Cao Siyuan: A Responsible Reformer Silenced

Nicholas C. Howson, University of Michigan Law School


A few days after the traumatic events of June 3-4, 1989 in Beijing, Cao Siyuan disappeared. In the latter part of 1989, it was reported that Cao, along with Wang Dan, Ren Wanding and some forty other intellectuals and activists were to be charged with "counter-revolution" and tried. Director of the Sitong Institute of Social Development at the time of the arrest, Cao Siyuan was ostensibly jailed for his attempt in late May of 1989 to overturn martial law in Beijing by convening an emergency meeting of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC). It does a great injustice to Mr. Cao's wide-ranging activism, however, to confine his "counter-revolutionary" sins to his last public act. For Cao Siyuan, legal draftsman, political theorist, economist and confidante of ousted Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, was over the last decade one of the most astute, prolific and effective reform intellectuals in China. His arrest and enforced silence both signal the short-term repudiation of startling legal and political developments in China from 1979-89 and symbolize-on a more human level-the uneven treatment of intellectuals throughout the history of China, both after 1949 and before.