China’s state media again did not comment—for the seventh time—on the anniversary of the death of former Chinese communist chief Zhao Ziyang. Family, friends, and relatives held low-key commemorations on Jan. 17, however, and some netizens posted commemorations of Zhao, appealing for the restoration of his name.
Zhao, who led China’s economic reforms during the 1970s with Hu Yaobang, another top Party official, was purged by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) two years after he was made its leader, after he attempted to warn the students gathered in Tiananmen Square in 1989 that a crackdown may be imminent.
Party authorities have assiduously sought to exclude Zhao from recent history and public discourse, and this year was no different. On domestic websites articles about Zhao were censored after being posted. Bao Tong, Zhao’s outspoken former secretary, told Deutsche Welle that he has been banned from traveling and receiving interviews.
Wang Zhihua, Zhao’s son-in-law, told the German national broadcaster that Zhao’s old friends, relatives and acquaintances gathered at his home to commemorate the man’s life. He said that there seem to be more visitors with each passing year.
Wang Zhihua stands by Zhao’s defiance of the decision by Party elders to crush the student protesters. “At that critical moment, Zhao made such choice. That is a very precious spiritual heritage for our lifetime. It’s our great glory to be his offspring and we will forever uphold his original decision.”
After Zhao died, people sent to the hospital couplets of poetry or letters of eulogy, declaring that “Justice resonates deep in the heart.”
The CCP has withheld the truth about and distorted reports on Zhao’s position on the Tiananmen massacre—known only as the “June 4 incident” inside China—according to Wang. “To a country and a nation, we should at least have a sense of responsibility to history and to the nation. The CCP just hopes that by their silence people will not learn the facts,” he said.
Ding Dong, a well-known Chinese historian, said in an interview with Deutsche Welle that evaluation of Zhao’s life should be done in two parts. There was the time when he was in power, contributing significantly to China’s economic reform and opening up, and then there was the period when he was under house arrest—from 1990 until his death in 2005—where he kept memoirs and revealed himself to be a broad thinker about China.
“The CCP came to power through violent revolution and armed struggle,” Ding Dong said. “Therefore it is CCP’s basic logic that power can only be solidified by violence. Zhao Ziyang, as CCP’s General Secretary, refused to treat students, people and groups of different political opinions with violent means, making himself an outstanding figure within CCP and introducing a new direction for political civilization.” Before that vision could spread, however, he was purged from the Party and placed under house arrest until he died.