Outpouring for purged party leader

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2012, 12:00am


Mourners flocked to a traditional house in a quiet alleyway near Beijing's downtown area of Wangfujing yesterday to pay respects to purged Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang on the seventh anniversary of his death.

People also used Twitter and Chinese weibo sites to post online tributes to the reformer, who was ousted in the aftermath of the crackdown on the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests in 1989.

This year, with a leadership reshuffle planned for autumn, people seem more keen than ever to remember Zhao as frustration grows after almost a decade during which there has been little to no political reform.

Crowds that arrived at No 6 Fuqiang Hutong to pay tribute appeared larger than in previous years, said Zhao's son-in-law, Wang Zhihua. 'It's related to the current situation, as people seem to see the country moving backwards, rather than forwards as they'd hoped,' Wang said.

Yao Jianfu, a retired official and research fellow with the State Council's Research Centre for Rural Development, who visited Zhao's house yesterday, said people hoped that leaders would after the reshuffle learn from the example of reform pursued by Zhao and Hu Yaobang, a former party chairman and Zhao's predecessor.

In the mourning room hung a large picture of a smiling Zhao, surrounded by dozens of flowers, mostly chrysanthemums. A pair of vertical banners on a side wall read: 'It's our life-long honour to be your children, and we will forever support the decision you made.'

A Peking University student who visited the home but declined to be named said: 'Authorities deliberately covered up the real history, but I still had access to the information by getting around the 'Great Firewall'.

'I believe June 4th was a curtain-raiser for democratisation that was killed by the party.'

Wang said the authorities did not warn them or try to stop them from receiving mourners. A few people who appeared to be locals, including middle-aged women, stood at the entrance of the alley, seemingly keeping an eye on visitors.

Wang said flowers started arriving at 6am, and the home's approximately 30 square metre courtyard was full of people standing and talking to each other for most of the day.

Authorities forbade Bao Tong, a former secretary of Zhao's, from attending any activities related to his old boss for three days, said one mourner who had visited Bao yesterday morning.

Plenty of online tributes posted by microblog users were not removed by authorities, although searches for 'Zhao Ziyang' on Sina's microblog yielded no results.

Wu Jiaxiang, a Beijing-based scholar, paid tribute on Sina to 'that former leader' who insisted on 'tackling issues in line with democracy and law' two decades ago.

One user said: 'It's lucky that history is written by the people. I pay tribute to Mr Zhao, who refused to crack down on students on June 4th.' Another commenter said that Zhao will live forever in people's hearts.