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List of possible embarrassing revelations in Ζhao Ζiyang Memoirs due out this summer

First Elizabeth Edwards, now Ζhao Ζiyang…if you really want to screw over the people who wronged you, there’s nothing better than a tell-all book.

Prisoner of the State, The memoirs of Ζhao Ζiyang, the result of hours of taped conversations smuggled out of China (excerpts online here), will be published this summer…just in time for June 4th.

Possible embarrassing sections:

  • “So this one time, Hu Yaobang, Deng, and I are kicking it Gangster style in NYC, and Hu is blowing coke off of this hooker’s ass, and this other girl comes up, this smoking hot black chick, and Deng says, black ass, white ass, so long as she’s smoking hot, who the f–k cares?”
  • “When Wen Jiabao came to me for a position on my staff, he offered me sex.”
  • “Deng Xiaoping wore lifts.  Really.  He’s like the unmentionable offspring of Verne Troyer and Frodo.  Dude makes Tom Cruise look like Yao Ming.”
  • “I banged Chai Ling.”
  • “When Deng found out that we had invited the students into the Great Hall of the People, he lurched from his bed, screaming ‘This is NOT what I WANTED!’  So Deng goes to the Golden Globes later that year, posing as Jackie Chan’s toddler son, and he met up with Pacino at the Vogue Party.  They both got wasted on Cuervo, and it was from Deng that Al got the idea for the only good scene in Godfather III.”
  • “I always thought Li Peng was a putz.  And so did everybody else.  Seriously, he’s a total douche.”
  • “Best thing about two decades of house arrest? No need to attend late-night Karaoke parties at Jiang Zemin’s place.  This is a guy who makes the wooden Kim Jong-il puppet from “Team America” sound like Usher. Oh yeah, and this one time, in the late 80s, Song Zuying offered to blow me but I turned her down.”
  • “I am Spartacus.”

And finally, my personal favorite:

  • “Elvis is living in a Tibetan monastery and plotting his comeback as the theocratic ruler of the mountain kingdom.  The lamas sustain him on the blood of serf virgins, yak meat, and banana daiquiris.  The CCP has proof.”

In reality, I doubt there will be anything in the memoirs that will truly shock the CCP,  they’ve got their version of what happened and they’ll stick to it for as long as they are able to (ask John Edwards how well this strategy usually works, but I digress…).

Most of the truly damaging information about the confusion, incompetence, brutality, and rank stupidity among the CCP leadership in the days leading up to the Tiananmen crackdown has long ago been published.  But Zhao’s memoirs are likely to add flesh to the structure of what we know, and he will be the first General Secretary of the CCP to write such a candid book about the inner workings of the party.  In many ways, I’m more interested in what we can learn about the backroom political dealings and horse trading that went on in the early 1980s as Deng and his proteges tried to get the Reform and Opening policies off the ground.  Then again, I am a bit of nerd.

In any event, I will probably need to wait until I get back to the US for Christmas because the Chinese and English versions of the book, both set to drop May 19, are — you guessed it — banned in the PRC.


Update: Richard at TPD has a post on this subject which is attracting an…interesting assortment of commentary.  Gird your loins and check it out.

32 Comments on List of possible embarrassing revelations in Ζhao Ζiyang Memoirs due out this summer

  1. Very funny, Jeremiah.

    I picked up the news of Zhao’s revelations yesterday evening but hadn’t seen the NYT link. Good stuff.

    “But Zhao’s memoirs are likely to add flesh to the structure of what we know”

    Agreed. I also feel that they will add considerable credibility to a non-CCP version of events. I wonder if Wen Jiabao is having any sleepless nights right now.

  2. Banned in the PRC? Gosh, however will you find a copy?

  3. I’ll be coming up to Beijing in early June, let me know if you want me to bring you up a copy from Hong Kong. I have a few requests already!

  4. Whether the CCP are shocked or not, this is still one banned book I probably wouldn’t want to be found in my luggage at Beijing airport. That old “state secrets” chestnut….

  5. As any politician, I would guess Zhao claimed that every success is due to his effort and every mistake is other’s fault.

