Monday, 6 April 2015

Finally to be Laid to Rest

Zhao Ziyang in his courtyard home in Beijing
Yesterday was Ching Ming and the family of late Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang received some good news. Finally a decade after his death, the ashes of the liberal senior official will now be allowed to be buried.

"They [the authorities] have agreed to have them buried together," Zhao's son-in-law Wang Zhihua said, referring to the late leader and his wife Liang Boqi who died in late 2013.

Zhao was virtually under house arrest after he was expelled from the Party for opposing the military crackdown on the students in June 1989 in Tiananmen Square.

Zhao in Tiananmen Square telling students to leave
He apparently spent his days chipping golf balls in the courtyard of his home and after he died in 2005, it was later discovered that he made secret recordings of his life, and in particular the last year he was Party Secretary, that led to the publication of the book, Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang.

Since then his ashes have been kept in the courtyard of his home in Beijing because there was no previous agreement with the government on where his remains would be buried.

When he died, the Party, which determines burial arrangements for its members, offered to inter his ashes at Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetary, but his family wanted him to be buried privately because they worried about future access to his ashes.

The authorities were anxious around the time of Zhao's funeral, concerned it would spark large-scale mourning. They were so paranoid, that on the day of his funeral, police and security agents were posted on every corner along Chang'an Avenue and many of his supporters were barred from the ceremony.

Zhao's account of his life through recordings
A few years ago people were allowed to visit his home to pay their respects at Ching Ming, and since then more have come, and even media covered the event. When Zhao's wife died over a year ago, the issue of his burial came up again.

Wang said yesterday that officials from the Party and the Beijing government had met with the family in recent months to discuss finding a burial site for Zhao and Liang. While nothing has been settled yet, the family said it was a step forward.

"Their attitude was sincere and we can talk about things," said Zhao's youngest son, Zhao Wujun. "We just want the old people to be buried peacefully."

It's interesting the authorities are still concerned about Zhao's burial being a flashpoint to remind people of the Tiananmen Square massacre 26 years ago this June. He was a popular leader at the time, whose opposition to the crackdown made him a symbol of conscience.

Political commentator Zhang Lifan believes that while the authorities are allowing Zhao's ashes to be buried, it did not mean they would rehabilitate his reputation, and officials would still be worried about his grave becoming a pilgrimage site.

It very well could become one, considering more than 100 people came to his Beijing home this year. Not only does this indicate people's unwavering loyalty towards him, but also they have not forgotten what happened almost 26 years ago.

And when more and more people remember, Beijing will not be able to hide the truth much longer. It may be smug in thinking a whole generation of young people do not know that thousands of people in and around Tiananmen Square were killed, but through remembering Zhao they will -- eventually.


  1. Having recently viewed "1989" at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, I'm seeing parallels between Zhao Ziyang's burial and Hungary prime minister Imre Nagy's reburial in 1989 (after he was killed and his remains unceremoniously buried in 1956)... or maybe I'm just being too optimistic!

    1. I just think that since quite a number of people showed up this year (others were barred from coming), then there is a small but active group of people keen to remember him, and that can only slowly build momentum...