Li Rui, former secretary for Mao Zedong, returned to Beijing from overseas on news of Zhao Ziyang’s death, and immediately went to the former general secretary’s home to pay his last respects. During his visit with Zhao’s family, Li affectionately recollected his unforgettable association with Zhao and passionately praised the former leader, who died Jan. 17.
According to the Mout Lu Conference Record published by Mingpao News, Li, once known as the “exploding cannon” of the left-wing movement, arrived in Beijing on the morning of Jan. 24. He arrived at the Zhao residence on Fuqiang Alley in the afternoon and stayed two hours. He was filled with emotion regarding Zhao’s political plight after the June 4th Tiananmen Square incident. As an insider aware of the sensitivity of the subject, however, Li declined to comment on how the government should handle Zhao’s passing.
Li was a former vice minister of the Ministry of Water Conservation. He indicated that although he and Zhao were not in constant contact in their work, their views were very similar regarding the Yangtze Three Gorges Project. Li was very clear about Zhao’s negative views of the project.
In the Zhao residence, Li made a lengthy statement regarding Zhao’s treatment after the June 4th incident and the issues related to his passing. An observer reported that he spoke fervently and expressed his heartfelt grief.
According to a story carried in a program from San Francisco called “Speech Across the Horizon” (unofficial translation) featuring Li’s daughter, Li Nanyang, Li once visited Zhao in the hospital, assuring him: “Everyone is thinking of you. You will persevere.” Zhao was very concerned for his wife, who has Alzheimer’s disease as well as loss of vision in both eyes.
Maj. Gen. Chang Zhonglian, formerly second in command for the People’s Liberation Army in Shenyang, also came to offer his condolences. Zhao and Chang are both from Henan village. In his statement to reporters, the general said he had fought shoulder to shoulder with Zhao in guerrilla warfare many decades ago.
Chang recollected: “Zhao Ziyang was very sincere toward his fellow men; a man who treated everyone equal. He was skilled and capable.” Chang was equally reluctant to discuss Zhao’s position on the June 4th incident with reporters.
He said that during the 15 years that Zhao was under house arrest, he frequently visited him in his house on Fuqiang Alley. “I’ve invented a kind of medicinal wine that is exceptionally beneficial for the health of the elderly. I gave Zhao Ziyang some to drink and he loved it. He also asked his wife to write to me to ask for more.”