Song for Zhao Appears Online

Ousted Chinese premier had opposed the military crackdown on Tiananmen protesters in 1989.
2012-04-09
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Zhao Ziyang (C) addresses the Tiananmen Square student hunger strikers in Beijing, May 19, 1989.
AFP

Chinese netizens on Monday passed around a song calling for the political rehabilitation of late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, whose name has been virtually removed from the public record since the pro-democracy movement of 1989.

The lyrics to the song, titled "Zhao Ziyang, Overwhelmingly Righteous," were soon subjected to revision by China's Internet censors, however, with the word "rehabilitation" changed in some postings.

"Overwhelmingly righteous, Zhao Ziyang," run the lyrics of the song, written and performed by a netizen known by his online nickname of "Red Uncle."

"A diligent politician, he set an example for the people, upholding the truth with clean hands, the immortal soul of China."

However, the lyrics were "harmonized" after being posted on China's tightly controlled Internet, according to "Red Uncle."



"We made the video to bring up the question of a reappraisal of June 4, via Zhao Ziyang," the Jiangxi-based singer-songwriter told RFA's Mandarin service on Monday.

"A rehabilitation of Zhao Ziyang would be the driving force behind any reappraisal of June 4," he said, referring to the military crackdown which ended weeks of student-led pro-democracy protests on Tiananmen Square in the spring and early summer of 1989.

"A lot of pro-democracy people on QQ have been promoting and praising this song," "Red Uncle" said. "They all said they will do everything they can to pass it on to everyone."

Delay before release

He said he had finished the song a month ago and waited until "the weather was better" before releasing it.

The song's appearance coincides with a weekend in which many Chinese will be making trips to ancestral tombs and cemeteries to sweep the graves and make offerings to their family's dead.

"Actually this has been brewing for a long time, and I have been slowly getting the lyrics together," he added.

A previous song video made by "Red Uncle" in support of the anti-government protests in Egypt last year was entirely deleted from China's Internet, which is encircled by a complex system of filters, blocks, and human censorship known as the "Great Firewall."

The Zhao Ziyang song was censored after it was added to the Chinese video-sharing site 56.com, with the second half of the song and its sensitive political content unavailable to viewers, "Red Uncle" said.

"When I put it onto Youku, I changed the characters for 'rehabilitation' to a [homophone], so that the website wouldn't get into trouble," he said.

No reckoning seen

Veterans of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy demonstrations have expressed doubt that China's reform-minded premier Wen Jiabao will succeed in spearheading any change in Beijing's position on the military crackdown on the night of June 3 in Beijing.

Officials have characterized the demonstrations as "political turmoil," charging participants with "counterrevolutionary activity," and have ignored growing calls in recent years for a public reckoning with the crackdown.

No form of public memorial has ever been held for those who died when the People’s Liberation Army cleared thousands of protesters from the center of the city, and police regularly clamp down on any form of public protest around the June 4 anniversary.

The number of people killed on the night of June 3-4 remains a mystery. China’s official death toll is 241, including 36 students.

The crackdown set off a wave of condemnation across the globe, and for several years China was treated as a near-pariah, as Western governments offered asylum to student leaders fleeing into exile.

The Tiananmen Mothers, which represents all victims of the crackdown who died or were maimed, has repeatedly called for a dialogue with Chinese officials on a reappraisal of the crackdown, and for victims' families to be allowed to pursue legal claims against the government.

Zhao, whose political fall came amid a decision to send in the troops, is shown in a contemporary news photograph visiting students on Tiananmen Square in 1989, holding a megaphone, and accompanied by a much younger but worried-looking Wen Jiabao, China's now-outgoing premier.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.