More than 100 mourners flocked to a traditional house in a quiet alleyway in Beijing yesterday morning to pay their respects at the home of the late Zhao Ziyang on the eighth anniversary of the ousted party chief's death.
Zhao, a former Communist Party general secretary and premier, died at the age of 85. Before his death, Zhao had been under house arrest at the courtyard home at No 6 Fuqiang Alley since opposing the use of military force against the Tiananmen Square demonstrators in 1989.
Prominent among the mourners yesterday was Hu Jia , a two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, who had not been able to pay his respects for the past six years because of tight surveillance by security police. He last attended in 2006. Ding Zilin , founder of the Tiananmen Mothers organisation, was also present.
Hu said he sneaked out from his apartment around 6am, in disguise, when security was lax. He said security police noticed he was not at home and warned his mother that they could arrest him again. Hu was jailed in 2008 and was released from prison in June 2011. "People are talking about the changes since the new leadership took power, but I don't see much change based on my own experiences," Hu said.
Zhao pressed forward with bold political reforms while in office, but he was never seen in public after May 19, 1989, when he made a tearful appeal in Tiananmen Square for pro-democracy demonstrators to leave. He has since become a symbol of thwarted political reform.
Du Guang , a veteran Central Party School scholar, wept and said Zhao had died while still smeared by false charges and he could never forget him. "Zhao initiated political reform but regrettably everything was terminated after June 4, 1989," said Du, who helped found a semi-official think tank that analysed reform issues in 1988 but was forced to close after the Tiananmen crackdown.
People who visited Zhao's home yesterday bowed in the mourning room, where a large picture of a smiling Zhao was surrounded by dozens of flowers, including ones from his former aide Bao Tong , who is under house arrest in Beijing.
Wang Yannan , Zhao's daughter, said yesterday that the authorities had not tried to stop them from receiving mourners. No senior party officials paid respects to Zhao after his death, except former vice-premier Tian Jiyun .
Online postings to mourn Zhao were quickly removed yesterday.