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Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang

3.68  ·  Rating Details ·  487 Ratings  ·  68 Reviews
How often can you peek behind the curtains of one of the most secretive governments in the world? Prisoner of the State is the first book to give readers a front row seat to the secret inner workings of China's government. It is the story of Premier Zhao Ziyang, the man who brought liberal change to that nation and who, at the height of the Tiananmen Square protests in 198 ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published May 19th 2009 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,287)
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Zhao Ziyang, former Chairman of the Communist Party in China, was politically sidelined in May 1989 and went into house arrest as a result of his opposition to the government response to students occupying Tiananmen Square in Beijing. This fascinating personal and secret memoir recorded in the years after his arrest was published only after Zhao’s death in 2005. Bao Pu, son of Zhao’s trusted advisor, secretary, and speech writer, Bao Tong, transcribed, translated, and published the documents in ...more
Ben Babcock
I’m not exactly up on the Chinese history; it’s not a subject that we covered much in school. Most of what I know comes by way of hazy pop culture references and exposure via the slightly counterfactual nature of science fiction and historical fiction. Moreover, having been born and raised subsequent to the Cold War and the height of anti-communist sentiment in the West, not to mention just after the Tienanmen Square incident, the history that features in Prisoner of the State belongs to that mi ...more
Curt Blair
Sep 08, 2013 Curt Blair rated it really liked it
China is a complicated place. Truth is as malleable as play dough. Whether this work is an accurate depiction of historical events or a place setter in a contrived image, might be the subject of debate. It does give a glimpse into a part of what the political culture might be. The writing is excellent and the story compelling. If nothing else it stimulates our imagination about what our present and future rival is all about.
Feb 28, 2010 Bruce rated it did not like it
Brutally, criminally dull. Poor guy gets put under house arrest for having an unpopular opinion, then spends 16 years writing letters to The Powers That Be who assiduously ignore them, and him, until he dies of old age and boredom. No one, but no one, does bureaucracy like the ChiComs.
Bob Pearson
Oct 10, 2010 Bob Pearson rated it really liked it
Assembled by family and friends of former Premier Zhao Ziyang, for me today, this book is quite valuable for its history of how the Communist Party leadership in China moved from Maoist orthodoxy to pragmatic reform, as exemplified in Zhao's life. Deng Xioaping, the man who twice survived purges, to take command of China during the 80's, turns out to have been surprisingly conservative politically. All this is strikingly relevant today. The same issue Zhao supported, that political reform should ...more
Feb 23, 2014 Andrew rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: PRC individual political rights activists
How influence and authority is wielded at the top of the PRC's One Party system, consisting of active and retired members. I got to the point when Li Peng was discussed at some length, and then demoted the book into a very low priority on my "need to complete" list based on my experience with Chinese parents and sons (particularly favored and spoiled ones). FYI, Li Peng is the 1938 (at the age of 3) adopted son of Zhou Enlai; I would venture to guess that Premier Zhou did not have much quality t ...more
Stephen Sullivan
Sep 12, 2011 Stephen Sullivan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: political
One has to be a tad sceptical about a book published posthumously , unauthorised and supposedly translated from transcripts of audio recordings and spirited out of China by persons unknown. On top of that, the book is reputedly based on a journal of a former acting General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and a person whom I considered, and still do, to be the "Last true Chinese Communist"

So the question is: Are these the words of Zhou Ziyang? As much as I want them to be I can not bring
Ethan Cramer-Flood
Aug 24, 2009 Ethan Cramer-Flood rated it it was amazing
If the CCP knew I read this book, they'd probably revoke my visa before I got on the plane.

Or maybe not. I guess the ultimate lesson of a book like this one is that you never know what the people in power in a country like China are really thinking.