  6. OT, but what happened to Opposite End of China? I always liked to read yours and Michael’s blogs. Haven’t had time in a while, but…

    As always, you have great posts, and your new(?) use of humour is very entertaining.

  7. I agree with Stuart. While Zhao may not say much that bookies such as you, Jeremiah, have not suspected or heard before, the fact that he is clearly on record as saying these things puts a real wrench in the marketing of the CCP version of the story abroad.

    The CCP wants people to forget the Tiananmen events. Zhao’s “revenge” is to make it a much harder for them. Furthermore, since he was respected by many Chinese, his words do hold weight locally.

  8. What would be the Chinese translation of “putz?”

    Had no idea Elvis need anything other than banana daiquiris to survive.

  9. Good try, Jeremiah.

    There is NOTHING NEW fundamentally in this newly published Zhao Ziyang’s memoir, except a few nuance for historians and writers.

    On the contrary, this book will reshape legacy of Zhao Ziyang. He did some good work for farmers earlier at country side, I don’t think he can claim to be the real “architect” behind China’s reform and open-up movement. It’s common for a loser to try to take much credit on good things and blame bad things onto others.

    Zhao Ziyang was unsatisfied and openly critical of Deng’s supreme leadership position. People will see that he tried to use this student movement to fight off Deng’s control, even though he did not admit that.

    Zhao Ziyang now blew his chance of gaining better recognition.

  10. “Zhao Ziyang now blew his chance of gaining better recognition.”

    If that’s the best the party spin boys can come up with then they really are in trouble.

  11. well, given that this is a blog about chinese history, the “a few nuance for historians” bit isn’t exactly going to win you an argument there.

  12. @Wu ming

    “given that this is a blog about chinese history”

    well, “blowing coke off of this hooker’s ass” is certainly not a gentleman’s fair for history professionals 🙂

  13. God! That white ass black ass joke is priceless!

  14. dude, you know about Elvis too?! 😉

  15. @stuart

    When one looking at over 150-year of social turmoil, foreign invasions and civil wars in China’s recent history, 6-4 event is a tiny ripple.

    We Chinese like to look at things in long view. We are also true believers of doing, not talking. So if you can better your time, do something good with a helpful hand …

  16. Shane,

    It’s always interesting to see certainty untrammeled by the need for new information. I imagine you might find the past US president a fascinating person to converse with.

    6-4 may be a tiny ripple or a rushing torrent, either way, it’s history, it deserves to be written about, it ought to be debated openly in the Chinese media, and the parents of the victims deserve a shred of closure.

    Keep in mind there were more people out in the streets in Spring 1989 in Beijing than in the May 4th demonstrations of 1919 or the May 30th demonstrations of 1925, yet the latter get prominent coverage in the texts…but the numbers are beside the point

    As most people know, historical narratives are constructed, and that process is not a neutral one. What becomes a ripple or a rush is often in the eye of the beholder. The way we learn about history depends on contesting existing narratives, testing new ones, exploring issues, debating topics, looking for new material and new ways to analyze the material we already have. It’s called “critical thinking,” brother. This is why it’s important for history education to continue emphasizing the constructed nature of narratives and keep teaching multiple perspectives on history.* Zhao Ziyang has one perspective on a series of transformative events. There are more. We should look critically at all of them.

    (*Though this approach isn’t particularly favored among PRC educators for obvious reasons.)

    Finally, if 6-4 were such a tiny ripple, than why is it still such a sensitive topic in the PRC 20 years later? Why does the government keep such tight control over how and in what form any mention of the incident is deployed? Surely if it’s such a tiny thing and “We Chinese” (I love when people essentialize themselves) don’t care, then these precautions are unnecessary and should be lifted, right? You mentioned once before that the time will come when this will be debated but not now…if 6-4 is so minor and insignificant and WE CHINESE have moved past it and take the long view, than isn’t that time here already?

    I suspect though that your mind is set on this issue and you will continue to argue ad infinitum ad nauseum the point that “we don’t need to learn more, just move on.”

    Again, George W. would approve.

  17. david0fsangabriel // May 19, 2009 at 7:50 am //

    “When one looking at over 150-year of social turmoil, foreign invasions and civil wars in China’s recent history, 6-4 event is a tiny ripple.”

