The family of late ousted Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang called for his posthumous rehabilitation on Wednesday as they marked the 13th anniversary of his death under house arrest, imposed because he opposed the bloodshed of the Tiananmen massacre.
Zhao’s family home in Beijing's Fuqiang Hutong was open to mourners to pay their respects to the late premier, who was purged for his sympathetic stance towards the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement, and his opposition to the use of force against the students.
Security around the residence was tight, but those who arrived were received by Zhao's son Zhao Erjun.
Zhao's daughter Wang Yannan said the family is growing increasingly frustrated over the failure of the ruling Chinese Communist Party to give permission for his ashes to be laid to rest.
"Chinese people set a lot of store by the laying of a person's remains to rest in the earth," Wang told RFA. "If we find a place, we want to know that there won't be further obstacles in our way. All we can do is wait, and see what happens."
She called for the political rehabilitation of her father's reputation, as well as a full official reappraisal into the weeks of student-led democracy demonstrations on Tiananmen Square in 1989.
"What actually was the June 4, 1989 incident; what was its essential nature? What did the citizens do? What did the government do?" Wang said. "There are still many people who have been unjustly treated [in connection with it], people who were framed,"
"We have been putting up with this for so long, and now the next generation are being affected too," she said, without elaborating. "We would like his former reputation to be restored."
Among the mourners at the Zhao residence was Beijing housing rights activist Ni Yulan, recipient of the U.S. State Department's 2016 International Women of Courage award, who took part in a memorial ceremony alongside around a dozen rights activists.
"There were police cars along our entire route here, although not so many police officers [as in previous years]," Ni said. "There were some plainclothes officers, as well as private security guards who tried to make us leave, but we were already done."
'Spirit of democracy'
The Tiananmen Mothers victims group was among the donors of memorial wreaths, spokeswoman You Weijie told RFA.
"Back in 1989, the Tiananmen massacre, [Zhao] was there on the square, telling the students to leave," You said. "He was against the use of force on the student movement, and I think he was a leader who had a sense of democratic responsibility."
"He didn't care that they shut him up under house arrest for 15 years; he never once regretted having opposed the crackdown," she said. "He represents the spirit of democracy."
Public commemoration of the June 4, 1989 massacre by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is banned by the government, which styles the 1989 democracy protests a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."
Attempts by the victims' families to call for a reappraisal of the 1989 protests, the pursuit of those responsible, and compensation for the victims' families have fallen on deaf ears, they say.
Diplomatic archives recently declassified by the U.K. government said the troops of the PLA's 27th army were ordered to "spare no-one" as they used dum-dum bullets, automatic weapons and armored vehicles to carry out mass killings in Beijing.
Then British ambassador Alan Donald wrote in a diplomatic cable dated June 1989 detailing how the Shenyang troops had been sent in unarmed to disperse the crowd, followed up by a fully armed 27th Army that rampaged through the city killing civilians and other soldiers alike.
Former Beijing mayor Chen Xitong told a top meeting of China's parliament on June 30, 1989, that "more than 200" people were killed, including 36 undergraduates, while more than 3,000 non-military personnel were injured.
In 2008, the Tiananmen Mothers, founded by retired university professor Ding Zilin, said it had documented the locations of 188 civilian deaths, 71 of whom were students, including Ding's 17-year-old son.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.