Mourners Barred From Birthday

Police restrict mourners from marking the birthday of a Chinese Communist Party reformer.
2009-10-19
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Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang addresses student hunger-strikers, May 19, 1989.
Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang addresses student hunger-strikers, May 19, 1989.
AFP

HONG KONG—Mourners hoping to mark the 90th birthday of late ousted Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang over the weekend were restricted from attending a ceremony at his family residence in China's capital, according to his daughter.

Wang Yannan said Monday that the gathering was limited to around 100 family members, relatives, friends, and admirers, and that more were refused entry due to police restrictions.

A Buddhist nun named Miaojue said that she and other dissidents in Beijing were banned from visiting the Zhao family residence on Saturday.

“Qi Zhiyong and I agreed to go to Zhao’s house to express condolences on his birthday. Qi Zhiyong is a rights activist who was disabled in the June 4 incident. However, on Saturday police stopped him from leaving his home," Miaojue said.

She said that when Qi was prevented from leaving his home, she called another activist to join her.

"Then I called ... Li Hai, but he was warned by police not to go either. I don’t fear the police because I have nothing [to lose],” the nun said.

A sympathetic reformer

Born Oct. 17, 1919, in central China's Henan province, Zhao gradually worked his way up the ranks of the Communist Party to become China's premier from 1980-87 during the country's early experimentation with a new policy of opening and reform.

In 1987 he became the general secretary of the Party, succeeding Hu Yaobang, another reformist leader who had been unseated by Party elders.

But Zhao himself was sacked for expressing sympathetic views towards the students leading the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, which ended with the brutal crackdown on June 4 that year.

Following his removal from office, Zhao was placed under house arrest in his family compound until his death in 2005. His family members still occupy the residence.

Despite official pressure, Zhao Ziyang has remained popular among the Chinese people.

In recent years, his hometown in Henan's Hua county has been publicizing itself as the “town that raised the famous national leader Zhao Ziyang,” and is listing the house where Zhao was born as one of its tourist sites.

As Zhao's birthday anniversary drew near, local residents in Henan launched a campaign to renovate the home, while other supporters suggested creating a donation fund online to repair the late leader's Beijing residence as well.

Zhao's daughter Wang Yannan thanked supporters but declined the donations.

“We greatly appreciate the idea, but it is not necessary. My father’s house was supplied by the government, which will arrange any repairs according to their estimation of the home's condition. If they don’t think the house should be renovated, your donated money cannot be spent in that way. Again, I sincerely thank you all for your concern,” she said.

'The eternal Chinese premier'

Chinese political scientist Yan Jiaqi, a Tiananmen exile now living in the United States, called Zhao the “eternal Chinese premier,” saying Zhao had enacted more policy as premier than as party chief.

Yan Jiaqi added that one of Zhao’s last hopes was that China “follow the Western path of parliamentary democracy.”

“A parliamentary democracy doesn’t exclude certain political parties, but it does terminate one party despotism,” Yan said.

Earlier this year, former aide to Zhao Ziyang, Bao Tong, who himself is currently under house arrest, released audio recordings in which Zhao concludes that the only way forward for China is through parliamentary democracy.

The recording was made from Zhao's home on the evening of June 3, 1989, following his fall into political disgrace, while he sat listening to the sound of "intense gunfire" coming from the Tiananmen crackdown.

U.S.-based Chinese scholar Hu Ping, editor-in-chief of Beijing Spring magazine, noted that China’s official media made no mention of Zhao’s birthday on Saturday.

He said officials in Beijing fear that if the Chinese people memorialize Zhao Ziyang, this will force the government to reexamine the crackdown on June 4, 1989.

“The appeal to redress the June 4 incident has powerful echoes in Chinese society, and this kind of appeal can also be expressed by commemorating Zhao Ziyang’s birthday. This is the reason why the Chinese authorities fear it,” Hu said.

Original reporting by Tang Qiwei in Washington and Xin Yu in Hong Kong for RFA's Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Ping Chen. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes.

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