    And so is the Nanjing Massacre, I suppose?

  18. Jeremiah:

    Your points are taken. However, I have to argue that you can NOT simply rate the significance of a historical event by counting the number of people in participation. You have to look the real historical significance.

    6-4th event came to a very bad ending after a month-long protesting, that was a given. Going down the history, it was an event badly managed by both sides. Should students knew how to be more rational and manage their expectation, or should the government had the know-how and means on crowd control like the West, things may came out much better. Who knows?

    Of course, many people involved are upset. Being a withness at Beijing myself, I was personally upset by what I saw and decided to drop my on-ging graduate research all together in favor of going to abroad. But after two years, I realized how badly things were managed during that event and how badly this whole thing had hurt the long term interests of Chinese people. Someday, things will sure be sorted over, and those wounded will be taken care of. However, Chinese have a lot of daunting tasks in hand at the monent, we prefer to get important things done without getting distracted by one bad event.

    In some way, you may see 6-4th event was a countination of “mob democracy” that people experienced during the Cultural Revolution period. Such kind of “mob democracy” still left prenty of bitterness in people’s mind.

    I had said before and wanted to put here again is that it is perfertly okay for western people to take note of events occured in China. However, some of them have the tendency to stretch and image social tension between ordinary people and the government. They wanted to see social unrest for the sake of making their wild prediction come true, the groom and doom of modern China. They have no interest in a unified and stable Chinese nation.

  19. Shane,

    You wrote:

    “Your points are taken. However, I have to argue that you can NOT simply rate the significance of a historical event by counting the number of people in participation. You have to look the real historical significance.”

    Which is why I said the numbers weren’t the point…and historical significance is. How do we determine significance? Through study, research, debate, discussion, and education. Yours is a circular argument: The event is not significant and so need not be discussed. But whether the event is significant or not can’t really been established because research and debate on the subject is severely curtailed in the country in which it occurred.

    Your original post, to which I was responding, said there is “nothing new” and “only nuance” in a book you haven’t read. I countered that perspectives are worthy of study and debate, and that to immediately dismiss such perspectives without thought, analysis, or consideration does history a disservice.

    That’s all.

  20. “Yours is a circular argument …”

    Not at all if you truely understand my last post. I said that the real historical significance of 6-4th event is something like a countination of “mob democracy”. You may draw a different conclusion as a history professional, that is perferctly fine.

    However, just keep in mind that Chinese are not stupid.

  21. Shane,

    I would completely agree that the “Chinese are not stupid,” which is why I’m fascinated that the PRC government seems to believe that discussing this issue openly is going to lead to “instability.”

    In fact as historian, when I’m doing serious writing, I try to avoid prejudicing historical actors by using loaded adjectives like “mob” because that can imply a certain essential irrationality or lack of intelligence. But hey, that’s just me…

    Semantics and nuance aside, the people in China are very intelligent and more than capable of engaging history critically and thoughtfully without then running naked covered in chicken grease down the street whilst burning pictures of Deng Xiaoping. I happen to think so, it’s just a pity the CCP and many of their online fans seem to disagree.

    The usual reason given by governments around the world and throughout history for censorship is some variation on “the common people wouldn’t understand” and “it would inflame the passions” as if their constituents were irrational beasts. That’s a pretty lousy message to send and it’s one (or many reasons) to dislike state censorship.

  22. “mob democracy” is not a prejudicing term. It means participants have every intention to get their demands realized with no or little regard of their civil responsibility to a community in which they are part of it.

    The lack of a proper foundation and history of modern civil community is common among Asian countries. You see that in Taiwan, in South Korea and India etc. PMs got regular brawls in their chambers, or anger crowds get riot in streets and burning things down.

    China has been making real efforts to build a solid foundation from scratch by let people practice civil elections at township and district levels. Still there are a lot of problems there. It will take at least two generations for something like this to take root.

  23. Does the name Preston Brooks ring any bells? Shays Rebellion?

    In any case, I’m encouraged you think that this is an evolutionary process. My fear is that too many people currently in government are intent on slowing that process down as much as possible and not for the right reasons.

    Thank you for your comments.

