After a decade, the Chinese regime has finally allowed the family of late Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang, who was sympathetic to the 1989 student-led democracy movement, to bury his ashes.
The former Party general secretary’s ashes was left in his Beijing home since 2005 because the Party and Zhao’s family disagreed over the burial site. The Party, which controls burial arrangements for its top-ranked members, offered to bury Zhao’s ashes in Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery—the designated resting place for high-ranking officials and the Party’s heroes—but his family preferred a private interment because they were concerned that access to his memorial would be restricted.
The burial of Zhao’s ashes was brought up again over the past year because his wife, Liang Boqi, died in 2013. The family wish to have the couple buried together was granted by the Party on April 5, Zhao Erjun, Zhao’s son, told Hong Kong broadcaster NOW TV.
A premier with liberal views, Zhao was purged for opposing the brutal military crackdown of students in Tiananmen Square on June 3 and 4, 1989. For sympathizing with the student-led pro-democracy movement, Zhao was accused of “splitting the Party” and “supporting unrest.” Without any legal procedure, he was detained in his home for the following 16 years, until his death from a stroke at age 85.
Because Zhao remains a symbol of conscience of the Tiananmen Massacre to critics, the Chinese regime handled affairs delicately after his death. To prevent large-scale mourning, news of his death in 2005 was censored, and a sizable police detail patrolled Beijing and the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery, where a small-scale memorial session was attended by hundreds.
Today, the Party is just as restrictive with people paying their respects to Zhao. The authorities heightened security around Zhao’s Beijing home on the Qingming Festival—a Chinese tradition where people visit burial sites to venerate their ancestors—this weekend. Of the hundred odd mourners, Police stopped about a dozen from Heilongjiang and detained four, according to the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, a human rights website.
While the Chinese regime has allowed Zhao’s family to determine where he will be buried, it doesn’t mean that they have pardoned him. According to Beijing-based political commentator Zhang Lifan, speaking to South China Morning Post, the Party is still concerned that his grave might become a pilgrimage site.