Former Chinese Aide Calls on Regime To Self-Criticize Ahead of Hu Memorial

April 1989. Beijing students put flowers and wreaths in front of a portrait of former Chinese Communist Party leader and liberal reformer Hu Yaobang on Tiananmen Square. Photo: AFP

HONG KONG—A former top Chinese Communist Party aide has called on the regime to face up to its mistakes ahead of a memorial event for ousted late leader Hu Yaobang.

“I am in favor of commemorating Hu Yaobang. But it should be done with the right intent,” Bao Tong, who has lived under virtual house arrest in Beijing since his fall from grace after the 1989 student-led protests, wrote in a commentary aired Tuesday on RFA’s Mandarin service.

“The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) should learn a painful lesson from its treatment of Hu Yaobang, and through its commemoration of him, should learn once more the art of self-criticism,” Bao said.

“The spirit of Hu Yaobang should be allowed to permeate China’s political and cultural life, to sweep away the suffocating air of tyranny, corruption, and hypocrisy, and create another few million Hu Yaobangs.”

China’s leaders are planning a memorial event in the Great Hall of the People to mark the 90th anniversary of Hu Yaobang’s birth on Nov. 20, sources told RFA last month.

But analysts have warned against viewing the move as representing any discussion of the former leader’s liberal reform agenda.

Sacked in 1987

Hu was sacked as general secretary of the Communist Party in 1987 for leaning towards “Western, bourgeois” principles of democracy and rule of law, amid a political campaign orchestrated by then supreme leader Deng Xiaoping.

“The only meaningful way to be worthy of Hu Yaobang, to remember Hu Yaobang, is in the spirit of Hu Yaobang,” Bao wrote, praising Hu’s overturning of large numbers of summary verdicts handed down to ordinary people during China’s disastrous Cultural Revolution (1966-76).

Hu, according to Bao, had no time for political infighting and witch-hunts.

“He...dedicated himself to a campaign against empty speech and overturning wrong decisions made in the past. ...It didn’t matter whose decision it was; if it was harmful, false or unreasoned, would toss it aside...even if it was made by Mao Zedong himself,” he said.

Mourned by thousands

“While [then premier] Zhao Ziyang was busy directing reforms of the economic system, Hu Yaobang ushered in a new political atmosphere where decisions once more had meaning,” said Bao, who was Zhao’s aide and fell from power alongside his boss and political mentor.

Popular among ordinary Chinese for rehabilitating millions purged during the 1957 Anti-Rightist Movement and for righting some of the wrongs of the Cultural Revolution, Hu was mourned by thousands on Tiananmen Square in April and May 1989.

This demonstration of public grief and outrage sparked the student-led pro-democracy movement, which ended with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of deaths in early June that year, and triggered the fall of Hu Yaobang’s successor, Zhao Ziyang.

Hu painted as 'soft'

But Chinese political analysts are cautious about assuming that the memorial event for Hu constitutes a political “rehabilitation,” with possible implications for overall Party policy, which has ruled out all talk of political reform since 1989.

“Such a General Secretary, in tune with the ordinary people, was charaterized as 'soft' by the old guard, and ousted from power,” Bao wrote.

“After fearlessly overturning so many injustices against others, he himself became the victim of just such a wrong decision. When it happened, he wept. And he had good reason to weep. He was right to be worried about the Chinese people, who have been through such suffering and calamity.”

Original text in Chinese by Bao Tong. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Original reporting in Mandarin


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