Ousted in Tiananmen protests, late Chinese leader Zhao Ziyang finally given a grave

The ceremony was the latest episode showing that even in death, Zhao Ziyang remains a sensitive topic in Chinese politics.
The ceremony was the latest episode showing that even in death, Zhao Ziyang remains a sensitive topic in Chinese politics.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (NYTIMES) - A century after his birth and nearly 15 years after his death, Zhao Ziyang, the reformist Chinese Communist Party leader who opposed the armed suppression of student protests in 1989, was given a quiet burial in Beijing on Friday (Oct 18) under police guard.

The low-key, long-delayed ceremony was the latest episode showing that even in death, Zhao remains a sensitive topic in Chinese politics.

His ashes were interred in a cemetery on the northern outskirts of Beijing during a small ceremony for close family members, ending a quarrel with the party authorities over where to place his remains. He was buried alongside the ashes of his wife, Liang Boqi, who died in 2013.

The interment in the cemetery took place a day after the centenary of Zhao's birth on Oct 17, 1919, in Henan province, central China. Usually, deceased Chinese leaders' major anniversaries inspire laudatory speeches and editorials. But Zhao was consigned to the class of toppled former leaders whose anniversaries are smothered in official silence and stepped-up security.

Since Zhao's downfall during the Tiananmen protests, his name has mostly been erased from the Chinese news media, histories and websites. His death in 2005 was announced in a terse statement, and a brief official obituary said that in 1989 he "committed serious errors".

Zhao rose to power in the 1980s, when Deng Xiaoping picked him out as a bold provincial leader with ideas on rejuvenating China's economy. As China's prime minister from 1980, Zhao became a chief proponent of market overhauls, including promoting private businesses and foreign investment, as well as cutting controls on prices and supplies.

Zhao was pushed from office in May 1989, before troops moved in to clear Tiananmen Square, starting on June 3 and going into the early hours of June 4. Hundreds died as the troops pressed into Beijing, according to most estimates.

The party denounced Zhao as a turncoat who had revealed splits in the leadership and defied Deng's will. Zhao, who refused to admit to any wrongdoing, was never tried. He spent his late years largely confined to his courtyard home.