Sun, Nov 20, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Ceremony for Hu an empty gesture

On Friday, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square to commemorate the late leader Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦), who rose to prominence in the 1980s. Friday marked Hu's 90th birthday. Among the 300 participants were three members of the Politburo Standing Committee: the party's top disciplinary official Wu Guanzheng (吳官正), Vice President Zeng Qinghong (曾慶紅) and Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶).

Observers agree that this was the Chinese government's way of restoring Hu's stature and reputation. But the question is, what does it really mean for China? Since Hu is remembered as a liberal, is this a prelude to more liberalization and reforms in China?

Unfortunately, few people believe that this is the Chinese leadership's intention. While redeeming Hu is unlikely to bring any substantive change for the time being, the move by itself did raise some eyebrows. After all, for the past two decades, Hu's legacy has become a sensitive subject. Chinese student began rallying in Tiananmen Square in the early summer of 1989 in commemoration of Hu. The rallies evolved into large-scale protests against corruption, inflation and political repression -- all problems that continue to bedevil the Chinese government -- and finally, to the bloody crackdown on June 4 that shocked the world.

To this day, the CCP's official stance on the June 4 crackdown is that it was correct to order the suppression of the so-called "counter-revolutionary political turmoil."

Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that several members of the Politburo Standing Committee -- including Wen -- reportedly raised concerns when Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) decided to restore Hu Yaobang's reputation. Predictably, the concerns were about upsetting the nation's stability. But Hu Jintao persisted with the decision to hold the commemoration ceremony in the face of such internal objections, although he did decide to change his mind and not personally attend the ceremony -- which greatly reduced the significance of the event.

His insistence on holding the event came as something of a surprise. After all, in the two years since he took power, he has been known for tightening up controls within China, including control of the media.

If the move is intended neither to overturn the government's current stance on the Tiananmen massacre, nor to pave the way for any major liberal reforms, then there's only one plausible explanation for why Hu Jintao held the event. Clearly, he wanted to soften his hardline image and win over the support of the CCP's liberal factions -- many of whom continue to revere Hu Yaobang's memory.

Hu Yaobang is remembered as a man who was ahead of his time in supporting liberal reforms. But he was also revered for rehabilitating many people in the post-Cultural Revolution era. Many family members and relatives of those rehabilitated now all hold high positions within the party. For these reasons Hu Yaobang came back into the spotlight, even after being removed from power in 1987 and criticized for having "bourgeois" tendencies.

Symbolic and superficial gestures of this sort can never truly win peoples' hearts. Only with genuine reform and liberalization can the Chinese leadership genuinely win support that will withstand the test of time.

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