Zhao Ziyang was the Premier of China for most of the 1980s, and was the General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1987-1989. That means two things:

1) In the vague, byzantine upper echelon of the Chinese government, he was essentially the number two
Mar 05, 2012 Joseph rated it really liked it
Shelves: china-books
This book was a fascinating look into the inner workings of the CCP during the 1980s, specifically during the student protests of 1989, and it is a must-read for any scholar or student of contemporary Chinese history or politics. Although I personally found it riveting, I can certainly understand how non-China Hands might be bored by large parts of it discussing the negotiations of economic policy within the upper levels of the party. The image that Zhao Ziyang's memoir reveals of rival factions ...more
Andy Miller
Nov 26, 2012 Andy Miller rated it it was amazing
I followed the student uprisings and the Tiananmen square massacre and always wondered what happened to the one Chinese leader who was against the massacre. Well, this is his book. Not only does it contain his story which had to be secretly transcribed and smuggled out but it has sections by the editors that give background and context for his various chapters. I was impressed with his story and wonder if I would have shown the same courage that he did.. I really recommend that you read this
Mar 09, 2010 Heman rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography
My only, rather big, problem with this book is that it is dreary and dull in writing with an official and documentary tone.
I didn't care for the first half of the book where Zhao gives an account of history of Tianamen incidents and the treatment he was dealt by the party politics and Deng Xiaopeng.
The second half that is an account of China implementing open door policies and the party politics related to that where more interesting.
Dec 26, 2010 Bill rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating book because it shows the inner operations of the high level Chinese government. What's interesting is that it's much like the high level operations of any major organization -- a lot of maneuvering among the players, idealism and backstabbing all part of the equation. A fantastic book for the historical record.
Athan Tolis
Jan 15, 2014 Athan Tolis rated it it was amazing
This is a paean to capitalism, secretly taped by the former General Secretary Zhao Ziyang during his years under house arrest, to which he was (never officially) condemned for having objected to the bloody quashing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest.

The better incentives that come from enjoying the fruits of your labor, comparative advantage, gains from trade, how to stimulate the economy, how to fight demand-pull inflation etc. are explained much more clearly than Adam Smith, David Ricardo, K
Dhyey Desai
Jun 11, 2014 Dhyey Desai rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a diary rather than a novel and presents itself as a defense case for the late Premier Zhao Ziyang.

Zhao Ziyang was the Chinese Premier at the time of Tiananmen Square protests and the subsequent massacre. He was the only one in the then Chinese leadership who was sympathetic towards the protesting students and went at the site to urge them to call off the strike. He cried and pleaded fearing a violent and brutal backlash from the leadership but to no avail. Because of his actions, Z
Jul 01, 2009 Harriett rated it it was ok
O.K., I give up. I just can't finish it!
Jan 28, 2015 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This auto-biography of Zhao Ziyang, one of the senior leaders of China during the 1980's and instrumental in effecting significant economic reform, is taken from tapes that he recorded while under house arrest after the Tiananmen Square Massacre in June, 1989. After he recorded these tapes, he divided them up and gave some to each of his loyal friends in the hope that they would eventually be published. Interestingly, another complete copy of the tapes was found on the toy shelves of his grandch ...more
Oct 06, 2009 Nate rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This insider account of Chinese high politics was fascinating. Zhao Ziyang, former Premier and Communist Party General Secretary who was ousted after opposing the June Fourth 1989 crackdown, kept a secret journal during his house arrest that lasted the rest of his life. His friends sneaked it out of the country sometime around when he died in 2005.

The book gave me an interesting impression of Chinese politics as highly personal, completely run among a very small group of insiders. All political
Aug 07, 2010 Gary rated it liked it
This unprecedented look inside the inner workings of the sometimes Byzantine political workings of the inner circle of the Communist Party of China leading up to June 4, 1989 (The Tiananmen Square Incident) is quite a read! If you can make it past all the names of the seemingly endless line of Chinese bureaucrats that the author mentions, it is amazing how close China really was to democratic reforms. Deng Xiaoping comes out looking not like the economic savior of modern China (although he is cr ...more
Aug 17, 2009 Billy rated it liked it
It was definitely an interesting insight into what was previously a fairly secretive government. However, without a much deeper understanding of and, let's be honest, interest in Chinese politics, a fair portion of the book was skimmed rather than read. I think this would make an interesting companion with another book on Chinese politics and modern history, but it was challenging to read by itself.

