Disgraced former Beijing mayor Chen Xitong – one of the main culprits blamed for the brutal crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square – has died at age 84, Hong Kong China News Agency (HKCNA) reported on Tuesday.
HKCNA – a semi-official central government mouthpiece – quoted an unnamed source and said Chen had passed away. Two independent sources also confirmed Chen’s death to the South China Morning Post.
One source said Chen died at 9:45am in Beijing last Sunday. Another source – a close friend of the family – confirmed the news and said he was waiting for authorities to notify him of the date of the funeral so that he might be able to attend it.
Chen – whose name is forever associated with the massacre 24 years ago – was known to be in the final stages of terminal colon cancer. He was released from jail on medical parole in 2006 and died just three months before his jail sentence would have ended.
Chen, who was Beijing mayor at the time of the crackdown, was later promoted to Beijing Party Secretary and made a Politburo member.
He was sentenced to jail in 1998 for corruption, making him one of the three highest-ranking party officials – together with Chen Liangyu and Bo Xilai – to be brought down by such charges.
Chen was widely believed to be one of the masterminds behind the crackdown. Former party secretary Zhao Ziyang, who was put under house arrest for sympathising with the students, in his memoir blamed Chen for the tragedy.
Former premier Li Peng – one of the key decision makers at the time of the crackdown – in his diary said Chen was the director of the headquarters in charge of the crackdown.
Chen himself vehemently tried to deny his responsibility. In a book published last year in Hong Kong, Chen told the author who interviewed him that he was kept in the dark by others and called the crackdown “a regrettable tragedy that could have avoided”.
Chen even described himself a victim of the power struggle.
Wang Fandi, whose 19-year-old son Wang Nan was killed in the massacre, said the family could not forgive nor forget Chen. Wang described Chen’s death as a "divine retribution".
“His death is deserved. He just reaped what he had sowed,” he said. “From a broader perspective of history, Chen is also a tragic character. He just played a minor role in the crackdown. He was a tool. He listened to his superiors and did whatever they told him to do.”
“His death changes nothing,” he said.