WASHINGTON—Ordinary Chinese people have been paying respects to the late former head of China's Communist Party, Zhao Ziyang, who died Monday after spending the last years of his life under house arrest in Beijing.
Overseas rights groups and Chinese dissidents have also organized mourning activities to remember Zhao, who was removed from all official posts after the 1989 crackdown by People's Liberation Army troops on unarmed protesters in and around Tiananmen Square.
A Shanghai man in his 50s told an RFA listener call-in show: "I would like to pay my respects to Zhao Ziyang, who has passed away at the age of 85. He demonstrated integrity and courage during the Tiananmen democracy movement. And he paid a high price for it."
"Since the founding of the Chinese Communist Party there have been people of integrity who have ended up being short-changed and mistreated. But they have earned our respect," the caller said.
Meanwhile a man from the northeastern province of Jilin composed and sang a eulogy for those killed in 1989, to the tune of a well-known Beijing opera.
He demonstrated integrity and courage during the Tiananmen democracy movement. And he paid a high price for it.
"On June 4th, the Communists opened fire in Beijing. Bodies of students and ordinary citizens littered the streets," he sang. "Blood spilling everywhere...You call yourselves the people’s soldiers. Why then did you shoot down the students?"
The man said he couldn't describe his sadness at Zhao's passing. "A good man has left us. He’s finally free. I’ve been listening to foreign broadcasts to get the very last detail about his illness and his passing," he said.
The chairman of the New York-based group Human Rights in China (HRIC) also paid respects to Zhao.
"We at HRIC would like to express our sorrow at the death of Zhao Ziyang," HRIC president Liu Qing said in a statement on the group's Web site.
"It is only natural that the people of China should wish to mourn the death of one of the few senior officials who not only promoted openness and reform but also openly defended the people’s rights."
"The Chinese government should allow the Chinese people to freely express their sorrow and regret at his demise," Liu said.
The Chinese government should allow the Chinese people to freely express their sorrow and regret at his demise.
Another man, aged 23 and living in Guangxi, said Chinese media had ignored Zhao’s death.
"Chinese television and radio stations didn't report the death of Zhao Ziyang. I first heard it on Radio Free Asia. Then I heard it on VOA, BBC, and the Australian Broadcasting Corp. also. It's a shame that he died this way. Zhao Ziyang was a nobler person than [former president] Jiang Zemin. Ten times—10,000 times—nobler."
A blind man in his forties from the southwestern province of Sichuan said he too had been able to learn of Zhao’s death only from foreign media.
"I heard on Radio Free Asia that Mr. Zhao Ziyang had passed away. I am a blind person. I get all my news from the radio. Chinese domestic radio stations did not mention a word of it," he said.
"I remember that Chinese media reported the downfall of the Gang of Four when it happened. But they are not reporting the death of Zhao Ziyang. Is the government trying to tell us that Zhao Ziyang was worse than the Gang of Four? This is no way to win the hearts of the people," he said. "What did Zhao ever do that was so terrible? He was opposed to killing students during Tiananmen. That's all. It's outrageous. I think Zhao deserves a state funeral," the Sichuan resident said.