Reformist Chinese leader Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦), whose death led to the 1989 Tiananmen protests, was offered rare praise by a newspaper run by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) yesterday, the anniversary of his demise.
Hu, general secretary of the party when Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) was China’s paramount leader, remains a sensitive figure because of his link to the democracy demonstrations, which authorities quashed with military force and suppress mention of even today.
He was dismissed in 1987, after allowing students in Beijing to hold initial protests, and new rallies erupted after his passing.
However, yesterday the CCP posted a slideshow of Hu on its Web site, while the Liberation Daily, which is run by the propaganda bureau of the Shanghai CCP branch, highlighted other aspects of his career.
It praised Hu for working to rehabilitate purged officials — which helped bring the party out of the tumultuous 1966 to 1976 Cultural Revolution — and for initiating a drive for openness and reform.
“Hu Yaobang sped up reform and opening and sped up economic development for China, and put all of his heart and energy into it,” it said, adding that his efforts were relevant today as China’s leaders also push for change.
Since taking over as party chief and president in recent months, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has touted reform in terms of fighting official graft, restructuring the economy and better serving the people.
“One point is quite similar to Hu Yaobang’s time of pressing for reform: Reform faced similarly major resistance,” the Liberation Daily said.
It quoted Hu as urging party officials to “personally go and learn from the grassroots levels, experience the suffering of the people.”
Beijing-based historian Zhang Lifan (章立凡) said that although controls on discussing Hu may have eased somewhat, it did not necessarily indicate broader change.
“It seems the control is a bit loose, but it’s hard to say whether it’s the party or the newspaper itself,” he added.
Hu was publicly praised in 2010 by then-Chinese premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶), who was also known as a leader who promoted reform — although his rhetoric was not always matched in practice — and enjoyed popular appeal.
In an unusual move, Wen wrote a tribute to Hu in the CCP’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, highlighting his “close ties with the people” and “lofty moral character.”