Mourners gather on birthday of late Zhao Ziyang to salute spirit of reform

Mourners gather at house of late party chief on 93rd anniversary of his birth, and to salute the spirit of reform that led to his downfall

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 October, 2012, 7:18am

Dozens of mourners gathered in a small alleyway just off Beijing's premier shopping street, Wangfujing, yesterday to pay tribute to late Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang on the 93rd anniversary of his birth.

Mostly retired officials and teachers, they arrived at No 6 Fuqiang Hutong, Zhao's former residence, yesterday afternoon to pay respects to the renowned reformer, who became party head at its 13th national congress in 1987 but was ousted in 1989 for sympathising with student democracy advocates who occupied Tiananmen Square.

"I wish the party's new generation of leaders could carry Mr Zhao's spirit of reform," said one retired official who declined to be named, adding that political reform was urgently needed because the corruption of party members was undermining social stability.

Wang Fanghui , a private business owner, said it was the first time he had paid tribute at Zhao's house.

"I don't know much about him, as we can only receive government censored information, but I feel fortunate enough to have my own business and I want to show my admiration to this reformer. I hope the country has the rule of law and democracy under its new leaders."

Mourners appeared with flowers, pictures of Zhao and a large red banner reading: "Cherish the memory of the 13th; look forward to the 18th."

The party said last month that its 18th national congress would begin on November 8 in the Great Hall of the People, not far from the house where Zhao was kept in near-isolation for 16 years until his death seven years ago.

"The party can rule the country, but it does not inspire mass support any more," said Cheng Qingyu , the chief engineer of the China Millennium Monument, a memorial building in Beijing. "The new generation of leaders will have to be very different to rebuild the public's faith in the party.

"To be honest, I don't see that happening. The communist regime is a dictatorship."

Zhao Wujun , Zhao's youngest son, said the authorities had not given them any warnings or tried to stop them from receiving mourners. No armed police or undercover security guards were seen patrolling in front of the house yesterday, although their presence has been normal on sensitive occasions in the past.

People bowed in the mourning room, where a large picture of a smiling Zhao was surrounded by dozens of flowers.

Zhao was criticised in June 1989 for abetting a schism over Western liberal values, something that many hard-line party conservatives could not tolerate.

The party does not speak of Zhao in public, and past commemorative activities have often faced harassment from the authorities.