Zhao Ziyang (
Zhao, 85, went into shock related to a lung ailment on Friday evening and was given emergency treatment, Hong Kong-based activist Frank Lu said in a telephone interview.
Lu had said earlier in the week that Zhao was hospitalized for lung problems, citing Zhao's daughter, Wang Yannan.
"He is still in a deep coma," said Lu, who said he had spoken to Wang yesterday morning. "His condition is unchanged."
China's official Xinhua News Agency reported later yesterday that Zhao's condition had stabilized -- an extremely rare disclosure by the government, which usually refuses to respond to requests for information about the ousted leader.
"Zhao is still receiving continued careful treatment at the moment," said the brief report carried on Xinhua's English language news wire.
There was no corresponding Chinese-language bulletin, suggesting that the Chinese government published the report for foreign consumption only.
Chinese newspapers and broadcast media made no mention yesterday of Zhao's illness.
"How is he? We have no way of hearing about his condition," said Ding Zilin (
"We are very concerned about him. We hope he can make it through this critical period," said Ding, a retired academic whose son was killed in the crackdown.
The leadership's reluctance to let the Chinese public know about Zhao's condition is a sign of Communist Party unease about his lasting potency as a political symbol and fears that his death could spark widespread discontent.
Andrew Nathan, a specialist on Chinese politics at Columbia University, said Chinese leaders remember how the death of Hu Yaobang (
"The death of Zhao could well become a triggering incident or a spark that would -- just like the death of Hu -- create an opportunity and an emotional focus point for all kinds of dissatisfied elements to express themselves and to congeal into a larger force," Nathan said. "He's seen as a symbol of the demand for democracy."
Zhao has spent more than 15 years under house arrest since he was purged from the party leadership following accusations of sympathizing with hunger strikers in Tiananmen Square who for seven weeks had demanded democratic reforms and the resignation of then Premier Li Peng (李鵬).