Chinese activists and supporters converged on the residence of late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang in Beijing on Thursday to commemorate him on the traditional grave-sweeping festival of Qing Ming.
Visitors brought flowers to the family home in Beijing's Fuqiang Hutong to pay their respects to Zhao, who was purged for his sympathetic stance towards the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement and his opposition to the use of military force against the unarmed students.
Beijing pro-democracy activist He Depu said Zhao is remembered with great respect and affection among many Chinese for those reasons.
"Zhao Ziyang was very sympathetic towards the pro-democracy movement of 1989, and he opposed the Tiananmen massacre [that followed]," He told RFA. "He told the students [it was coming], with no regard for his own position, so that they could make preparations to leave and avoid even greater loss of life."
"It was his fearless and generous spirit that makes people venerate him," he said.
In January, Zhao's family called for his posthumous rehabilitation as they marked the 13th anniversary of his death under house arrest, imposed for the rest of his life, because he opposed the bloodshed of the Tiananmen massacre.
But He said the ruling Chinese Communist Party has given Zhao's family and supporters little hope that the situation will change any time soon.
"I can't see the current government rehabilitating him right now. There's very little hope that the Communist Party will do this," he said.
An optimistic nature
Li Hui, a friend of the family, said her father, former Sichuan provincial party secretary Li Ziyuan, had been a staunch supporter of Zhao's for many years.
"The thing that made people admire and respect him was his directness and honesty, and his optimistic nature," Li told RFA. "He always said what was on his mind, and he would never say one thing and do another, or get involved in plots and intrigue."
"All he wanted as leader was to get the economy right, and to let the country start to rejuvenate itself," she said. "He never got involved in power struggles or palace politics."
Zhao's daughter Wang Yannan said there has been no progress so far on the family's repeated calls to be allowed to entomb his ashes, which are being kept in a container at home.
"All I can say is that we are still trying to push for this," Wang said. "What we want is to able to bury our dead father as an ordinary citizen. It's the government that is still hung up on protocol."
"Ordinary people don't have to worry about that, and our father was no longer an important government figure by the time of his death, so we don't have any aspirations in that regard," she said.
A Beijing petitioner surnamed Zhang said she had expected to be prevented from entering the house by the authorities, but had been allowed in after all.
"Of course we would prefer it if the government didn't interfere when we went to pay respects to an ancestor, but during the past few years it became impossible," Zhang said. "The police would block all of the intersections, as well as the door to the house."
"It has only gotten better since last year," she said.
'History will judge'
A neighbor surnamed Dong said he had paid his respects, too.
"I think he was right to oppose opening fire [on civilians] in 1989,"Dong said. "History will judge correctly; it won't allow the truth to be buried forever."
The Qing Ming grave-tending festival is often used by rights activists and petitioners to honor key figures in the political mythology of the Chinese Communist Party, often as a way of highlighting current grievances.
But public commemoration of the June 4, 1989 massacre by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is banned by the government, which styles the1989 democracy protests a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."
Attempts by the victims' families to call for a reappraisal of the1989 protests, the pursuit of those responsible, and compensa tion for the victims' families have fallen on deaf ears, they say.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.