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Prisoner of the State

The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang
Narrated by: Norman Dietz
Length: 13 hrs and 18 mins
4 out of 5 stars (32 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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 listeners 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 1989, tried to stop the massacre and was dethroned for his efforts. When China's army moved in, killing hundreds of students and other demonstrators, Zhao was placed under house arrest at his home on a quiet alley in Beijing. China's most promising change agent had been disgraced, along with the policies he stood for. The premier spent the last sixteen years of his life, up until his death in 2005, in seclusion. An occasional detail about his life would slip out: reports of a golf excursion, a photo of his aging visage, a leaked letter to China's leaders. But China scholars often lamented that Zhao never had his final say. As it turns out, Zhao did produce a memoir in complete secrecy. He methodically recorded his thoughts and recollections on what had happened behind the scenes during many of modern China's most critical moments. The tapes he produced were smuggled out of the country and form the basis for Prisoner of the State. In this audio journal, Zhao provides intimate details about the Tiananmen crackdown, describes the ploys and double-crosses China's top leaders use to gain advantage over one another, and talks about the necessity for China to adopt democracy in order to achieve long-term stability.

The China that Zhao portrays is not some long-lost dynasty. It is today's China, where the nation's leaders accept economic freedom but continue to resist political change. If Zhao had survived---that is, if the hard-line hadn't prevailed during Tiananmen---he might have been able to steer China's political system toward more openness and tolerance.

©2009 Boa Pu and Renee Chiang (P)2009 Tantor

What members say

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Thoughtful and articulate

This book is in fact a collection of essays on a broad range of topics. The editors have done a good job organizing the essays so that they cover most of Zhao Ziyang's later career, but there is still a little repetition. The editors have also done a good job placing the essays in context.

There are some fascinating and very sad insights into the events leading to the Tiananmen Square massacre, but the deeper and more analytical pieces cover China's financial reforms and the need for, and obstacles to, political reform. These are thoughtful pieces on the multiple sources of China's problems, analyses of possible solutions and the obstacles to change.

The narrator is generally very good, but he doesn't always seem comfortable with Chinese pronunciations.

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Forgotten Hero

Zhao Ziyang was a great man who was also a very good man. His greatness may never be we’ll know in history but the economic turnaround in China is largely due to his efforts. That China is not democratic is his greatest regret but beyond his control. I gave the book 4 stars instead of 5 only because there is very little about his personal life which I would have liked to hear. Hopefully he’ll get a biography one of these days.

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The truth is revaled at last.

If you could sum up Prisoner of the State in three words, what would they be?

Truth finally revealed.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Zhao Ziyang himself. The poor fellow was in some difficult positons in and out of office.

What does Norman Dietz bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

I'm not ssure exactly.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

I have no idea at the moment.

Any additional comments?

Anyone who wants to learn more about the Tiananme Square protests should read the book.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Say again? Who's on First?

I really wanted to understand what the author was trying to tell me. I copied down the Chinese names, tried to keep their titles/responsibilities straight, and printed out their pictures (well, I couldn't find all the pictures). I thought this would help keep the story and the players in an order I could understand.

It just didn't help enough for me to like the book

1 person found this helpful