Lin Ruo, a former Communist Party chief of Guangdong known for his liberal mindset, reformist policies, and support for media freedom and the rule of law, died on Sunday, aged 88, after a battle with liver cancer.
Lin, Guangdong's top leader between 1982 and 1991, was a subordinate and loyal supporter of late reformist leader Zhao Ziyang , who was ousted in 1989 because of his sympathy for students involved in the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement.
Party elder Du Daozheng , a close friend of Lin for more than five decades, said Lin had not been afraid to show his support for Zhao, even when it was dangerous to do so. After Zhao was put under house arrest, Lin secretly visited him, which Du said cost Lin his job.
Lin stepped down from the leadership in 1991. Although Lin was not officially sacked, Du said it was retribution for Lin's friendship with Zhao, who had been made persona non grata after Tiananmen crackdown.
"On the issue of right and wrong, he stood firm… and he never regretted it," 89-year-old Du, the publisher of the outspoken Yanhuang Chunqiu magazine, said yesterday.
Lin was the party secretary of Nanfang Daily in the early 1970s and Du, a former colleague of Lin at the newspaper, said Lin supported his drive to record Zhao's memoirs, which decried the crackdown.
Du was one of four retired officials who secretly helped Zhao put his recollections on the record. Lin gave Du a high-quality recorder and tapes - luxuries not widely available outside Guangdong in the early 1990s.
"He was very supportive, he said you have to persuade Zhao to speak, to be historically responsible," Du said. "And every time I went to Guangdong, he asked me how the project was progressing."
Zhao's memoirs were published in 2009.
Lin, who became head of Guangdong's provincial people's congress in 1991, was also credited with promoting the rule of law through his drive to rein in corruption and for making the congress a more accountable body.
"Lin Ruo insisted that he had to listen to the real voice of the people and he wanted the congress representatives to speak the truth," Nanfang Daily's obituary of Lin said yesterday.
Cheng Yizhong , the founder and former chief editor of Southern Metropolis Daily who was detained for five months in 2004 after the paper published daring reports exposing government flaws, said he largely owed his release to the intervention of Lin and two other former liberal Guangdong party secretaries, Ren Zhongyi and Wu Nansheng .
"Lin was aware of officials retaliating against Southern Metropolis and was very angry," Cheng said. "Liberal-minded leaders like him are few and far between nowadays."
Lin was also well-known for his early experiment with agricultural reform after the Cultural Revolution - allowing farmers to profit from their own produce - poverty alleviation, and popular forestation projects.