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China mutes reformer Hu Yaobang’s memorial; Memories may give rise to criticism of the Xi government


The Yomiuri Shimbun
Chinese officials stand guard outside the gate leading to Hu Yaobang’s grave in Gongqingcheng, China, on Monday.

GONGQINGCHENG, China — Chinese authorities were on high alert Monday in Gongqingcheng, China, where the grave of late reformist leader Hu Yaobang is located, as the day marked the 35th anniversary of his death.

Hu was general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in the 1980s.

Hu was buried not at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery on the outskirts of Beijing, where the graves of many party officials are located, but in the city in Jiangxi province that he developed while leading young people as head of the Communist Youth League of China.

According to local authorities, a memorial service was held on Monday, attended by Hu’s relatives and other related people. During the event, nearly 100 plainclothes police officers kept a close watch on the area and prohibited anyone other than those involved in the event from entering the venue.

In the 1980s, Hu promoted China’s reform and opening-up policies under Supreme Leader Deng Xiaoping. Hu developed a personal relationship of trust with then Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, leading to an era known as the “golden age of Japan-China relations.”

Hu was attacked by conservatives in late 1986 for his handling of student demonstrations, and resigned as party general secretary in January 1987. It is said that he was a man of pure character.

After his sudden death in 1989, crowds gathered to mourn his passing, leading to the Tiananmen Square incident on June 4 of the same year.

An event commemorating Hu’s death was open to the media under the supervision of Chinese authorities in 2019, the 30th anniversary of his death, but this year authorities increased their vigilance.

The treatment of Hu, who lost his position over his association with pro-democracy students, has long been a sensitive issue within the party. Some steps have been taken in recent years to reevaluate Hu. Chinese President Xi Jinping praised him as a prominent leader at a 2015 event marking the 100th anniversary of Hu’s birth.

However, social control has tightened in China under the Xi government, which emphasizes national security. The economy has been sluggish and youth unemployment has remained high.

Diplomatic sources said the fact that many people gathered at an event to mourn the sudden death of former Prime Minister Li Keqiang in October last year showed their dissatisfaction with the status quo. Authorities are believed to be wary of a situation where remembering Hu could lead to criticism of the government.

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