Chen Yizi, a former aide and senior policy adviser to ousted Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang, died in Los Angeles on the eve of yesterday's 25th anniversary of the former party chief Hu Yaobang's death.
Chen was director of the Institute for Economic Structural Reform under the State Council but became the most wanted senior party official after he fled the nation to escape prosecution in the wake of the crackdown in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
Wu Sheng, Chen's daughter, said her father died at home in the Californian city on Monday.
"He left peacefully, without fear or anxiety," she said.
Chen's health had been deteriorating, according to Bao Pu, the son of Bao Tong, the personal secretary to Zhao and the highest-ranking official jailed over the Tiananmen Square protests, for which Hu's death was the spark.
Chen's daughter flew to California from Beijing several days ago "to grab the last chance to be with him after realising her father's physical condition had become worse", according to Bao.
Wu said Chen's body would be cremated in the US and his ashes brought back to Beijing to be buried with those of his parents.
Born in 1940, Chen graduated from the prestigious Peking University. He was an architect of China's economic reforms in the 1980s and the founder of several government think tanks.
During the pro-democracy movement in the spring of 1989, Chen urged the government to negotiate with the student demonstrators.
When tanks rolled into Beijing and troops opened fire to crush the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in the early hours of June 4, Zhao's aides and liberal intellectuals in government think tanks became targets of repression along with other outspoken young intellectuals.
Chen became one of the seven most-wanted dissidents in China. His institute was closed down for six months following the repression, and he was forced to flee after Zhao was placed under house arrest and Bao Tong jailed.
He boarded a train and eventually reached Guangdong. He then escaped to Hainan , from where a boat spirited him to Hong Kong. Two days later, he flew to France.
In a book published in Hong Kong last year, Memoirs of Chen Yizi - China's Reform in the 1980s, Chen detailed how he repeatedly urged his friend Deng Pufang, the son of then-paramount leader Deng Xiaoping , to persuade his father to ease the tensions between the students and the government by publicly acknowledging that the students were patriotic.
No official commemoration of Hu's death was held yesterday.
"We have no events. Everything is as usual, with around 100 visitors to the cemetery," said a worker at the Yaobang Cemetery, the site of Hu's tomb in Gongqingcheng, a city in Jiangxi province.