Or perhaps the authorities feared that if too many people showed up on the street, the crowd would push and trample one another and cause injuries? Or perhaps they feared that people would use this opportunity to call out loudly together for freedom and democracy?
What “serious mistake” did Zhao made? Readers know full well: the government meant that during the great wave of the 1989 China democracy movement, Zhao was pro-democracy and resolutely opposed the leadership’s decision to use violence on Chinese people who took peaceful and rational measures to pursue freedom and democracy.
In fact, this “serious mistake” is actually Zhao’s contribution to history. This serious mistake involved the pursuit of fundamental political reform to push China into democracy. This serious mistake was opposition to mobilizing the army to kill civilians. Zhao’s historical accomplishment was based on his conscience and vision for China.
Confucius said, “If the will be set on virtue, there will be no practice of wickedness.” It means that if one is determined and devoted to a career of justice that pursues human dignity, rights and happiness, then even if he occasionally makes some trivial mistakes, it will not change the fact that he is a person who is far away from a wicked path.
Zhao is exactly what Confucius referred to as a person whose will was set on virtue. Zhao joined the CCP when he was young and was inevitably restricted by the Party’s various injustices. However, when he came to power, he devoted himself to improving people’s lives and actively launching China’s political reform until he risked enduring political persecution by publicly siding with the democracy movement.