Tiananmen Protest Reappraisal 'Still Unlikely'

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Crowds watch the unveiling of a statue of Hu Yaobang in Taizhou, Zhejiang province, in a file photo.
Crowds watch the unveiling of a statue of Hu Yaobang in Taizhou, Zhejiang province, in a file photo.

While China's tightly controlled media has publicly lauded late reformist premier Hu Yaobang on the anniversary of his death this week, any change in the ruling Chinese Communist Party's stance on the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement sparked by his death still looks unlikely, political activists said.

Media commentator Zhou Ruijin, a former editor-in-chief of the Shanghai-based Liberation Daily newspaper, said in a Monday commentary marking the 24th anniversary of Hu Yaobang's death, that it was "meaningful and timely" to commemorate the late premier.

The new administration under President Xi Jinping now faces greater challenges and vested interests than the ideological conflicts that embroiled the Party when Hu was premier, Zhou wrote.

"When we have reached the historical stage where we need to give reform a strong push, it is very meaningful and timely to commemorate [Hu] Yaobang now," the editorial said.

"As we remember Hu Yaobang, we should, just like him, have the determination to reform and the courage to innovate."

In a commentary published on a Hong Kong news website, Zhou called Hu the "chief engineer" of China's economic reform program.

The website of Party mouthpiece the People's Daily reposted Zhou's commentary, adding a slideshow of Xinhua photos of Hu.

The coverage marks "the first time Hu has been so publicly mourned," the tabloid Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the Communist Party, reported in English on Tuesday, without mentioning the mass mourning 24 years ago that grew into several weeks of peaceful popular protest and hunger strikes on Tiananmen Square.

It said thousands of people had visited Hu's tomb in the eastern province of Jiangxi to mark his anniversary, while "tens of thousands" had circulated memorial messages online.

"Memorial posts to Hu were widely circulated online on Monday, but a search of Hu's name on Sina Weibo yielded no results," the paper said, in an apparent reference to China's online censors.

Hu was a political supporter of current president Xi Jinping's father Xi Zhongxun, whom Hu praised for embryonic economic reforms in the southern province of Guangdong in the 1970s.

Little sign of change

However, veterans of the 1989 democracy movement said they see little sign that the official commentaries have signaled any change in the official view that the bloody military crackdown on the student-led movement was necessary to put an end to "political turmoil."

"We have seen a few leadership successions in the Communist Party, and they have all taken a fairly relaxed attitude to Hu Yaobang," Beijing-based activist Qi Zhiyong, who was maimed when a tank ran over his legs on the night of June 3, 1989 in Beijing, said in an interview on Monday.

"As for the reappraisal of June 4, I'm not holding out much hope," he said. "I think the [media commentary praising Hu] is either a superficial or fake phenomenon."

He said police had stepped up security around the Hu family home in Beijing on the anniversary of the late premier's death.

"There were a lot of police outside Hu's family residence. Similarly, they came and followed me [on Tuesday]."

Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said the articles had likely been carefully planned and approved by the authorities in advance.

"None of these things happened by chance," he said. "They would all have been subjected to close analysis and debate by the authorities [before publication]."

He said the articles were unlikely to indicate a change in political attitudes with the new administration under President Xi Jinping.

"I think it's still early days to talk about a reappraisal of June 4," Hu Jia said. "They will want to drag it out to an appropriate time, when they can distance themselves from it historically."

"I think [this administration] is pretty conservative, although they are slightly more open-minded than the traditional conservative faction," Hu Jia said.

Qi and Hu Jia both said there was a continuing official silence around Hu Yaobang's successor, Zhao Ziyang, whose political fall came after he advocated a conciliatory attitude to the mass demonstrations at the heart of the Chinese capital.

Activists turned away from Hu residence

Several dozen people, many of them ordinary Chinese who have pursued long-running complaints over corruption, official abuse of power, and forced evictions, were turned away on Monday after they showed up outside Hu Yaobang's residence in Beijing to mark his anniversary.

"About 30 or 40 of us went there [on Monday]," petitioner Yu Chunxiang said. "We couldn't get in at first because the police had blocked it off."

"Some of us managed to push past, but then more and more police came, and a lot of people couldn't get through and were stuck outside."

He said those who had managed to get past police laid floral wreaths and hung banners in memory of Hu at the door of the residence.

"After we left, the policemen kept following us as far as Chang'an Avenue, which was filled with policemen and plainclothes officers," Yu said.

"They stared at us and told us to leave, that we must leave, or they would arrest us."

The number of people killed when People's Liberation Army (PLA) tanks and troops entered Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989 remains a mystery.

Beijing authorities once put the death toll at "nearly 300," but the central government, which labelled the six weeks of pro-democracy protests a “counterrevolutionary uprising,” has never issued an official toll or list of names, stepping up security in recent years to prevent public displays of mourning by the relatives of victims.

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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