The most engaging part of the book was definitely the discussion of how Tienanmen happened and why
Jan 01, 2014 Brian rated it it was amazing
Written from the perspective of an insider who rose to the pinnacle of power, then crashed to the bottom in a state of near non-existence under house arrest due to his actions before, during, and after the Tiananmen Square crackdown, Prisoner of the State is an interesting read which offers insights to the inner workings of the Communist government of China. Zhao Ziyang became the Chinese premier and ultimately General Secretary of the Communist Party of China in 1987. He was able to institute s ...more
Don Weidinger
Dec 23, 2012 Don Weidinger rated it really liked it
may be more dangerous in death than he was in life, 1980 premier at 68, June 89 Tiananmen Sq massacre of hundreds Zhao as scapegoat with house arrest for 16 years till death in 05, 30 tapes made, removed from power then brought back in 80, 5.4.1919 communist movement, Gorbachev did not support students and believed govt needed to crack down, students could have used inflation to incite and believed sincerity of students to contribute to reform movement, unsure of ultra left policies of cultural ...more
Jul 22, 2016 Pres rated it it was ok
If it's not Zhang zi yang, this book will be so dry. I read this together with Louisa Lim's people republic of amnesia to gain the perspective of a leader. Whilst The book certainly does not lack insider's info, it is dully written. It is undoubtedly a compilation of recordings from the late zi yang, but many points were repeated again and again. How I wish that the editor could edit more carefully before publishing.
Jan 22, 2010 Jay rated it liked it
I am trying to be more objective in my reviews and this book is the first to receive my new objectivity. It could be rated higher based on its fascinating insiders' perspective on Chinese politics and the manuevering of CCP officials and factions. This is the strongest part of the book though I think it will appeal to individuals who spent time in China or political scientists/governance officials. The most interesting sections of the book are those chapters that pertain to June 1989 Tiannanmen ...more
Sep 04, 2016 Klaudia rated it liked it
This book's first chapter brings a very unique and hard reaching perspective of an insider on the Tiananmen Massacre events. The story becomes very personal through Premier Zhao's record. However, the rest of the book feels a bit more of an excuse searching record thus it was more repetitive and difficult to read.
Христо Блажев
Тайният дневник на Джао Дзъян - човекът, опитал се да предотврати трагедията на Тянънмън

Признавам, и аз не знаех името на Джао. Но след като прочетох книгата с неговите спомени, не ще го забравя.

Китай и партията, която го управлява, са до голяма степен енигма за света. Затова и тези спомени са от такова огромно значение.

Джао Дзъян се издига от низините до най-високите върхове на китайското управление – министър-председател и генерален секретар на комуни
Daniel Simmons
Mar 11, 2015 Daniel Simmons rated it liked it
If you can get past the horribly designed front cover (what an eyesore, yeech), the pages within offer an insightful and oft-fascinating look at the squabbles between China's ruling Communists (think: "Game of Thrones" in the Middle Kingdom!) and the fitful initial development of China's market economy. Come for the chilling first section on the Tiananmen Square events of 1989; stay for the sometimes-tedious but eye-opening stuff about price control reform.
Keith McGowan
May 26, 2015 Keith McGowan rated it it was ok
For anyone interested in trying to understand Chinese politics, I would say that this book is a must read. However, the prose is dense and drawn out, just like Chinese politics.
May 31, 2015 RyanRosewood rated it it was amazing
5 star not for the book, but for the person, the very person that shared altruistic character, made huge contribution to the then poor, conservative, insane state.
Jul 21, 2015 peter rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china
As a book, it may not be as interesting to some readers, but as for its unique insight to behind-the-scenes Chinese leadership in the 1980s, it's priceless.

I started this around the 15th anniversary of Tiananmen, wanting to get more acquainted with the run-up to Tiananmen instead of just the day-of and the aftermath. It was really good for that, but be aware that about half the book talks about his role in economic reform as well.

The last bit talked about different peoples' (Deng, Hu, Zhao) appr
Rui Igreja
Apr 19, 2013 Rui Igreja rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china
A view from inside the Chinese political block. Zhao Ziiyang was prime minister of China for most of the 80s. He was an economical liberal, and, apparently, China owes much of its economic boom to his measures. He was kicked, and sentenced to life home imprisonment, due to his position along the students during what's usually called the Tiananmen protests (but in really nation wide protests). In my opinion this a very interesting book showing what was going on in the 80s inside perhaps one of th ...more
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