‘‘I came too late,’’ Zhao Ziyang, former general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, said to pro-democracy student demonstrators at Tiananmen Square on the eve of the military crackdown in 1989. Sixteen years later, Premier Wen Jiabao used the same words in addressing the families of victims at the November 2004 Chenjiashan coal mine explosion in Shaanxi that killed 166 miners: ‘‘I came too late.’’
These words convey two liberal-minded Chinese leaders’ shared sense of frustration and responsibility in the wake of tragedy. Their use in different contexts also reflects the profoundly different social concerns and political approaches of Chinese reform leaders. At present, concerns over social fairness andjusticeseemtobeprevailingoverthedemandfordemocracyandfreedomof the press. The new leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), especially Hu Jintao, Party chief and president, and Premier Wen, appear to pay more attention to the interests of the ‘‘weaker’’ social groups—poor peasants, migrant laborers, unemployed urban residents, and mineworkers—than did their predecessors.