What we today call the Chongqing Model and the Guangdong Model are just new names for an ancient struggle. Since the first brick was laid on the Great Wall and the first caravan set out across the desert, this country has been riven by the need to communicate with the outside world and the fear of being overrun. I first came into contact with the modern day version of this ancient struggle when I read the Tiananmen Papers, which detailed the decision-making process that led to the crackdown of 1989.
I read that book back in 2001 and I never forgot the images it conjured up in my mind’s eye: Deng Xiaoping and the Elders straining to understand what was going on around them and debating the best course of action; Zhao Ziyang and Li Peng pleading their cases before the old revolutionaries; hardliners and reformers wrestling for the helm of a nation in the midst of a transitional crisis. In the end the hardliners won out and China stayed the course that Deng had plotted for his country back in the late 1970s.
Earlier this year I finally got around to reading Prisoner of the State, Zhao Ziyang’s biography, based on tapes he recorded during his long house arrest. This book was an attempt by one side of this old feud to bring the struggle to light, to show the world – and hopefully the Chinese-speaking world – that the caricatures of the CCP as a stagnant pool of stodgy hardliners was not only inaccurate, but also detrimental to the overall future of the Party and the country it presides over.