Hu Jiwei, a former People's Daily chief editor and one of the most vocal advocates for political reform, made vindication of the Tiananmen protest movement his dying wish. He died on Sunday, one day after his 96th birthday.
A close family member who declined to be named said the liberal party elder died of heart failure in a Beijing hospital. He had been suffering from heart problems for years and was readmitted to the hospital earlier this month, having spent most of the summer there.
He was already in intensive care and in a frail state when closest friends Li Rui and Du Daozheng visited him four days before he died. Speaking sparingly, Hu nonetheless told them the truth about the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement must be told, his close relative said.
Li, a former secretary to Mao Zedong , and Du, a former propaganda chief, are also reform-minded party elders.
"He didn't have much energy to speak," his relative said. "But he put up his hand and said to them: 'Seek vindication for June 4'. That was the most fervent wish in his heart."
Born in Sichuan in 1916, Hu joined the underground Communist Party at 21 while at university - a dangerous move during Kuomintang rule. In 1939, he went to the revolutionary base, Yanan , where, for the next decade, he edited regional pro-communist newspapers.
He transferred to the People's Daily in 1952 and worked there until 1983, when he became a member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. During his leadership at the party newspaper, he was often criticised by the conservatives for his liberal positions.
Hu was charged by liberal leader Hu Yaobang with drafting a media law to protect press freedom, but the initiative - like other reformist measures - was scrapped after the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989. The law's failure became a lasting regret for Hu.
Owing to his support for the Tiananmen movement and his condemnation of the June 4 crackdown, he was sacked from official duties in 1990 and kept under investigation for several years. In his later years, shielded by his status as a party elder, Hu used his influence to push liberal causes, such as urging the release of human rights activist Liu Xiaobo , who was jailed in 2009 on subversion charges.
Hu was among 23 party elders who issued a strongly worded petition to the top legislature in late 2010, calling for an end to media censorship.
In 2010, Hu told the South China Morning Post: "China nowadays looks strong on the outside, but it's actually very weak and afraid … the regime is rotten from within." He said he had not given up hope because people were no longer ignorant in the age of the internet.