New Leaders Molded in Part by Tiananmen Era

Ahead of the 24th anniversary of the June 4th crackdown, Andrew Jacobs and Chris Buckley at the New York Times described how China’s new leaders were steeped in “the more freewheeling spirit of the 1980s” that led up to the Tiananmen student movement.

Many of China’s current leaders started climbing the political ladder in this febrile atmosphere, when it was not unusual for officials to mix with advocates of more radical change, and even to show some sympathy for them. As a student, Li Keqiang socialized with Hu Ping and Wang Juntao, two firebrands who threw themselves into the unbridled student elections of 1980. Friends say Mr. Li sometimes joined in campus salons, where students stayed up late into the night debating electoral politics, Western philosophy and the excesses of authoritarian rule.

[…] Other future leaders came from similar backgrounds. Wang Qishan, the current anticorruption chief, won prominence in the early 1980s as one of the “four reform gentlemen,” young intellectuals who advocated shifting away from a rigidly planned economy. Later that decade, he sat on the editorial committee of Toward the Future, a series of books avidly read by students.

Chen Yizi, the former leader of the government institute that organized the Beijing conference, recalled having long chats with Mr. Wang and one long conversation with Mr. Li in 1988. Referring to China’s recently retired leadership, Mr. Chen said, “This generation should be more enlightened than Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao and their generation.”

[…] “The party system changes people,” said Mr. Wu, the former official. “Once you go down that path, you learn that to defend yourself, you have to defend the system. But I don’t believe that era left no traces on them.” [Source]