  24. Jeremiah :

    There is really no conspiracy theory here. Trust me. We Chinese like to take long view and achieve things in steps or in more controlled fashion.

    They also learned plenty from 150 years of painful history on social turmoils, foreign invasion and civil wars. People prefer to have strong government to provide them a secure and stable environment in which they can raise family and achieve things they are inspired to do.

    Similarly, people in the West got their own inspiration for liberty and freedom from centuries of fighting with various monarch rules.

    End of my comment.

  25. No conspiracy, just observation.

    Also, and this is a minor point, be careful with “We Chinese,” I know plenty of people in China who would disagree with your ideas about the “long view,” etc. See my comment above about self-essentializing.

  26. @ Shane

    “They also learned plenty from 150 years of painful history on social turmoils, foreign invasion and civil wars.”

    The CCP’S track record on open discourse of the events you allude to suggest that they ‘learned’ only punitive measures, revisionism, obfuscation, and denial.

    “Chinese have a lot of daunting tasks in hand at the monent, we prefer to get important things done without getting distracted by one bad event.”

    Aside from the fact that ‘daunting tasks’ are going to be confronting China for as long as anyone can foresee, there would be fewer distractions if she dealt with such issues in a more open and honest way.

  27. Sorry Shane, I have a rule about keeping it civil. If you want to rant at people there are plenty of sites available for you to do so. This is not one of them. – The Management

  28. Not at all. Thanks for putting up your post.

  29. Fascinating here debate today. Jeremiah, I largely agree with you. Sadly, in the US, we’re having almost the exact debate. Should we investigate the Bush administration’s (mis)handling of, well, almost everything.

    And, then there are all those files, some going back to the ’40s, that are under lock and seal in the US archives (or destroyed), because they are too sensitive to be released. I’ll bet most of it is locked away because it would embarrass elite families or worse. I think the difference between the US and other governments is that the US manages appearances better – we’re better at propaganda and hiding the true degree to which our institutions have largely been captured by corporations and elite interests.

    In effect, we are better at managing the masses without the masses knowing there are being managed, and hence less need to put down unrest, albeit with exceptions such as the early labor movement and the ’60s. Let me suggest looking at the wiki page on Edward Bernays and the 2002 documentary on his life.

    Governments, seemingly everywhere, try to suppress information for the reasons you cited, plus the actors don’t wish to pay the consequences for their acts. I just think we do it better.

  30. Pete,

    Governments always want to suppress information, it’s one reason so many people worked to pass the Freedom of Information Act in the United States. And as a historian, I could not agree with you more that the US needs to do a better job at opening up its archives. I have several colleagues in my grad department who work on these topics, and have been active in the push for greater access.

    But this discussion is not about release of documents, it’s about the suppression of debate. These are two very different things.

    You and I can go on television or stand in the public square and argue as long and as loud as we want about whether these documents should be released, was there torture in the black jails, or any range of subjects from today or yesterday including, for example, the use of illegal and violent means to suppress the labor, peace and civil rights movements of the 20th century. In the PRC, it is the debate itself, the open discussion of multiple perspectives, particularly on sensitive topics such as 6-4, that is for all intents and purposes verboten.

  31. Jeremiah, your point is well taken. I didn’t express myself well. I truly should have stopped with”…we are better at managing the masses without the masses knowing there are being managed, and hence less need to put down unrest…”.

    We are allowed to argue in the open, disagree with the government, and debate almost any issue. This is because the corporatist oligarchy which runs our country knows that they can get us to be happy debating stupid issues like abortion and gay marriage, and will never actually challenge them on anything of true substance, at least not in numbers that would effect the power structure. Noam Chomsky can write and say whatever he wants because they know the masses aren’t paying any attention. We have kept the masses too stupid and ignorant for them to understand the ‘real’ issues and keep them distracted with non-issues. Besides, what do the elites have to be concerned about when more voters are focused on “American Idol” and who Angelina Jolie is supposedly screwing than on issues of social and economic importance that actually affects their lives?

    Let’s call it “soft suppression”…

  32. “soft suppression” versus “a tank.” Either way, kind of sucks, though I’ll let readers decide which would suck worse. Viva la world revolution!

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