Reformist remembered in quiet, private ceremonies

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 April, 2009, 12:00am

Despite an official silence, many people on the mainland quietly paid tribute yesterday to Hu Yaobang, the reformist leader whose death became a rallying cry for the pro- democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago.

Hu's wife, Li Chao, and their four children paid respect to the former Communist Party general secretary in Jiujiang, Jiangxi, where he is buried, said a source and the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

Hu's courtyard home near Beijing's Forbidden City remained quiet with no apparent security measures.

Last weekend, a private seminar was held in Beijing to discuss Hu's thoughts, said one of the attendees. Among those taking part were children of former party elders, such as those of former vice-premier Wan Li and former National People's Congress chairman Ye Jianying.

'There hasn't really been an official ban on commemorative events, but of course it's not likely that a public event could take place. People can still pay tribute privately, though,' the attendee said.

The leadership ended an almost two-decade-long silence on Hu four years ago when the Foreign Ministry announced that top officials, including Premier Wen Jiabao, would attend a ceremony marking the 90th birthday of the deposed party chief at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

In recent years, several 'virtual' memorial halls have sprung up on the internet and are receiving an influx of messages in the run-up to the anniversary.

In a memorial hall dedicated to Hu at, people had posted more than 300 messages since March. 'On this normal yet special day, a lot of Chinese people still miss you, they pay their respects to you, and think about you,' one internet user wrote.

At, a user identified as Dada wrote: 'We miss you, miss your bold approach to reverse wronged cases, miss your down-to-earth, democratic style. But it's such a pity that you could not fulfil your dreams.'

Most of the people posting the comments appeared to belong to the older generation who lived through Hu's rise and fall, although some were from the younger generation, who would have limited knowledge of his legacy. One internet user said he was seven when Hu died.

'I am 27 now and have emigrated overseas, but I've come to understand more things,' he wrote. 'I will follow in your footprints and accomplish the mission you had pursued.'

Hu became one of the most popular Chinese leaders for his pragmatic reform policies and liberal-leaning approach. He was also deeply respected for having rehabilitated a large number of wrong cases during the Cultural Revolution.

But he was forced to step down in 1987 for his sympathy towards liberal-leaning intellectuals and students, who started organising protests from 1986 to 1989.

President Hu Jintao did not attend the official commemoration in 2005, as he was in South Korea for an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum.

A speech by then vice-president Zeng Qinghong highly rated Hu's contribution to the communist revolution and his role in rehabilitating cadres purged during the Cultural Revolution, but made no mention of why the reformist leader was forced to step down as party boss in 1987.

Not forgotten

Hu Yaobang??s push for reforms endeared him to a generation of students seeking political change. His death 20 years ago after being ousted as party chief led to an outpouring of emotion that culminated in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests

The life of a reformist

Nov 20, 1915
Born in Liuyang city, Hunan

Sep 1933
Joins Chinese Communist Party

Aug 1952?VAug 1966
Serves as secretary general of Communist Youth League

Dec 1978
Inducted into Politburo Standing Committee

Feb 1980
Named head of CCP Central Committee Secretariat

June 1981
Named chairman of CCP Central Committee

Jan 1982
Named secretary general of CCP Central Committee

Jan 1987
Forced to resign as party chief over handling of student protests in previous month

Apr 8, 1989
Reportedly collapses after heart attack during Politburo meeting

Apr 15, 1989
Dies of complications from heart attack

Apr 22, 1989
More than 50,000 students march into Tiananmen Square for Hu??s funeral, marking start of June 4 democratic movement