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Family of Late Ousted Chinese Premier Allowed to Bury His Remains

2019-10-17 -- A century after his birth, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has finally allocated a resting place for the ashes of late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang and his wife.

Fourteen years after his death under house arrest imposed following his fall from power during the 1989 pro-democracy movement that ended with the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen massacre, Zhao's family have repeatedly called for his posthumous rehabilitation, and for his remains to be laid to rest.

Zhao, a liberal-minded and well-loved leader who rose to power at the 13th Party Congress in 1987, was cremated after his death in 2005, but the authorities have only now approved the family's application for a burial plot for him -- a century after his birth.

Zhao's son Zhao Erjun said his father's ashes would be laid to rest in a private cemetery around 60 kilometers outside Beijing.

He said the family had bought a 20-year lease on the burial plot, where the ashes of Zhao's wife Liang Boqi will also be laid to rest at a private ceremony in the next couple of months.

The location has been approved by the municipal authorities, likely after getting the green light from the Chinese leadership at the highest level, Zhao Erjun said.

Veteran political journalist Gao Yu said the authorities had earlier suggested a smaller cemetery that wasn't to the family's liking.

"They have paid for a plot in a private ceremony at their own expense, and it's quite big, around 400 square meters," Gao said.

Site far from Beijing

She said the authorities had likely approved it because of its distance from the capital, where is less likely to provide a focus for liberal dissent, both in and outside party ranks.

"They want him buried this year, because it's his centenary," she said. "There will be a granite tombstone of about 10 tonnes, with text saying who is buried there, his year of birth, but nothing about his life ... because everyone knows about that anyway."

Gao said the agreement had come after Zhao's family turned down suggestions from the leadership that they bury him in his birth province of Henan.

"The hometown would have been inconvenient, because the children are often in Beijing, and ... Zhao Ziyang was a general secretary [of the Communist Party]," she said.

But the agreement apparently comes with a heavy price tag for the family: the demolition of Zhao's Beijing residence, at No. 6 Fuqiang Alley, Gao said.

"They were prepared for that, because his courtyard house at No. 6 Fuqiang Alley was where Zhao Ziyang moved from [government headquarters at] Zhongnanhai in June 1989, and where he was under house arrest for 15 years and eight months," Gao said.

"Now they want to completely eliminate all trace of Zhao Ziyang and [his predecessor, ousted liberal premier] Hu Yaobang," she said.

'The right thing'

Zhao's former aide Bao Tong, who served a seven-year jail term after his boss's ouster, and who remains under close surveillance by state security police, said the leadership has finally done the right thing.

"The authorities have now agreed to the family's arrangements, so I think this is an improvement on before," Bao said. "Zhao's burial should be for the family to decide, not the authorities."

Dozens of people paid their respects at Zhao's former residence in Beijing on Thursday, where his family had made a shrine for condolences, overhung with a banner that read "Remembering our father on his centenary."

Guests brought floral tributes, burned incense, and left calligraphy in front of a photograph of Zhao and Liang.

Zhao Zhiwei, a resident of Zhao's hometown in Henan, said the late premier had made an indelible contribution to Chinese politics.

"He made an indelible contribution to reform and opening up in China," Zhao Zhiwei said. "His sacrifice will definitely be recognized by history at some point."

'Conscience of the Party'

Yao Jianfu, 87, a former colleague from the Rural Research Center of the State Council, said the authorities should allow public commemoration of Zhao, rather than expunging him from the official record.

"He should be regarded as the conscience of the Communist Party and its pride," Yao Jianfu said. "Many more people should come to visit this place and learn about him."

The son of a former subordinate of Zhao's, also surnamed Yao, said Zhao's political rehabilitation couldn't happen without a reappraisal of the whole 1989 student movement,

"I don't think rehabilitation is a possibility in the short term," said Yao, who traveled from the central city of Wuhan to pay his respects to Zhao on Thursday. "I'm 75 years old this year, and I may not live to see the day, but I think it's bound to happen."

Security was tight outside the Zhao residence, where Zhao's three sons Zhao Dajun, Zhao Erjun and Zhao Wujun, as well as his daughter Wang Yannan, were welcoming guests.

Zhao's name rarely appears in the official record, although he has a loyal following of former officials seeking to rehabilitate him as a figurehead of the reform era that began in 1979.

Why then supreme leader Deng Xiaoping chose to implement martial law on May 17, 1989 after agreeing to Zhao's more conciliatory approach to the mass protests on May 13 of that year is a question that many have struggled to answer, including Bao Tong.

The number of people who died in Beijing when the People's Liberation Army (PLA) used tanks and machine guns on unarmed civilians on the night of June 3, 1989 and in the days that followed has never been confirmed.

Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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